How to Read an Audiobook

One of the first things people say to me when they walk in my apartment is, “I wish I had more time to read.” Books are strewn across the kitchen table, in stacks by my desk, floor to ceiling shelves in the living room, in between spice racks in the kitchen, on the bedroom nightstand – you get the picture, a lot of fuel if there was a fire (my dream is to have a miniature bookshelf in the bathroom but my girlfriend won’t give in).

So here’s my confession. About 80% of the books I read are audiobooks. I am a slow reader – always have been – and because reading didn’t come naturally to me, I hated it growing up. I hated English class in high school and avoided books, magazines, even email – I was terrified at breakfast when the back of the cereal box was facing me. It wasn’t until I found audiobooks that I fell in love with reading.

Listening to an audiobook (at 2x speed) along with a physical book is my preference. This allows me to scan each line and make notes if there is an interesting portion I want to return to later. When I am not reading a book for style and plot structure – when I am just interested in the content -- I don’t bother sitting down with a physical book. I listen to these books when I am running/working out, on the bus, cleaning, walking around campus, etc. Research suggests there is little difference in comprehension between reading and listening to a text. In fact, we are conditioned to listen and are more likely to continue listening to a book than keep reading it.


Math breakdown

It is easy to read well over 100 books per year (and be able to fully recall ideas, content, and concepts). 

If an average audiobook is 8 hours long and if I listen to it at 2x speed, that’s four hours of listening.

  • Daily run (40 minutes + 20 minute cool down)= 1 hour/day
  • Bus/commute = 1 hour/day
  • Cleaning/laundry/washing dishes = ½-1 hour/day

In a five-day work week, that’s 12.5 hours of listening, which is 2.5 books/week. 52 weeks (1 year) = 130 books.

Where to Find Audiobooks

There are four ways to acquire audiobooks:

1. Library (free)

2. Subscription (monthly fee)

3. Pay as you go (individual titles – most expensive)

4. Public Domain (free)


I think the library is the best option. I listened to about 80 audiobooks last year, which is about $1800 if I bought each audiobook individually or $1000 on a subscription plan.

Cassette tapes and Audio CDs are mostly a thing of the past (although I’m sure your local library has a cassette or two if you are going to fire up the old Pinto this summer). Most library books and audiobooks are hosted on their website in an electric library (e-library: e-audio and e-book). Libraries nowadays have some great software and a ton of titles.

Most libraries use OneClickdigital and/or OverDrive for e-audio downloads. Both work on Mac/Windows/Android computers, tablets, and smartphones. I like Overdrive a little better because it is more user-friendly and allows you to increase the speed to 1.25x, 1.5x, 1.75x, and 2x.

If you don’t have access to a decent library or prefer to own your audiobooks, the following options may be best for you



For $8.99/month you can listen to as many audiobooks you want. A few other sites used to have a monthly plan like this but unfortunately they have all turned into knock-offs of Audible 


Starting at $17.98/month rent audiobook CDs (like Netflix) mailed to your doorstep


  • 30 day free trial
  • 1 book per month - $14.95
  • 2 books per month - $22.95
    •   Option to buy additional book “credits” and 30% off all audio titles 

  • 1 book per month $14.95
    • Option to buy additional book “credits”

Pay as You Go

You can purchase audiobooks individually in CD format and as a direct download


Audiobook stand

Barnes and Nobel 


Public Domain


A non-profit organization specializing in volunteer-read books in the public domain. You can download them fast and for free! The only downsides are that you can’t speed up the reading and the readers are inconsistent (some are hard to hear and some books have different readers every chapter – which can be confusing).


Internet Archive

Similar to Librivox but more focused on audiobooks/recordings and content that is in the public domain – not always read by volunteers. For example, Walden Two by B.F. Skinner (read by B.F. Skinner).

Keeping Track of Your Books

Goodreads: is a great way to keep track of the books you have read, post reviews, find new books, and connect with others who have similar interests.

Notes: Keeping notes of each book you read will help with recalling content later. Also, you can go back and review your notes later if you need a refresher. Take a look at the note taking strategy we wrote about late last year.

One final note: invest in some good headphones. My favorite headphones are Beats but there are a lot of great headphones currently on the market. It’s true, you get what you pay for – so treat yourself. You don’t want to buy new mediocre headphones every six months.

What’s on your reading list this year? Tell us in a comment below!


Andrew J. Wilt
SEI Junior Consultant 
Apprenticeship Program