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 many 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.

CD/Cassette Tape

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.

Audiobooks on USB sticks can be played via a computer. This usually involves using File Explorer to locate the file you want to play, and then selecting it.

Cassette tapes have almost been relegated to history, but some people love the nostalgia of a cassette, and when you stop listening, the cassette will resume where you left off. If you remove a CD from a CD player, it will start right from the beginning.

USB Stick

You can also buy a device designed for listening to audiobooks on USB stick, like the RNIB Communiplayer which remembers where you got up to, even if you remove the USB stick or turn it off.

Click here for the RNIB Communiplayer

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.

MP3 Format

Some audiobook providers, like Calibre, offer their books in MP3 format.

MP3 files may be downloaded, or you may access them on a USB stick or other external device.

Ease of use will depend on the device or software you are using, along with functionality like remembering where you stopped and navigation around the book. For example,, the RNIB Communiplayer allows you to move forward and backward in 15 second increments when listening to MP3 files on a USB stick.
Due to the nature of MP3, navigating will not be as feature rich as DAISY (see below), but for most books where you would listen from start to end, it is more than adequate.

DAISY Format

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 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, for reading books in DAISY format.

DAISY format books are available from the RNIB (on USB stick, on CD or as a digital download), and this format is heavily used by academic institutions like the Open University.

Click here for the Victor Reader Stratus 4

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.

Buy In Your Pocket from RealSam

Smart Devices

Smart devices are another fantastic way to access 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).

If you are an RNIB Reading Services member, you can use an Alexa-enabled device to access RNIB Talking Books. Find out more by visiting the RNIB Alexa Skill page

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.

Audible

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, 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, so no need to worry if you decide to cancel your membership before you have finished a book.

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.

Spotify

Spotify has always been known for its offering of music and podcasts, but did you know you can also access audiobooks?

If you have Spotify Premium, you can access a large amount of audiobooks just by being a premium member. You can listen to 15 hours of audiobooks per month, and you can buy an additional 10-hour top-up if you need it.

If an audiobook isn’t available as part of the premium subscription, you can buy it as a separate purchase.

Please note: Listening to audiobooks as part of your premium subscription is only available if you pay for your subscription. If you are part of a duo or family plan, but aren’t the plan manager (the one who pays the bill), you unfortunately can’t access audiobooks unless you purchase each audiobook separately.

BorrowBox

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.

Download BorrowBox on the App Store
Download BorrowBox from the Play Store

Dolphin EasyReader

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 (see below) on this app, as well as a number of other audiobook libraries.

You will need to enter your membership details to access the libraries.

Download Dolphin EasyReader on the App Store
Download Dolphin EasyReader on the Play Store

Calibre

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.

When you become a Calibre member, which is completely free, you will be able to access the service with your membership number and password.

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.

You can also download books if you have iOS or Android (using either Dolphin EasyReader or Libby, the library app by Overdrive), receive books on USB stick, and access books through RealSam.

Click here for Calibre’s qwvairw
Click here for Play Calibre

YouTube

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.

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