Booksfree Review: Audiobook Downloads and Rentals
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|Fast, free shipping with the biggest rental library makes this a great service for frequent listeners|
[Editors Note: Right now, Booksfree is offering NextAdvisor readers 60% off of their first month. All you need to do to redeem this discount is enter the promo code: SAS, when signing up]
Booksfree may seem like a bit of an anachronism next to other download-based services we've looked at, but it's the same model that Netflix has been successfully using for movies. For a flat fee of $23.95 per month you can rent as many audiobooks as you want, though you can only have one out at a time (upgraded plans let you keep more). CDs offer a number of advantages over the higher-tech digital download: slow Internet connections can make downloading large audio files impractical and many people still prefer the uncompressed sound of the CD. Also, you don't have to worry about device compatibility with a standard audio CD. They're pretty universal.
Booksfree actually offers two different kinds of CD rentals (and therefore CD rental plans). Most titles are distributed as conventional audio CDs, playable on any CD player or computer CD-ROM drive. Some, however, are distributed as space-saving MP3-CDs. These MP3-CDs require a special MP3-compatible CD player or a computer with an MP3-compatible media player installed (which is most of them).
Booksfree claims a library of over 36,000 titles. You'll find bestsellers like Twilight plus the latest Dan Brown books. Harry Potter is there too, as is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The site is easy to search and navigate, though it's not the best looking. There's a nice feature for noting your favorite authors and having the system auto-add books by those authors. Booksfree also has a pretty active community in the book reviews and in the site's general forum. There are no audio samples, however, so you can't preview any of your titles before you order them.
Our experience with the rent-by-mail program was very positive. The titles ship via First Class mail; we ordered our title on a Wednesday and received our six-CD audiobook that very Saturday (with a holiday in between). Not bad, considering it shipped from their warehouse in Vienna, Virginia to our offices in San Francisco, California. The discs arrived in a compact, well-padded envelope that easily converts to a postage-paid return envelope.
Needless to say, the audio with a conventional CD is the best you'll get, outside of hearing the author reading the book live. It sounded better to us than any of the MP3s we listened to (though the downloads from Simply Audiobooks were rather good). For us, there was a noticeable difference between Audible's "CD-quality" sound and the actual CD. If you use expensive headphones or a nice stereo system, you'll want to consider these differences.
We had little to complain about with the MP3-CDs. The 128kbs sound files sounded very good playing from our computer's CD drive. It's a good option if you have car stereo that plays MP3-CDs; you'll be switching CDs around much less.
On the downside, Booksfree is the most expensive book rental plan we looked at. In fact, it's the most expensive subscription-based service we looked at. The book we rented would have cost us $20.99 on Amazon.com, or a single credit on a download service that would run between $9.99 and $14.95 (and you don't get to keep the book). However, if you go through more than one book per month, you'll start seeing savings over the download sites. Certainly part of what you're paying for is the fast First Class shipping. But you also get a selection twice as big as its closest competitor, Simply Audiobooks. Sure, the website could be better, but for those who prefer their books on CD, Booksfree is an avid listener's best friend.
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