The NAB Blog

The State of the Art

By Nicolas Soames

1 November 2012

Technology is changing at a blistering pace. We see this only too vividly in the number of new devices being paraded before our eyes as we approach Christmas: new iPhones, new Android phones, iPads of different sizes, Android tablets of different sizes and makes, Blackberry phones and tablets, Windows phones and now the Microsoft Surface. Not to mention the Kindle Fires, Nooks and the host of other smaller competing devices.

An audio file format has emerged, one which is particularly suited to audiobook use

And most of these have regular (sometimes even frequent!) upgrades, to correct bugs and introduce improvements.

Can you imagine the headache this sets for software and web programmers?!

This has affected audiobook downloads in the same way as apps, ebooks, websites and the host of other functions and features.

Naxos Audiobooks was the first publisher to create its own Download Shop and offer audiobook recordings as DRM- and watermark-free MP3 downloads. From the start, the quality of the sound, the reliability of the service, the addition – always – of the cover and PDF booklet, and excellent compatibility, set it apart from many other similar services for many years.

To keep up to date with things, the Naxos AudioBooks Download Shop is undergoing an important upgrade. To date, we have offered MP3 files which, though at 48 kbps, feature a special codec and customised encoding process which gives an excellent listening experience considering the modest size of the files.

However, they are presented in a zipped folder, which needs to be un-zipped when they have been delivered. None of the main current smartphones or tablets (whether iOS or Android) are capable of easily un-zipping these folders and enabling the MP3 files to be played directly. Instead, the folders have to be downloaded to a computer – whether Apple or Windows or Linux – and then un-zipped and transferred to the phone or tablet.

In recent years, another audio file format has emerged, one which is particularly suited to audiobook use: M4B. It can hold many hours of audio in a single file, offers easy to navigate track/chapter points, cover artwork, and good bookmarking. When you start playing these files on your mobile device, it will automatically remember where you are and pick it up when you return to it, in contrast to the slightly clumsy and awkward bookmarking (sometimes) possible with MP3 files.

Christmas Carol App

The new NAB A Christmas Carol App

This is a major step forward for the smooth use of audiobooks. The Naxos AudioBooks Download Shop team is busy transferring all 700+ titles to M4B format and by the end of the year the whole catalogue should be available this way. When buying, you will be offered the option of either MP3 or M4B – and I recommend you try out the new format when it arrives. Once the new format is available from the Download Shop, it will be possible to download purchases directly on a mobile device – a great step forward.

Of course, as always with downloads from the Naxos AudioBooks Download Shop, customers will also get the full PDF booklet, well annotated track/chapter points throughout and high quality embedded cover artwork, not to mention fantastic quality sound.

While M4B plays natively on iOS (it goes straight into the Audiobooks section when downloaded) and other devices, currently Android does not support it fully without the aid of an app. There are a number available, and we are working on something ourselves…

Another innovation is our new audiobook-as-an-app. We have started with one title, Anton Lesser’s peerless reading of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, which can be purchased from the app stores at iTunes, Google Play and Amazon for the special, low price of £3.99. It offers the Naxos AudioBooks recording with navigation and playback controls and, in addition, you also get the full text, which you can follow along with the audio. See the A Christmas Carol App page for more details.

Nicolas Soames

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