Monthly Archives: November 2014

The Audiobooks Minefield: A Survival Guide


Audiobooks are a great way to consume the written word. It took me quite a while to be won over by this medium, despite a 2 year campaign by a friend, but since I finished my first audiobook I’m fully convinced by the benefits of the format.

The woeful state of text consumption

Like all of us participating in social media we are bombarded by tons of articles that look like they must be essential reads. And proper books too, the list grows faster than we can keep up with. Are you like me with a large selection of great books on your shelf ordered from Amazon that you haven’t had time to read yet? Why is that? This article sums up pretty well why digital distractions prevent us from maintaining the focus required to finish a paper book from cover to cover. Audiobooks open up a new window however, they allow us to make use of low-focus time in our daily routines: traveling from A to B, grocery shopping, etc. They also provide us with an opportunity to get away from staring at a screen and take a step back from eyestrain.

Where to purchase Audiobooks?

You would think that Audible (the Amazon company) would be a good provider to buy audiobooks from but they don’t have a very competitive offering. You are either required to take out a subscription which costs a minimum of £8/month, or you can buy their audiobooks one off; they are priced approximately double what the competition charges. For example I went to buy the recent Russell Brand audiobook Revolution and it was £12.99 in iTunes, and £20.99 over at Audible.

Recommended: buy your audiobooks on iTunes on demand (avoid any subscriptions)

It’s worth checking around however, you can buy your audiobooks from many sources, with or without DRM protection, and you’ll be able to have your library in one consolidated place.

Apple – iBooks or iTunes?

iBooks store (on the Mac desktop in or in the iOS equivalent) has a modest selection of audiobooks, but generally iTunes has a much wider range.

Recommended: iTunes or any audiobook provider, just go for best price

Desktop or mobile purchase?

This is a tricky one. Within the ecosystem of Apple’s media/content offering, all your purchases are available to you “forever” in iCloud regardless of which device you buy them on. This is with the notable exception of audiobooks and ring tones. Frustratingly, if you ever delete any purchases of the latter types, you will have to buy them again. For this reason it makes sense do all your audiobook purchases on your desktop computer, which most likely is part of some backup routine, so you don’t lose your paid content. Don’t think that because your iDevice backs up to the cloud that it will save your audiobooks – it won’t.

Avoid purchasing audiobooks on a mobile device

Which app to use for audiobook playback?

Almost certainly you want to do all of your audiobook listening on a portable device, and much more likely on an iPhone than iPad. The Music app on iOS is absolutely terrible for audiobooks – in short unusable. There is basically a zero percent chance that you will listen to your average length 8 hour audiobook without listening to a single song in between. The Music app can’t handle this and will always return you to the start of your audiobook every time you digress and play something else with the app.

Recommended: Audible app (by Amazon), free download on the App Store

Transferring content to your iPhone

You maybe be tempted to think, especially with iOS 8, that you can just Airdrop the rather large audiobook files from your computer to your iPhone. Think again. With significant amounts of pain it will transfer to your Dropbox app if you have that installed, but it will be impossible to get it into the Audible app from there. The only way is to use a cable (groan) and sync using the desktop iTunes app. Even then the new content will not show up. Look at the 3 main tabs in the Audible app on your phone, and from Cloud / Device / iTunes select iTunes and then pull the list down to kick off a refresh. Only then will your newly synced audiobook show up.

Use a cable and sync via iTunes on your laptop


Unfortunately there is a significant barrier to entry for enjoying audiobooks on an iPhone however once you work around the above caveats it is a very enjoyable experience. I personally find audiobooks a wonderful alternative to reading paper or online text as the format not only gives a break to the eyes, but almost always seems to allow for better retention of the material. This depends on your individual learning style, of course. In many cases the narrator has a lot of character and adds an extra dimension of enjoyment to the experience. What are your thoughts?

Update March, 2016

Apple has now changed the way iTunes works and audiobooks, like almost all other purchases, can be downloaded from the cloud at any time and on all devices. Hurrah!

The easiest way to buy new titles is (finally) what you’d expect, right in iBooks on your iPhone, where you will most likely listen to it, no more messy syncing/copying/transfering/backing up required.

More info here: