Accessing Audiobooks: Formats and services
Being visually impaired does not have to stop you indulging in a good book. There are many ways to enjoy books if you have a visual impairment – one format preferred by many visually impaired people is the audiobook.
Read on as Richard from our Digital Enablement Team explains some of the different ways you can access audiobooks, including different formats and providers.
Please note: Any mentions of specific products are not endorsements. We have not been asked to promote any products for financial benefit.
Books on CD or cassette may come from your local library or may be found in some shops / charity shops. These can be played on standard audio equipment.
Even though cassette tapes have almost been relegated to history, they have the advantage over CD’s that you can pick up where you left off!
Audiobooks on USB sticks can be played via a computer, but this can involve using File Explorer to locate the file you want to play, and then selecting it.
Much easier to use would be a dedicated device, like the Sonic 2 USB player. The Sonic Player remembers where you got up to, even if you remove the USB stick or turn it off.
If you qualify for a device through British Wireless For The Blind Fund (BWBF), most of their devices come with a USB player option.
Audiobooks on USB sticks are available from RNIB and Calibre.
Some audiobook providers, like RNIB and Calibre, allow you to download the book in MP3 format. Downloading in this format allows you to play your audiobook using a wide range of devices and software across all mobile and desktop platforms.
Ease of use will depend on which MP3 player / device combination you are using, along with functionality like remembering where you stopped, and navigation around the book.
Due to the nature of MP3, navigating will not be as feature rich as DAISY format (see below) but for most books where you would listen from start to end, it is more than adequate.
DAISY format books come on CD’s or can be downloaded onto your computer or a specialist device like a Victor Reader Stratus 4.
The DAISY format provides more features for creating your own bookmarks and navigating around books, which is especially handy if you are studying or not reading a book from start to finish. There is software available for laptops and computers and apps available for mobile devices that can read DAISY format.
DAISY format books are available from the RNIB, but this format is heavily used by academic institutions like the Open University.
In Your Pocket
In Your Pocket, available from RealSam, is a smartphone you operate using just your voice. In Your Pocket offers the ability to listen to audiobooks from RNIB, Calibre and Torch Trust. You can learn more about In Your Pocket by visiting this page on our website.
Smart devices are the new kids on the block for accessing audiobooks!
You can use an Alexa-enabled device, such as the Amazon Echo, to listen to books through Audible (see below for more info about Audible). With Alexa, you can access your audiobooks using your voice and it will synchronise across devices so you can pick up where you left off on a different device in a different location without lifting a finger.
You can also use your Alexa-enabled device to access the RealSam smart speaker solution, which offers access to audiobooks from Calibre and Torch Trust.
The RealSam Smart Speaker solution is also available on Google Assistant enabled devices, such as the Google Home and Google Nest Mini.
Find out more about the RealSam Smart Speaker Solution by reading our blog.
If you are an RNIB Reading Services member, you can use an Alexa-enabled device to access RNIB Talking Books. Find out more here.
Audible is a service provided by Amazon which allows you to listen to audiobooks across all devices and platforms including iOS, Android, Windows, Mac, and as mentioned above the Alexa-enabled devices.
Audible is a subscription service costing £7.99 per month (after a 30-day free trial) which entitles you to one book per month, or you can buy books individually.
If you cancel your membership, you can keep any books you have purchased.
Some Audible audiobooks can also be accessed via Kindle (you purchase the Audible narration along with the Kindle book) so you can alternate between reading and listening if you prefer, and using a feature called Whispersync, Kindle remembers your point in the book regardless of whether you read or listen.
Calibre is an audiobook library specifically for visually impaired and print disabled people.
Calibre’s audiobooks can be streamed from their website (via Play Calibre) to a mobile device or computer, providing you are a Calibre member as you will need to log in with your membership number and password to access the service.
Audiobooks will play from where you left off even if you log in with a different device, and you can have up to four books in your streaming list at any one time.
BorrowBox is the app used by public libraries allowing you to access their collection of audiobooks. As this is a digital service, it has allowed libraries to pool their audiobook resources, allowing a wider range of books available.
BorrowBox is available for iOS and Android free of charge and works well with the built-in accessibility features of the devices.
As of May 2020, Dolphin EasyReader is the app that the RNIB use for their Talking Books. It is available on iOS and Android for free and is fully compatible with accessibility features on all devices.
You can also access Calibre on this app, as well as a number of other audiobook libraries.
You will need to enter your membership details to access the libraries.
Who knew, but there are audiobooks available on YouTube!
Just search for the book you want to listen to, as you would any other YouTube video, and if an audiobook is available, it should show up in the search results.
Find out more
If you would like more information and support regarding using technology to read books independently, get in touch with our Digital Enablement Team by calling 0300 222 5555 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
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