Audiobooks 2016
July 13, 2016 5:30 AM   Subscribe

I am thinking of getting my mum an mp3 player for Christmas so that she can listen to audiobooks - she likes books on tape, but the library doesn't stock many of them now, and she finds CDs hard to use. I've not bought one for years - any advice? Some more details inside!

The problem with CDs is that she can't 'pause' them as she can with a tape (I know you can get CD players which do this, but I'm not sure if you still can). So I was thinking a good solution would be to get an mp3 player and an Audible subscription. It would need to be very easy to use (especially file management, so it's easy to remove and add books), have a screen to make pausing and selection easier, and not hugely expensive. I would probably pre-load it with audiobooks before giving it to her, but I'm not sure what capacity that would require.

She does not have a smartphone and I'm a little bit wary of anything Apple as she's not very technical at all - she gets confused about the difference between her Facebook password and the one she uses to log into her computer, so it needs to be basically plug and play. She has one of the very old iPod shuffles but she had to ask me to load songs and sync it for her, so it does need to be something simple to use.
posted by mippy to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Sorry, can't edit - after looking at the Audible website, they don't have audiobooks as MP3 files:,3218

Any advice on .aa or .apx files welcome.
posted by mippy at 5:35 AM on July 13, 2016

Audible in the US has a whole help section on how to use MP3 players to listen to the books (link; if the direct link doesn't work it is help - other devices - mp3 players). Glancing at it, it looks like there is extra software and work involved, which might not be great for your mother. Would she be ok with any of the devices that connect more directly?

After a frustrating attempt to use the library's audiobook system, I use Audible, ordering the books on my computer (which is about the same as most online ordering processes, and it is clear when you are using a monthly credit or you are paying cash), and then I listen using the app on my phone which automatically syncs to the main account. On their website they list a gazillion devices that supposedly connect, and if there is one that is both easy for your mother to use and offers the full functioning and easy connection of the app I think it would work for her in terms of easily pausing and restarting books.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:52 AM on July 13, 2016

Audible is owned by Amazon these days IIRC. Wouldn’t it be easiest to get a cheap smartphone & stick the Kindle / Audible App on it?
posted by pharm at 6:15 AM on July 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

Overdrive is the one of the many apps that allows me to access kindle copies of library books, including audiobooks. The screen on her iphone might be too small for her to manage well but a kindle fire is not that expensive and seems to be okay for the older people, as my mother figured hers out eventually. You may want to try that first, as it would only be the initial cost of the kindle and everything free after that. To stop it, all she would have to do would be to close the cover (if she couldn't remember to touch the screen) and it would open up to the same place that she left off. You may have to help her with the downloads at first.
posted by myselfasme at 6:27 AM on July 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

You say she doesn't have a smartphone. I would point out that in almost all cases, a smartphone without a phone contract is basically a very small wifi-only tablet (e.g. it'll have wifi connectivity, even if it has no phone contract). Also, smartphones lose their value quickly, and older models can be bought used relatively cheaply.

With that in mind, if you find that you like the Audible app (or similar), you could get an older phone and simply remove everything from it except that app and a shortcut on the home screen to the app. You don't even have to put a lock password on it, since who cares, it's not like anyone could make phone calls or whatever if they had it.
posted by tocts at 6:34 AM on July 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

If you absolutely want a dedicated MP3 player and not a cheap smartphone, Audible's website says you can use Samsung Sansa Clip players and Apple iPods. Both of these can be had fairly cheap used, and have good interfaces. I'd not recommend an iPod Shuffle.

However, if you can find a cheap old smartphone or tablet, that'll work just great with Wifi and no contract. I'm not sure I'd trust one of those $50 at CVS tablets (they're often not just slow but also unreliable), but an older model from a known manufacturer should be good. The smartphone-type gizmos can also download without a PC, which might be easier for your mom. Maybe ask your friends if any of them have an old phone, since everyone's upgrading every few years now.
posted by mccarty.tim at 6:45 AM on July 13, 2016

Does her library have audible book downloads? If it does, a smartphone with overdrive is easy to use.

I believe Hoopla also does audiobooks<>

The library might have Playaway books. Essentially digital recordings - one book per device.

If you do decide on an mp3, you need one with a screen with easy visibility. We got my kid a iPod shuffle and while it's easy to download, it's not easy to find the book and your place using only the audio cues.
posted by Ftsqg at 7:12 AM on July 13, 2016

Sansa Clip (mentioned above) will play Audible & MP3 files, but don't get a used/refurbished because it's not significanly cheaper and has no warrantee.
posted by Obscure Reference at 7:48 AM on July 13, 2016

Is portability a requirement or is it something she'll use more or less in the same place? The Amazon Echo integrates with Audible and podcasts and if she's non-technical, she may find voice commands easier to use than fiddling with a screen.

The Sansa Clips are nice but the interface is decidedly minimalist. Accurately going back five minutes to listen to a portion that you zoned out on is not as easy as a good touch interface can be. And someone would still have to deal with getting the content onto it.

I'll second maybe one of the Amazon tablets, as they integrate well with the Audible library, so there's no need to enter passwords again and again once its set up. There's no need to sync anything to it, if you or she buys an audio book for her account, it'll just show up on the device as available. They keep fiddling with the user interface, but at least with the version I have, you don't even have to launch an app, recently added content just appears on the main page after you unlock it.
posted by Candleman at 8:35 AM on July 13, 2016

Last week my four year old got her big brother's elderly android phone so she could take photographs and listen to her audiobooks on Audible, but with video, web, and mobile data blocked completely.

I installed Kid's Shell which is free if you don't bother with the phone call stuff (although $7 was worth it IMO for the additional features), and hugely simplifies the android interface.

She swipes, presses the Audible icon which is one of about four app icons on the only screen visible, and then scrolls a list of book covers and presses play. Bam.

I set up Audible with all the books she listens to dowloaded in full over wifi, and then blocked the rest of it. She's using my account, so it's a little trickier, but if your mom was okay with you helping her with Audible online, you can help her buy and get new titles online through the web logged in as her, and then she can just download them on her android client from the cloud to her device with one click.

Where does she plan to listen to audiobooks, in a car, sitting down while doing something, on walks, etc? Bluetooth headphones are so great if you are walking or doing chores while listening to an audiobook, small loudspeaker plug-in speakers if she wants to listen while in her bedroom, a car attachment cable etc. A cover with a built in battery is great if you bought a secondhand android because those suckers die fast.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 8:59 AM on July 13, 2016

Audio books have come along way in terms of checking them out from libraries. I know I found them almost impossible to deal with before, and now they sync directly to my prefered device, which is apple. You are in the U.K., so I am not sure what your options. I would visit the library closest to your mum and see if they have any advice. I buy audible books as well, but I love the options my public library offers, and I especially love the service/app called Hoopla. It also gives me a chance to try out different options. Some books audio versions just don't work for me.
posted by momochan at 9:02 AM on July 13, 2016

Response by poster: You can't get Echo here, and I did consider a smartphone but she really really can't get her head around them. I will look into the Kids Shell you suggested. I know she'd be put out though if I gave her something 'old' as a gift...

I'm 400miles away from her, sadly. She mostly listens to them before going to bed -she doesn't drive, but something more portable might mean she would use them when walking the dog too.
posted by mippy at 10:28 AM on July 13, 2016

I've had audible as an app on Andriod and iPhones. IIRC you can't actually purchase titles directly from the app. You can buy them online from a computer and then have it sync and not have to connect the mp3 player to the computer, but you can't do it all from the phone which seems like it might be a barrier for your mom. I no longer have my subscription so someone else will have to weigh in if this is accurate or not.
posted by raccoon409 at 4:26 PM on July 13, 2016

If she has any kind of "temporary or permanent visual or physical limitation", she needs to get into the Library Of Congress's Digital Talking Book program (FREE). The standard DTB player (manual PDF) is available from them, and takes cartridges that are basically big USB thumb drives, big enough for elderly hands to handle and for readable labels to be stuck on them. The player also has a regular USB slot on the side. The buttons are big and it could not be simpler to use. Seriously, professionals have been involved, the design has iterated, and this thing is awesome.

In a Digital Talking Book (DTB), the drive doesn't just contain the audio, it also contains data to help with navigation and skipping.

Her local public library (select state) may already have a selection of books in this format, and certainly will know how to get them. My Dad is constantly cycling through them.
posted by intermod at 7:56 PM on July 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Overdrive's interface and playback functions are far worse than Audible's. Unless it has dramatically improved, I wouldn't recommend it. With Audible, you can shop directly in the phone app. You don't see all the sales, but that's the only downside. The playback interface is really simple, with a pause button and buttons to skip back or forward by thirty seconds. The main downside with Audible is the monthly charge.

Hoopla does do audiobooks, so that might be worth investigating.
posted by slidell at 11:09 PM on July 13, 2016

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