‘Read me a story’: Libro.fm and the rise of the indie audiobook (review)

Illustration copyright (c) Adam Myers.
Illustration copyright (c) Adam Myers.

I love books, I love stories, and I love being read to. Growing up my parents read to us almost every night, and it’s always felt like such a loving, nurturing thing when a partner reads to me.

I’m a longtime fan of audiobooks, and pretty much always have one going. The right performance can bring so much life and texture to a story, and I can get lost in a book while doing chores around the house, exercising, driving, or simply relaxing.

Plus it’s a great way to work through that neverending, ever-increasing, “to-read” pile.

Between all the fabulous new books coming out on the regular, recommendations from friends of great books I’ve somehow never read, all the books I’ve meaning to read, and the impulse buys when browsing my favorite bookstores, well, the sad truth is I’ll never get to everything I want to read. 

Indie alternative

I’ve had an Audible account since 2007, and I was thrilled when I found out there was an alternative that supports independent book stores.

I recently made the switch to Libro.fm, and it’s been wonderful. It’s easy to set up an account and choose which independent bookstore you’d like to support. The company splits the profits with the bookstore, and they have a huge selection of 150,000 audiobooks. You can set up a monthly membership to automatically buy one credit a month (good for any book in their collection) or just buy as you go, a la carte. You can listen to a sample before you buy to make sure you like the narrator (and believe me, that really makes or breaks the experience). 

If you want to listen on your smartphone or other device, download the Libro.fm app and your purchases automatically show up in your library.

The app’s interface is basically the same as Audible’s, and it’s very intuitive, so if you’re switching over it’s an easy transition, and if you’re new to the world of audiobooks you’ll find it pretty easy to navigate. They also have a very human, responsive, and helpful customer service team. 

A few good listens

It’s all about the performance! Here are some of my favorite listens.

• Erin Morgenstern’s latest novel THE STARLESS SEA is a story about stories, and the way the stories we love shape our lives. It has love, adventure, and hidden doorways to a secret world. There are multiple narrators, and it’s very effective. There’s the main story arc — and then there are the books and stories the characters come across. These are read by different voice actors. This is one of the most beautiful books I’ve encountered, and the audio version really brings the intersecting stories to life.

• Warren Ellis’s CROOKED LITTLE VEIN performed by Todd McLaren perfectly captures the twisted noir tone of the story, told in first person by a private detective reluctantly exploring the debauched underbelly of American culture. Sex, drugs, and plot-twists galore!

• If you’re a fan of The Kingkiller Chronicles, Patrick Rothfuss reading his novella THE SLOW REGARD OF SILENT THINGS is an absolute treat. It follows the adventures of Auri — her life in the forgotten, underground halls and rooms of the University. It’s an achingly beautiful character study.

• “Aliens suck at music” is the first line in YEAR ZERO by Rob Reid (performed by John Hodgman). Basically, the galaxy is filled with intelligent, creative and evolved life forms who had no intention of contacting the primitive Earthlings — until they discovered our pop music … and then downloaded and listened to it for decades before reading our copyright laws. The plot thickens when delegates from intergalactic society descend upon a low-level entertainment lawyer, and try and negotiate down the huge sum of money the rest of the galaxy collectively owes Earth. 

• Neil Gaiman is as brilliant a voice performer as he is a writer, and he narrates most of his books. I’ve only listened to a few, but I’ve loved them all, and honestly I don’t think you can go wrong in selecting one of his works. 

I encourage you to go to libro.fm‘s website and explore the options. Their catalog is not quite as extensive as Audible’s, but it’s still a huge collection and they’re helping the small independent guys, which is wonderful. I know many of us could use an extra diversion right about now.


This essay originally appeared in the Borderlands Books email newsletter. As part of the Libro.fm account setup process, you designate an independent bookstore that you want your purchases to support; click here to select Borderlands, or look for the indie bookseller of your choice.

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Melinda Rose is a long time San Franciscan and has been working as a professional gardener for nearly two decades as the owner and operator of Botanika Gardens If she’s not out hugging trees, hiking, or working in her client’s gardens, she’s at home curled up with a good book. Melinda writes audio book reviews for Borderlands Books and is currently exploring her affinity for the wondrous world of plants by writing nature based genre fiction.

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