Advances in technology are changing the ways people access audio books

Steven Morris
Steven Morris

In this month’s oldblog, we’re going to look at audio books and how advances in technology are changing the way people access them.

For many people unable to read print, audio books offer a great way of reading the books we love. The RNIB launched their ‘Talking Books’ service way back in 1935 on gramophone records. They did this as soldiers who lost their sight during World War 1 found learning braille difficult. Since then, the RNIB have sent out many millions of talking books on record, cassette and now special ‘Daisy’ CDs.

As well as the RNIB, audio books on cassette and, more recently CDs could be purchased commercially or borrowed from local libraries, as well as from charities such as the Calibre audio book service. Libraries, the RNIB and Calibre services are particularly valuable to those with sight loss because of the high cost of buying audio books.

With advances in modern technology however, the way some people choose to access their audio books is changing. One of the biggest problems with audio books was often the amount of space they took up. For example, a standard unabridged novel may need up to 9 or 10 cassettes to fit the whole book on.

In the early 2000s, the RNIB launched their Daisy audio book service which allowed them to fit a large amount on to a single CD meaning that most of their books could fit on to a single disc. These required special players which, until recently, were provided as part of a talking book subscription. Although the RNIB has stopped providing the Daisy players as part of their subscriptions, they can still be purchased from the RNIB shop, or software can be purchased to enable you to play Daisy CDs on your computer. As well as Daisy CDs, the RNIB now also offers the chance to borrow talking books on USB stick which can be played on USB players which are a much cheaper option than a Daisy player.

One of the most popular ranges of Daisy players are the Victor Reader Stream players. Newer models such as Victor Reader Stratus and Victor Reader Stream models now offer wireless connectivity meaning that daisy books can be downloaded to the players over the internet rather than waiting for the CDs to arrive in the post.

The most popular commercial site for buying downloadable audio books is from where you can buy from a huge selection of audio books which can be downloaded instantly to your computer or other device such as smartphone, tablet or MP3 player. Books can be purchased individually or they offer various subscription packages.

Some local libraries are now also offering ebooks and audio books to borrow and download, and websites such as LibriVox allow you to download free public domain audio books.

Last August, the RNIB launched RNIB Overdrive. For an annual subscription of £50, blind and partially sighted people can download RNIB talking books, talking magazines and podcasts directly to their computer/smartphone/tablet.

The service is still in its infancy and RNIB are regularly adding more books to the service, so this may be a great way for people to download audio books at an affordable price.

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