Simply Audiobooks Review: Audiobook Downloads and Rentals
|There are two plans to choose from, but the rental service is by far the best bargain|
We've reviewed rent-by-mail audiobook services and audiobook download services. Simply Audiobooks is the only service we reviewed that does both. It should mean freedom of choice, but users must decide which plan they'd like, rental or download. Downloading is cheaper, at $14.95 per month. Rent-by-mail is $17.98 per month. The service has over 9,000 titles for download and over 20,000 available for rent-by-mail. The rent-by-mail catalog is smaller than its closest competitor's, Booksfree.com, but it's also $5.00 cheaper. As for downloads, its catalog dwarfs eMusic's, but can't come close to Audible's.
As for the selection, it really varies based on format. The CD-rental stock is larger and much more current than the purchasable download library: Harry Potter is there, as is Twilight. You'll also find Dan Brown (some titles as rentals, others for purchase) and Sarah Palin, whose Going Rogue demonstrates true bipartisanship by being available for rental and download. You can also find The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. They stock far fewer versions of classics, so you'll have to like the one Moby Dick narrator they offer. On the other hand, if you want to know Who Moved My Cheese you're in luck. You can rent it or download it, depending on your plan.
Simply Audiobooks started their business using the Netflix model, and has only recently moved into the download model. In the beginning they had a confusing mix of formats, but now they're down to just two: MP3 and M4B. It may sound like a bit of an alphanumerical soup but the two formats are pretty similar, and are compatible with most media players out there, including Apple's iPod and iPhone. M4Bs allow for more advanced bookmarking and are a bit bigger, so you may have trouble burning them to disc. Still, the download plan is not the strong point, at least given the price and number of titles available.
Still, we found the MP3 files to be pretty great sounding. They sounded much more alive than the same title from Audible, eMusic, and iTunes did. This is because it uses a less "lossy" compression. Better quality comes at a storage cost, however. The files are twice as big. Our 7-hour book took up nearly 400MB.
Simply Audiobooks gets the web interface right, and it's pretty easy to search through and find what you're looking for. There are summaries and plenty of user reviews from their very active userbase. Unfortunately, many titles lacked audio samples. If you're going to spend 7 hours listening to a narrator, it's nice to know if you're going to enjoy listening to the voice.
It took almost exactly a week for our title to ship from Las Vegas, Nevada to our office in San Francisco, California (with one holiday day in between). The Standard Mail service isn't as speedy as Booksfree's First Class, but not bad either, though it depends on your proximity to the shipping center. The discs come in a small box that easily converts for return shipping. The discs showed the marks of having been played, but nothing that looked bad enough to spoil playback. CD quality is the best you'll get, at least compared to the download services we tried. The great thing about CDs is that you don't have to worry about device compatibility; they play in CD players and CD-ROM drives. Of course the big disadvantage is that you don't own the audiobook. While there's no due date, you will have to send back the discs to get a new title.
So, should you choose Simply Audiobooks? It depends on your needs and your budget. It's the cheapest rent-by-mail service, though its selection is a bit smaller than its closest competitor. While it's not the cheapest download service (that title belongs to eMusic), its audio files have the best sound quality. Probably the biggest question for most will be whether Simply Audiobooks has the titles they need. If so, it's not a bad option.
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