Audio books have been around for years on tapes and CDs, but new downloadable and digital audio books and players make it more convenient to catch up on The Da Vinci Code in the rental car line or settle down with an Agatha Christie mystery on a trans-Atlantic flight. Not only do the batteries of digital devices often last longer than those of portable CD players, but most MP3 players hold many more hours of content than a single CD, meaning you don't have to worry about not being able to hear the end of a story because you left the next disc at home.
Once you have decided to go digital, it helps to know where to find content. A good place to start is the Audio Publishers Association (audiopub.org). The site lists many publishers providing audio or downloadable books, including AudioBooksForFree (audiobooks forfree.com), which features many public-domain classic literary works, such as Alice in Wonderland, in MP3 format, which is free in basic audio quality, or $7 for better quality.
An easy way to obtain digital audio books is through an online store such as Apple's iTunes (itunes.com) or Audible.com. However other download sites have become popular in recent years, including Simply Audiobooks (simplyaudiobooks.com), Jiggerbug (jiggerbug.com) and SoundsGood (soundsgood. com). Be sure to note what type of digital player is required to play an audio book before you purchase or sign up for a service. For example, Audible.com features books for iPods, MP3 and Windows-based players, while some sites (such as SoundsGood) support only devices that play secure Windows Media Audio files.
If you are not gadget-oriented, Audiofy (www.audiofy.com) is an interesting solution, since you simply buy audiobook "chips" (electronic memory cards similar to the cards used in digital cameras) that have audio books loaded. Listeners can put the chips into any computer that has a memory card reader, or into PDAs or handhelds such as the palmOne Zire that support SD memory, or use a small, custom Audiofy player ($29.95 at audiofy.com). For computers that don't have card readers, adapters are available for about $3.95.
Readers can select from titles such as Must Love Dogs ($27.95, seven hours) or The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People ($49.95, 14 hours). In addition to classics and public domain works (from Agatha Christie to Mark Twain), Audiofy has a range of business books and Pimsleur language titles (for example, Pimsleur Eastern Arabic, $159.95).
"The portability is unbelievable. One 64-megabyte chip can hold 10 hours of audio," said Stan Kornaga, vice president of Soundview Executive Book Summaries, which has partnered with Audiofy to put 30 business book summaries on one postage-stamp-sized chip. "But the great thing about the Audiofy bookchip is that I can bookmark any of the content and simply hand the chip to my wife or my employees and the bookmarks stay with it."