An audio book is a recording of a reading of a text. This recording may be the full text (unabridged) or of an abridgment of a book, meaning the publisher has taken away parts of the text to shorten the recording.
Audio books are not new, rather they can be traced as far back as 1933 when J. P. Harrington started recording oral histories of Native American tribes. In the late 1970s they began to be distributed on cassette tapes. CD technology increased their popularity by making them more convenient and offering a cleaner and crisper sound. Technology has undergone another change in recent years with the advent of downloadable audio books.
Downloading and listening to audio books is a straight-forward process. In most cases, it is as simple as finding the one you want and then clicking your mouse to commence the download. Once it has finished downloading, you can then transfer it to a MP3 player, personal digital assistant (PDA) or smartphone for listening on the go. Or, you can transfer (i.e. "burn") the content to an audio CD or simply listen on your computer.
Surveys of listeners have found the most popular place to listen to books is in the car. Titles can be played on your car stereo system with CDs or by connecting your listening device (e.g. iPod) to the stereo via a FM transmitter or the AUX input.
The quality of audio available for download online can vary. When searching online look at the bit rate as it is the best pragmatic measure of quality. Put simply, the higher the bit rate, the higher the quality. Audio encoded at 32 kbp is usually more than good enough. Encoding at 64 kbps is more crisp and clear, but you need to consider the hard drive space and capacity on your listening device.
One issue to consider is Digital Rights Management (DRM). Audible and iTunes, the two largest online retailers, sell DRM-protected audio books which means the titles are embedded with usage limitations. If you dislike DRM and want more DRM-free content made available the best thing you can do is support companies that sell DRM-free media such as eMusic and We Read 4 You.
If you're interested in trying audio books, a good place to start is a free site such as BooksShouldBeFree.com or a large retailer such as Audible.com which offers a free trial.
To read more about this topic visit Audio Book Downloads, a blog which can has a simple mission: to help you find the very best downloadable audio books available on the internet.