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I don’t always like to admit this: I like reading, but I don’t like reading. I like the experience of books, but don’t like the act of reading. I wish I did. I’m sure part of it is growing up in a much more computer-centric time, social media, etc. I’ve come to accept it’s just difficult for me to truly sit down with a book.
Yet, I want to read. So, I turned to audiobooks. I love that I can work out, go for a walk, or ride a bus while still experiencing a book, totally hands free.
I started with Audible, as most audiobook lovers do. I had no major complaints about using Audible, but it being owned by Amazon never really sat right with me.
My first real jobs were all in the book industry. I worked on both ends, for publishers and for an independent bookstore. People in the industry’s dislike for Amazon is no secret. Ask your local bookseller and they’ll be happy to tell you all about it.
The bookstore I worked at is called A Room of One’s Own in Madison, WI, USA (check it out if you’re in the area). I remember sitting down one day to go over the store’s inbox and seeing emails from something called Libro.fm. They were, apparently, sending us money.
I asked about it. “It’s audiobooks. They share profits with us if someone chooses our store to support,” one of my coworkers told me. I was floored. This sounded awesome. And it was.
I tried Libro for a month and then felt no remorse about canceling my Audible subscription. I even bought some of my Audible books again because it was almost as good as buying them from my local store.
Like Audible, you get one book per month with Libro, and you can choose to buy more if you want. The discounts aren’t as spectacular, but I don’t mind. Whenever I see the Audible discounts, I can’t help but think of all the people, my colleagues at one time, who end up with less money because of them. I’m happy to pay full price.
Also like Audible, Libro has a nice player UI with all the options I look for. You can also look for other books in the app.
Unlike Audible, Libro.fm lets you select a bookstore that it will share part of your purchases with. I never got any exact numbers when I worked in the bookstore, but my impression was we got more than you might think. It’s not wheelbarrows of cash or anything, but anything helps when we’re talking about independent bookstores. It’s a really tough business these days.
You can choose any bookstore as long as they’ve agreed to partner with Libro. It’s mainly US and Canadian stores, but there are a decent number of stores from all over the world.
Audible isn’t all that special.
I can’t think of a single feature I used on Audible that either wasn’t already part of Libro, or that they haven’t added. There might be some I’m not aware of, but anything that I think of as core to enjoying listening to audiobooks, Libro.fm does well, and some things it does even better.
One welcome difference is Libro offers an easy way to download all of your audiobooks from your account as regular mp3 files. This is possible with Audible, but far more tedious. You might have to do a little work to stitch the Libro files back into a complete audiobook, but this is trivial once you’ve done it a few times. I have no plans to switch away from Libro, but it’s comforting to know that I have a backup of all my books, just in case.
I tend to prefer fiction as audiobooks and non-fiction as printed, so my Libro library is largely fiction. One of my recent favorite listens was Susanna Clarke’s, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. The story itself is great (it recounts the lives of two rival wizards) and the narration makes it even better. I’m also just about to finish Xiran Jay Zhao’s debut novel, Iron Widow, which I’ve really enjoyed as well.
There is a simplicity to books and audiobooks as a medium that I appreciate. Amazon is one of richest companies in the world, but the experience of Audible is not dramatically different to a much smaller, independent app that works with bookstores instead of against them. There is not much for big tech to optimize. It’s all just words on a page or in your ear.