Want to make better use of your commute? Here's how you can get started with audiobooks

Given that many of us spend a lot of our time in traffic these days, listening to an audiobook may be the perfect gift we give ourselves on an otherwise stressful day

By Tamreez Inam

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Published: Thu 16 Nov 2023, 7:52 PM

Following my column on November 3, which gave some tips on finding time to read, I got messages from readers saying that while they find it difficult to sit down with a physical book, they are curious about trying out audiobooks.

Given that many of us spend a lot of our time in traffic these days, listening to an audiobook may be the perfect gift we give ourselves on an otherwise stressful day. Of course, audiobooks are not just for listening during traffic (surveys have found that 60 per cent of people listen to audiobooks at home) or for adults. In fact, the best-selling audiobooks of all-time are the Harry Potter series. If you have a child who finds it difficult to read, and particularly if they have a learning challenge such as dyslexia, you can open up the world of books and literature to them via audiobooks (thankfully, while they may be listening on a device, it doesn’t count as the dreaded ‘screen time’).

Audiobooks are the fastest-growing category in publishing at the moment. Audiobook sales grew 157 per cent between 2015 and 2020 according to Audio Publishers Association. During the pandemic, the sales of audiobooks grew even faster due to ease of access and availability. From 2023 to 2030, the audiobook market will grow by 26.4 per cent every year, while the book publishing market as a whole will grow only by 1.9 per cent according to research by Wordsrated, a research and data analytics company specialising in the publishing industry.

Publishers and audiobooks producers are bringing their A-game to audiobooks from hiring top actors to narrate audiobooks, for example Tom Hanks narrating Ann Patchett’s The Dutch House or Reese Witherspoon narrating Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, to experimenting with sounds and music (I’m not a fan of the bells and whistles approach though and prefer a good simple narration).

Where to find audiobooks

The best place to get the latest and most extensive selection of audiobooks would be Audible (and its accompanying phone app), a subscription service owned by Amazon. If you want an alternative, then Audiobooks.com (acquired by Storytel in 2021) is another great resource for English books with a large collection.

Both are based on a monthly subscription model. For Dh55 (approx.) a month you get one book of your choice, plus some bonus free books from a limited monthly selection. But truth be told, most of these ‘bonus’ books are relatively unknown or unpopular titles, so essentially you need to keep in mind that you will be paying about Dh55 a month for one book. Most people just listen to one book a month, so this should be sufficient but you do have options for upgrading your plan.

If you’re a fan of classics, then you’re in luck as there is a large selection of it available for free on both platforms (and on other websites on the internet too). One of my all-time favourite audiobooks is actress Rosamund Pike’s narration of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

Another option, especially if you’re looking for books in languages other than English such as Arabic or Hindi, would be Storytel. The subscription is cheaper at Dh37 (approx.) a month for unlimited books but the selection in English is limited.

Most public libraries in the UAE give you access to their audiobooks and e-books via the Libby app. For the cost of a library membership, you can get access to these books for free but do keep in mind that you are just borrowing these books whereas with a subscription to a platform such as Audible you own the audiobooks, even if you can cancel or pause your subscription.

Another advantage of paid subscriptions is that you can share them with up to two other family members. For your children, in addition to the public libraries you can also check with their school library. Many have access to catalogues of e-books and audiobooks.


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