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LibriVox aims to offer all of its subscribers the best in free, personality-filled audiobooks from some of the worlds best authors. The service’s rather lofty motto, “acoustical liberation of books in the public domain” gives us an idea of what this service is really about – powered by donations and volunteers, it exists to help preserve copies of all books in the public domain in an audio (spoken-word) version, meaning everyone can enjoy them for free. While this is a bit of a departure from most of the services we have reviewed in this category, we were both excited and impressed by what was on offer at LibriVox and certainly think it has something to offer within this competitive marketplace.
One of the key concepts to understand when considering whether LibriVox is for you or not is the meaning of “public domain” within the context of audiobooks. The “public domain” means, quite simply, works on which the copyright has expired. In the UK and US, the expiration of copyright occurs seventy years after the death of the person creating the work, unless copyright is waived earlier – meaning the vast majority of books that will be found on sites such as LibriVox will be classic novels written a long time ago. While this isn’t likely to be great news for those looking for free audiobook versions of the Harry Potter series (bad luck guys!), those who want to discover (or re-discover) classic works by authors such as Shakespeare, Aesop and Charles Dickens are all available to download free of charge.
The fact that the service is funded entirely by donations does serve to make it somewhat unreliable at times, especially when large numbers of users attempt to download books at similar times, so if you’re likely to get frustrated by this, LibriVox is perhaps not the service for you. That said, users can enjoy a number of additional features, including user reader forums, community podcast, books podcast and wiki page, all of which help to enhance the overall experience. Finally, as the service is powered by volunteers, if a book you want to listen to isn’t available, you will, unfortunately, just have to wait until a volunteer records it. This could be a while, although new books are added on a constant basis. Of course, you could always volunteer to read and record the book yourself and donate the recording back to the public domain for dissemination by LibriVox!
Clearly, one of LibriVox’s greatest advantages (from the consumer’s point of view, at least) is that the service is completely free of charge to the end user, without exception. Whilst this is undoubtedly a huge plus, it is worth bearing in mind that the extent of the “public domain” means that blockbuster bestsellers, new releases and popular new books won’t feature at all within the libraries of books on offer at this site. If you’re looking for a place to discover old books in a new light, or simply add to your collection of audiobooks without having to worry about the prohibitive cost, then LibriVox is definitely a great place to start.
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