Lifestyle

Is Audible—Amazon's audiobook service— actually worth the money?

It's what busy book lovers have been waiting for.

how to use Amazon Audible Credit: Gerasimov174 / Getty images / iStock

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I don’t really remember what my life was like before books. Growing up, I was always the kid with her nose stuck in the middle of one. If there was a paperback or hardcover that caught my eye, I didn’t just read it, I devoured it. Inspired by this little scene in Beauty and the Beast, I even figured out how to walk and read at the same time and narrowly—miraculously—managed to avoid tripping and falling each time. I didn’t care how ridiculous I looked (but spoiler, I knew I looked ridiculous). I’d do whatever it took to make it through just one more chapter.

Most of all, I loved the way books looked after I finished reading them: the creases down their spines and the stains left behind by spilled drinks, and the way the pages inside got all swollen and dog-eared along the way. They were signs that proved I’d loved each and every one of my books to the fullest.

But then life happened and my free time disappeared. Eventually all those to-be-read piles I used to devour on the regular got bigger and bigger, with no end in sight. Between work, relationships, and my smartphone, finding time to sit down and unplug with a good book was like a chore in itself. I was lucky if I could make it through one book in a single month.

Then about three years ago, I discovered Audible, Amazon’s audiobook subscription service and marketplace that allows subscribers to listen to books anywhere they go. For a little under $15 a month, I could gain access to the world’s largest collection of audiobook content, plus get some other nifty extras that, at the time, seemed tempting too.

It’s not like real books, I thought to myself, my initial knee-jerk reaction against audiobooks too strong to completely ignore. But maybe it’s not that bad, at least until I get some more free time on my hands.

And with that, I went right for it. Was Audible actually worth it or just another subscription service that I’d eventually forget to use and cancel? Here’s what happened when I tried it out for myself.

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How does Audible work?

membership picks
Credit: Amazon / Shayna Murphy

The basic Gold membership is the most popular option for new subscribers, but there are plenty to choose from.

Audible gives you access to over 470,000 audiobook titles (and counting!). Although Audible is an Amazon company, it’s not included in a Prime membership and you have to pay separately for it. You also don’t get a discount for having both services and you have to pay full price for each of them. It’s a drag for sure, but considering all the stuff you get in an Audible membership, it makes sense.

I chose the basic Gold monthly membership, which is the most popular and usually costs $14.95 per month (although Audible occasionally runs sales where that price drops for new subscribers).

When you first sign up, you’re eligible for a 30-day free trial, so you won’t get charged right away. The Gold membership includes a monthly credit for one audiobook, plus two Audible Originals and access to daily deals and audio-guided wellness programs.

There are other membership plans to choose from: the Platinum monthly plan, the Gold Annual Special, and the Platinum Annual Special. With the Platinum monthly plan, you pay $22.95 per month and get two credits instead of one. With the annual plans, you just pay costs up front for the year, but don’t get any additional perks or credits. While annual plans seem more expensive up front, you actually pay less per credit than monthly plans, which can make them a great value for more budget-conscious subscribers.

There's also a Silver membership, which isn't advertised anywhere on Audible's site, but is available if you contact customer service directly (editor's note: I only learned about this plan from a Reviewed reader who let me know after this story was originally published). With the Silver plan, subscribers pay $14.98 every two months instead of being charged every single month, and get one credit with each new billing cycle. This bi-monthly plan comes with all the normal membership benefits of Audible and could be a good option for those who enjoy Audible but perhaps struggle to use all their credits right away. To sign up, you have to contact Audible's customer service, and a representative can tell you more about the plan and how to make the switch.

For my purposes, the Gold membership is more than enough, especially since in addition to the three titles you get monthly, you can also get 30% off extra purchases you make through Audible on other audiobooks. There’s no limit to how many times you can use this discount, meaning you could get 30% off multiple additional audiobooks each month and they’re credited toward your personal library.

You can also get subscriptions to three leading national U.S. newspapers: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post. It’s one of the lesser-known benefits and it’s huge, especially since you can get access to all three papers through Audible’s app and there’s no additional charge for it.

How to use an Audible subscription

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Credit: Amazon / Shayna Murphy

You can exchange audiobooks, even after you've finished listening to them.

Each Audible credit is like an audiobook waiting to be listened to. A single credit is redeemable toward one title—it doesn’t matter the retail price or how long it is—and you can carry that credit over for months and use it whenever you feel like it, although credits do expire after a year.

Once you redeem an Audible credit, that audiobook is immediately added to your account’s personal library, which lists every book you’ve ever purchased, along with the author; audio length; date added to your account; and a rate-and-review section, where you can grade the overall audio recording, performance, and story using a five-star system.

  • How to search for new audiobooks: There are a few ways that you can find new titles. If you’re on Audible, you can start by either typing the title you want into the search bar or you can navigate to the “Browse” section and segment your search via category. If you’re on Amazon, you can also search audiobook titles and still pay via credit, since Audible links up to your existing Amazon account automatically. Once you complete the purchase on Amazon, it automatically gets added to your existing Audible library.

  • How to add to your cart or wish list: When you find a title on Audible that you’re interested in, but either don’t want to buy yet or don’t have the credits for it, you can add it to your cart or wish list—both of which do not expire—just by hitting the “Add to Cart” or “Add to Wish List” buttons.

  • How to give audiobooks as gifts: You can gift Audible at any time and purchase monthly memberships for other people in increments up to 12 months. Another nifty feature is that you can actually gift book titles, either directly from your own library or by purchasing new ones, and send them to non-Audible members via email or print.

  • How to exchange audiobooks: One of the coolest features of Audible is that you can exchange books at any time. I’m serious—they mean any time. It’s like L.L.Bean’s old return policy, but for audiobooks. I’ve listened to multiple titles all the way through and then exchanged them after I was finished listening for a brand new credit. You can do this if you’re unhappy with the recording, with the production, with the story itself—you name it, the “reasons” are pretty loose. I’ve noticed that some books I got three years ago aren’t eligible anymore to be returned—ones over the last year still are. Full disclosure: I may or may not have returned a few books just to get extra credits. Judge not lest ye be judged.

How to listen to Audible

listening to audible
Credit: Amazon / Shayna Murphy

How you listen to Audible is up to you—you can do it via app or desktop and it's extremely convenient.

One of the single biggest feathers in Audible’s cap, so to speak, is its convenience. The ability to listen along anywhere is a major benefit and especially good for folks like me, who always feel perpetually short on free time to read. I’ve gotten through a 50-hour audiobook—which translates to roughly 1,000 pages—in a couple weeks, just listening during my commute and slow periods at the office, and other Audible users I know who spend a lot of time in their cars have managed to get through multiple bestsellers in a month.

  • Where to listen: You can listen to Audible anywhere on iOS, Android, Sonos, Kindle, and any Alexa-enabled devices. To do so, you just have to download the app directly to your phone. Your personal library carries over and you can access all your titles from there. The app also allows you to rate and review books, mark a title as finished, and view book details, like fellow listener reviews and plot summaries. If you’re working on something and glued to a laptop, you can even pull up Audible on your desktop screen via the Audible Cloud Player, which allows you to stream audio through a little pop-up on Chrome and Safari. It really is that easy to use it everywhere.

  • Using the app: You can access the Audible app directly on your phone, and once you link it to your account, you can do everything you would via desktop, including browsing new titles, accessing news, reviewing account details and billing information, and more. You can also pause, play, fast forward, or rewind audio on a book, and change narration speeds based on your preference. If a certain line really resonates with you, you can also use the “Clip” functionality on the app to save it, and you have the option to listen to titles offline.

  • Saving your place: It doesn’t matter what you’re listening to Audible on, because if you switch a device, you can pick up right where you left off. Audible will automatically save your last place, so you never lose it. You also have the option of setting a sleep timer—in increments up to 60 minutes or until the end of a chapter—in case you’re listening in bed.

  • Sharing with others: You can share Netflix, Hulu, and Prime accounts with other people so they can stream shows, so why not Audible too? Turns out, you can share your Audible account across multiple devices, so friends and loved ones can listen along with the books in your personal library. So long as they’re not listening to the same book as you are—otherwise you run in place-saving problems—there’s no limit to the number of devices that can access your account at one time. It’s as easy as sharing passwords for streaming services—and here’s hoping Audible never catches on.

What happens if you cancel Audible?

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Credit: Amazon / Shayna Murphy

The process for canceling Audible is straightforward and easy to follow.

In the roughly three years or so since I started using Audible, I’ve actually canceled the service and placed my account on hold more than once. (What can I say, I’m a scallawag.) While some services make it feel like pulling teeth to end or pause a service, Audible’s whole process is simple and easy to handle.

  • How to putting your Audible account on hold: Like Audible but don’t necessarily feel like it’s worth spending $15 a month right now? No biggie, because you can put your account on hold. Subscribers can do it once every 12 months, and can place a hold for anywhere from one to three months. You have to call customer service, but beyond that, it’s pretty straightforward. In the meantime, you can still access your library and use your available credits.

  • Cancellation process: If you decide to cancel Audible, you just have to navigate to the site on desktop, head to the Account Details page, and click Cancel membership at the bottom of the View Membership details section. Once you do, you’ll get an automated email sent to you confirming the cancellation.

  • What happens to your library when you cancel: When you cancel your Audible account, you don’t lose access to your library. You can still listen to titles you have saved, and you’ll still get to enjoy the same membership-level listening experience as you did before canceling.

  • Your unused credits: With unused credits, things get a little tricky. Any time I’ve canceled in the past, I’ve just used up all the credits I still had, since I knew I could still listen along with those books after canceling. Otherwise, they’d just go to waste. The actual rules around unused credits are a little more involved, but the short of it is, you’re probably better off just saving yourself the hassle and redeeming them toward new audiobooks before you end your membership.

  • Restarting you membership: All you have to do is log back into Audible and go to your Account Details page. You can confirm your billing information is still correct and renew, and Audible will start charging you monthly from that renewal date. Most importantly, they’ll never judge you for canceling or putting your account on hold several times, you can just breeze right in like the whole thing never happened.

Is Audible worth it?

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Credit: Amazon / Shayna Murphy

Audible also offers personalized recommendations based on your browsing history.

I’d rank my love of Audible right up there with goat cheese and bubble baths and nice fancy scotch. It’s the kind of thing that isn’t just “worth it” to me—it’s a real treat that makes me feel good every time I use it.

My reputation as a bookworm had really hit the skids before I discovered Audible. When friends talked about new releases and these incredible authors they were discovering and falling head over heels for, I kind of just looked at my feet and hoped no one would ask me to chime in. Free time for reading books felt scarce. And because I get motion sickness so easily now, even reading during commutes or long rides is hard for me too, so I try to avoid reading a lot of trips for that very reason.

Reading shouldn’t feel like a luxury, but for me, having the spare time to do it like I once did as a kid and student felt next to impossible. But now, thanks to Audible, I feel like I’m slowing edging my way back toward official bookworm status, or whatever the audiobook equivalent of that happens to be.

For my part, just discovering how much fun audiobooks are has been great too. I used to be a total book purist—forget tablets, forget anything that isn’t the real thing—but now thanks to Audible, I’ve come to really appreciate audiobooks for their naturally more dramatic feel. Perhaps it’s because the stories are being produced and performed, but they have a similar feel to podcasts, which I really enjoy.

Even though my relationship with my Audible membership has been off-and-on—sometimes I really want it, other times I neglect it for months—that’s got nothing to do with the service itself, which is affordable and easy to use, offers access to a huge library, and makes it easy to listen along all the time. To me, the real question is why anyone wouldn’t give Audible a shot, especially if they appreciate getting swept up in a good story. I know I sure do.

Sign up for Audible starting at $14.95 per month

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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.

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