Audiobooks on the iPad: the Good, the Bad, and the M.I.A.

If you like audiobooks, chances are good that you love audiobooks. As a group audiobook listeners are likely to be well-educated, exercise frequently, and spend a lot of time in the car. They are, in other words, a group that merits publisher’s marketing efforts because they are not afraid to spend a little cash on entertainment.

Despite their enthusiasm and buying power, many audiobook lovers who want to listen on the iPad — or any iOS device — have met with frustration as iOS updates continue to complicate the process of downloading and listening to audiobooks through iTunes.

Back in the heady days before I used iOS, I never paid for an audio book. I simply borrowed files from my public library and transferred them over to my iPod Nano using Overdrive Media Console for PC. I discovered, much to my chagrin, that after purchasing an iMac last year that I could not transfer WMA audiobooks from a library website to my Mac. I kept my old PC around solely for the purpose of borrowing audiobooks from the library until I discovered that iOS 5 did away with audiobook chapters.

I was hoping that iOS 6 would restore support for chapters, but it hasn’t. Users are expressing confusion and frustration on the Apple Support Communities website, and there doesn’t seem to be an easy resolution.

There are, however, a few other options, but they aren’t free.

Audiobooks.com recently updated their Audiobooks iOS app to run natively on the iPad. The company also now offers an “all-you-can-eat” subscription model. For $29.95 for month a user can listen to as many books as she’d like on the iPad, iPhone/iPod touch, and desktop or laptop. The app syncs to where you left off, so it’s easy to hop from device to device throughout the day.

Audiobooks.com’s iOS app for iPad runs smoothly. The UI is basic, but it works. The book selection, while smaller than Audible’s was solid. Audiobooks.com is pricey, but it will appeal to heavy audiobook listeners who are willing to pay nearly $30 per month for access to the site’s library.

In contrast Amazon-owned Audible’s iOS app is iPhone-only. Come on, Audible, your app is intuitive and reliable, but it needs to run natively on the iPad.

Audible users pay a $14.95 fee per month which earns them a credit. The credits don’t expire and the site also has frequent sales, so users can buy titles at a reduced price. This option is appealing for users who don’t need unlimited content. Users can also download copies of their books to their Mac or PC for later use.

Interesting side note: both Audiobooks and Audible feature Steve Jobs on their iTunes preview pages.

Overdrive’s iOS app offers parsimonious listeners another option. Users may borrow audiobooks from their public library, much as they would borrow an e-book. The catch is that the audiobooks expire at the end of the lending period, so this option isn’t a good choice for users who can’t make it through a 20-hour audiobook in the 14-21 day lending period. It may, however, be the way to go for casual listeners or those who prefer to load up with audiobooks before a road trip.

Finally, users can purchase audiobooks through iTunes, but the set up is far from ideal. I was able to transfer one title from my iMac to my iPad by plugging the iPad into the computer and using iTunes. Although iTunes listed the title under Books, it is stored on my iPad in the Music app under the More tab. While the audiobook did play, it did not retain the chapters. I could play the audiobook with chapter divisions on my iMac but not on my iPad.

Calling all audiobooks devotees: do you have a favorite way to listen to audiobooks on the iPad? Have you found successful workarounds for the loss of chapter markers in iOS? What would you pay for an all-you-can eat model for audiobooks? Let us know in the comments.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user smaedli.

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About Emily: Emily is a freelance writer who loves discovering new apps whenever she can pry the iPad away from her children or husband. You can contact her via Twitter: @whatwentwrite

  • Robert Newell

    I am really upset

    just bought an ipad and i usually get audiobooks from the library and download onto itunes library on my regular computer then i download to my ipod
    I dont even see an area for audiobooks in my music or itunes on my ipad
    i mainly got the ipad for books and magazines and audiobooks
    the mags are just as much as the hardcopy and there is no audiobooks area i can use for the library downloads

    anyhelp?

    • http://www.facebook.com/ekbecker Emily Becker

      Robert, check with your library for specific procedures, but you should be able to use the Overdrive app to download an audio book from the library without any charges. You would then listen to the book through the Overdrive app, rather than through the music app or through iTunes.