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How to Choose Audiobooks With Varying Versions, Narrators, and Content

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Arvyn Cerézo

Senior Contributor

Arvyn Cerézo is an arts and culture writer/reporter with bylines in Book Riot, Publishers Weekly, South China Morning Post, PhilSTAR Life, the Asian Review of Books, and other publications. You can find them on and @ArvynCerezo on Twitter.

Audiobooks are godsent — they make our bookish lives so much easier. Though some audiobooks are definitely pricier than their print counterparts, there are places around the web where you can get them for free or at a low cost. If you’re buying one, just go to your favorite audiobook store, key in the title, wait for the results to come up, then…wait. What? The audiobook you wanted to buy has several versions and different narrators! What to choose if you’re on a limited budget? Here are some tips on picking an audiobook version:

Why Some Audiobooks Have Different or the Same Narrators

So you might be wondering why. Well, for newer titles, it’s because some audiobook publishers have audio rights to the same title. For example, a publisher can snap the U.S. audio rights of a title and sell it in the U.S. marketplace. A UK publisher can also have the UK audio rights to the same title. There are some instances though where both versions show up on — even though they have the same narrator. There are also some cases where the same audiobook only appears in the respective country where it has rights to be sold. And there are also some instances where two U.S. audiobook publishers can sell the same audiobook in the U.S. marketplace. Basically, it all boils down to the contract negotiation, and each agreement is unique.

As for public domain books, since no one owns the exclusive rights to publish them, audio publishers can do whatever they want with them. Each publisher can hire its own narrator for its version of a title.

So What to Do Then?

Choose the Best Narrator

If you’re unsure of what version to choose, you can listen to a sample and see if you like the narrator’s performance. A narrator can make or break the audiobook. An interesting book might be ruined by a narrator who doesn’t know how to portray the characters effectively, adjust their pacing, and set the right tone. At Audible, you can listen to a sample derived somewhere from the audiobook itself. Another outlet is; the samples there are better because they start from the beginning of the audiobook and are not pulled from a random scene.

Look at the Price

Another factor that can help you to choose is, obviously, the price. Believe it or not, some audiobook versions with the same narrator in the same market can have different prices. Such is the case with Brandon Sanderson’s The Final Empire on Audible. While the author’s version has a price tag of $27.27, the publisher’s version is priced at a whopping $53.93! That’s almost double the price of Sanderson’s own release.

Look at the Publisher

This might be a bit much, but you can also look at the publisher’s name. If it’s a publisher that you support — like independent ones — then go for it. As for me, I check audiobook titles from Blackstone Publishing, Allison Larkin Presents, and Naxos Audiobooks more than those from big, mainstream publishing houses.

See If There’s Bonus Content

Another deciding factor is extra content like book club discussion questions, a bonus chapter or story, behind-the-scenes interviews, etc. at the end of the audiobook or in an accompanying PDF file. If two classic books with the same title are sold in an audiobook store, the one with the additional material might be more appealing.

So many books — audiobooks, rather — so little time. If you find yourself in a sticky situation like this, know that you won’t have to waste so much time deliberating with yourself. Don’t want a single narrator for audiobooks? Why not try multi-voiced performances? Here are “20 Must-Read New Full-Cast Audiobooks.”