I’m climbing up the audiobook learning curve and would like to share what I’ve learned. My first post on this topic can be found here. I was experimenting with the cheapest MP3 player I could find that would play free audiobooks from a library.

Apple’s iPods will not allow you to listen to free audiobooks. First lesson learned: Do not use the cheap players. I have purchased four of the low end products made by Coby, starting with the cheapest and moving up the line. They all failed within days to weeks. Luckily I received a full refund for each, which is why I bought locally instead of off the internet.

The Seattle Library contracts with a company called OverDrive that provides downloads to thousands of audiobooks. They have a list of portable devices that will play the free format ranging in price from tens of dollars to hundreds of dollars.

I finally tried the Sony Walkman NWZ-S615F. I’ve listened to six books over the last two weeks and it is working flawlessly. It is by far the best player I’ve tried. The only snag I’ve found is that you can’t switch to music without losing your place in the book. I’ve determined that as long as you don’t turn the power off or attempt to listen to another file, it will pick up just where you left off. It recharges from a USB port, lasts for many days between charges even when power is left on, has a simple drag-and-drop file transfer program, and costs about a hundred bucks.

I’m sorry, but I can’t bring myself to download an audiobook (which is nothing but an arrangement of ones and zeros in a digital file) for $10-15 a pop. I might be willing to pay maybe two or three dollars. An audiobook is pretty worthless after listening to it once, unlike music, which you want to listen to over and over again.

These books work great for nonfiction with a single narrator, but I’m not so sure about fiction with multiple characters. I tried listening to a sci-fi book to get a feel for that format but found the narrator’s valiant efforts to switch from a masculine voice, to a feminine one, to a robot, and back, just didn’t work for me. I can’t see it working unless you had separate people for most of the characters, and that would be an expensive production.

I also discovered a new format for magazines on the internet. I recently switched to a digital version of Science and no longer receive a paper version. It’s published by a company called Zinio, which according to the Wikipedia article uses a combination of technology licensed from Adobe and Contentguard. It looks (but does not feel) like the actual magazine, allowing you to turn pages but also allowing you to zoom in on text and to skip to other parts of the magazine with a single click. The graphics are actually better than in a paper magazine because you can zoom in on them also. I can see how this technology may enhance sales of certain graphically oriented magazines that, like my subscription to National Geographic, arrive in the mail wrapped in a brown paper cover.

I once witnessed the destruction of forty acres of forest adjacent to my forest property solely for paper pulp. People are growing accustomed to digital media, especially the young. The less paper we use, the better.

The race is now on between the technoscientific forces that are destroying the living environment and those that can be harnessed to save it. We are inside a bottleneck of overpopulation and wasteful consumption. If the race is won, humanity can emerge in far better condition than when it entered, and with most of the diversity of life still intact.” — E.O. Wilson