Barnes & Noble Review: Audiobook Downloads and Rentals
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|Good selection, often cheaper than iTunes, but checkout, download, and audio are disappointing|
Barnes & Noble has long been a mainstay in the world of books. About a year ago they made their foray into the online audiobook market with Barnes & Noble MP3 Books. Like iTunes, it's an à la carte service, so no subscription is required to download an audiobook. Instead you pay per title, giving you more flexibility and less commitment, although it ups the price, particularly for those who listen to one book per month.
The Barnes & Noble MP3 bookstore boasts more than 35,000 titles. Barnes & Noble stocks Stieg Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love, and Stephen Hawking's The Grand Design. The good news is that it is often $3.00 to $5.00 cheaper to purchase audiobooks from Barnes & Noble than from iTunes, their closest competitor.
Customers browse through audiobooks using the Barnes & Noble website. It's well organized and nicely laid out. Audio samples are included as are ratings and plenty of customer reviews (at least for bestsellers). But things get a little more complicated, and a bit arduous when it comes to actually getting your audiobook. Barnes & Noble has not streamlined the checkout system, so each purchase takes a good three clicks. After that you have to wait for an emailed link which sends you back to the website. Click this link and you'll almost be ready to download your audiobook.
We say "almost" because downloading your Barnes & Noble MP3 books requires a specialized application called the OverDrive Media Consul. It will also transfer your purchase to your favorite MP3 player. The ODM Consul is not bad, but it's not the best, especially since you'll probably only use it with Barnes & Noble. You can transfer your purchases to iTunes after download, but already that's a lot of steps.
We like that Barnes & Noble distributes MP3 files that are free of DRM (Digital Rights Management) and are compatible with any and all MP3 players (iPods and iPhones included). As for audio quality, it's not the best. The sampling rate is 22khz, which is half that of a CD, meaning lower quality. While listening with some high-quality headphones we could discern a good deal of crackling in the voice of our narrator and a certain thinness in sound during moments that involved music. This may not bother everyone, but we noticed.
So, what's the verdict? Barnes & Noble's MP3 store is not going to save you money if you listen to at least one audiobook every month. But if pay-per-download is your thing, you can save some cash by looking for your titles on Barnes & Noble, though you might not love the sound quality or the checkout process.
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