In a few short years, both podcasts and audiobooks have experienced a stratospheric rise.
Back in 2006, only 22 percent of the adult population in the United States had even heard of podcasting. By 2021, this figure had risen to 78 percent.
Audiobooks have had a similar stratospheric rise. A new Pew Research report states that one in five Americans now listen to audiobooks. Why is the spoken word so popular? The answer is technology: smartphones and bluetooth. In the past the only way to listen to a book was to juggle a bunch of audiotapes and/or CDs with a large, clumsy player. Podcasts were unknown. Today audio is king. Audiobooks are a godsend for anyone with a vision impairment, which includes many seniors.
Even if you enjoy reading physical books, you will probably also love audiobooks which recreate the cozy world of being read to as a child, except you get to listen to trained actors and often a full cast. As for podcasts, if you love politics, storytelling, news, true crime or quirky, oddball ideas, there is a podcast to suit your interests.
Here are some of the most popular and least expensive ways to access both podcasts and audiobooks:
- Google Podcasts Free Google Podcasts is pre-installed on Android phones. It doesn’t have exclusive content like other apps but is easy to use and has suggestions for genres on its home page. The player allows you to download content and view your history to find shows you’re in the middle of. Good choice for free, easy podcast listening.
- Stitcher Free with ads or $5 a month. Stitcher curates playlists for you depending on your interests, including genres like women, independent artists, true crime and more. It features top picks of the week and original shows some of which are only available with the premium plan. It’s got more playback features than other apps as well, plus allowing you to make playlists.
- $10 per month. If you like music as well as podcasts, the monthly fee for Spotify gets you two for the price of one. Spotify has literally millions of podcasts. Here’s how to find your favorites.
- Other options. Read about more podcast options.
- Audible.com $14.95 for one title (1 credit) a month or $22.95 for two credits. $7.95 for a limited selection. The pioneer in the audiobook field, Audible—with 200,000 books– is without real competition. Owned by Amazon, the interface is easy to use, and syncs seamlessly with your car’s Bluetooth. Most of the narrators are professional actors, and some of the audiobooks are full cast productions like the wonderful radio dramas we used to listen to in the pre-TV era. Everything is one price—so the latest best seller is 1 credit. You can purchase books individually if you don’t want to spend a credit. To compete with newer services, Audible now offers Audible Plus for $7.95 per month, included with membership. It offers a lot of free titles plus Audible originals. You get a daily deal every day by email as well.
- Overdrive is a free audiobook app from public libraries. Here is a course on how to use it. The downside is you have to wait for best sellers, just like library books. And they will have to be returned in two weeks. You need to download the Libby app to use Overdrive. There are other library apps as well. Read about them
- Chirp. Chirp will send you a list of books in your email daily. If you’re an avid reader you’re bound to find some deeply discounted books you want to read. It’s not uncommon to find deals in the $3-6 range on Chirp for audiobooks that would otherwise retail for $20+. You need download the Chirp app, but it’s pretty simple to use with enough features to make listening easy. You can buy bestsellers too, but they’re not discounted.
- Other options. This article will give you a comprehensive rundown of alternative audiobook services that are less expensive than Audible. But before signing up, make sure they’re really cheaper. Some may have lower monthly membership fees but you have to pay for the books on top of that.
So, try the experience of listening to a book. Audible has a free trial where you get to listen to one book for free. You may just get hooked, and find a whole new world of books you might not have had the patience or visual acuity to read in print.
Erica Manfred’s articles and humorous essays have appeared in print and online publications including the Washington Post, Atlantic, Salon, Village Voice, and the New York Times. A self proclaimed Geezer Geek, now in her seventies, she specializes in writing about aging. She’s the author of four books, including her memoir, I’m Old So Why Aren’t I Wise; Snarky Senior in the Sunshine State. You can subscribe to her newsletter at SnarkySenior.com or visit her website at EricaManfred.com