Getting started with download audio books

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RNIB supporting blind and partially sighted people


Getting started with download audio books

This guide is an introduction to using download audio books. It tells you what download audio books are, the accessibility features they offer, and the devices you can use to access them.

What are download audio books?

A download audio book is a recorded version of a book, available in an electronic file that can be downloaded onto a computer, MP3 player, mobile phone or tablet. It is usually narrated by a human voice. Downloading one means you are copying the electronic file from the internet to your device so that you can listen to it.

Download audio books offer blind and partially sighted readers the opportunity to enjoy books at the same time and price as other readers.

How do I play them?

If you’d like to listen to audio books at home, you can do so through your home computer.

  • Using a computer

    You can listen to audio books on your computer using programs like Windows Media Player, RealPlayer or WinAmp. You can also download an ‘app’ (an application that offers access to services), such as Audible to your computer. Visit for more information.

If you’d rather listen on the move, you can do so with a range of portable devices.

  • MP3 players

    An MP3 player is a portable device used to listen to electronic music and audio files. There are many different types available. If you’re buying one to mainly listen to audio books, make sure you shop around and choose one that is most compatible with your audio books. An ‘MP3’ is a digital audio file that is quick and easy to download from the internet. It can hold a CD track, which is reduced in size by about 90 per cent, but without significantly affecting sound quality.

  • iPods

    The best-known brand of MP3 player is Apple’s iPod. The iPod touch is a version that comes with a built-in accessibility feature called VoiceOver, which lets you browse and select books without having to view the screen. Instead, a synthesized voice speaks the names of menus, titles and authors. It also offers Zoom magnification and the ability to inverse the screen colours.

  • Specialist players

There are also products on the market that are specifically designed for blind and partially sighted people. Good ones to look for are the DAISY Milestone 312, Victor Reader Stream and BookSense. You can get more information or order these by calling our Helpline on 0303 123 9999 or emailing

  • Tablets and phones

    A range of tablets and smartphones offer access to book reading via downloadable audio book apps. Your choice of device may depend on whether the primary purpose of it is as a phone or tablet first, followed by its ability to be used for reading, or vice versa. Apple produce a popular range of tablets and phones which offer VoiceOver, the screen reader that lets you browse and select books without viewing the screen. These can all also be operated using electronic braille displays.

Where do I get books from?

Once you have a device to play your downloadable books, you can start choosing which titles you're going to read!

Most download sites work in the same way. First you’ll need to create an online account, and then you’ll be able to access and purchase audio books. Some sites allow you to sample part of a book before deciding whether or not to purchase it.

When you start shopping for downloads you will probably come across the term DRM (digital rights management). DRM is encryption that restricts how you can use downloaded audio books. It is designed to stop people from unlawfully copying them, and to limit the devices you can play them on.
Here are just a few of the sites available:

  • Audible

    Audible is a major site with more than 80,000+ titles that you can buy and download to your computer, phone, tablet, Kindle eReader or MP3 player. You can make one-off purchases, or sign up to obtain one or two titles every month for a set monthly fee. Audible is very popular amongst blind and partially sighted readers. Visit

  • Audioville an Amazon company

    Audioville is another site that offers a range of 80,000 audiobook titles to download to your PC, iPod or mobile device. Visit

  • iTunes

    iTunes is the online shop where audio books for Apple iPods, iPhones and iPads can be purchased. Visit

  • More sites

    There is an impressive list of audio book websites at Tom Lorimer's Whitestick website. Visit

  • Free books

    Some websites allow you to download free audio books. Librivox provides free audio books from the public domain - visit Audiobooksforfree allows you to download books for free - visit

  • Borrowing books

    An increasing number of libraries offer audio books for loan. You'll need to speak to your local library to find out whether they do this, and if so, how you can access them

Other general factors to take into account

Accessibility is crucial but there are other factors you may want to consider when using download audio books.


Portable devices are generally compact, designed to fit in your pocket or handbag and have good battery life. However, other features will differ. For example, a phone device may be light, yet it might have a small screen and keyboard. Other multi-function devices like tablets will have larger screens, yet will be heavier. You’ll need to decide which features are more important to you when choosing which one to go for.


Multi-function devices like phones, tablets and MP3 players may not be as brilliant at reading, but will allow you to do a lot more on them, like making phone calls, using the internet or allowing you to play music as well as books. It’s best to decide what you want out of your device as a whole before you decide what to buy.


Apps that you use to download audio books are free, but by using them you subscribe to a particular service that they provide. It is worth checking what other costs there will be beforehand. Subscriptions can cost under £10 per month or bundles of books cost around £5 a title from some providers such as Audible.

Ease of use

Download audio apps require you to be able to use a keyboard, mouse or touch-screen gestures.

Technology Support Squad

    If you've recently bought a device for using downloadable audio books, but you're having difficulty using it, call RNIB's Technology Support Squad. We have a team of volunteers across the UK who can visit you at home to help you set up and use technology, from computers through to mobile phones and eBook readers. Call our Helpline on 0303 123 9999 to find out more or request a free volunteer.

More information

The RNIB website has lots of useful information about reading, as well as up to date reviews of the latest devices on the market. Visit
If you need advice about eBooks you can call our Helpline on 0303 123 9999 or email You can also email
Last updated - January 2014

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