E-books have been in the pipeline for years, but it's only in the past two years that dedicated e-book reader devices have gone on sale. While plenty of PCAdvisor.co.uk users tell us they're perfectly happy with physical novels, others are enthusiastic about carrying their entire library on a gadget that's not much larger than a Puffin Classic.
For committed bookworms, it's easy to see the appeal of a device that can store hundreds of books, along with a few MP3 albums. And if you're worried about batteries, it should last until you return from your week in the sun before needing a recharge.
Sony has met success with its Reader device, while a great deal of interest surrounds Amazon's recently updated Kindle, which is yet to launch in the UK.
The Kindle has a page-turning function that makes it feel as though you're flicking through the pages of a traditional paperback novel. There's even a text-to-speech function: simply plug in your headphones, ?sit back and listen.
Of course, e-book readers don't come cheap - Sony's Reader starts at £200. But if you've got a portable music player, you can still enjoy audiobooks without forking out a pile of cash. Apple offers everything from classic Dickens and Bronte to current bestsellers in its iTunes Store. These can then be enjoyed on a PC, iPod or iPhone.
A number of websites allow you to download audiobooks that are in the public domain, which means there's no copyright. Such files may need to be converted to a format compatible with your portable player, however; software from Roxio and Nero can help with this.
Alternatively, you can create your own audiobooks using text-to-speech software. A number of free programs enable you to convert text documents into an audible MP3 or WAV file. Although the single-file result isn't as polished as that of commercial software, you can create chapters by converting each section of text individually.
Create an audiobook with Roxio Creator 2009
1. We've used Roxio Creator 2009 (£49, roxio.co.uk) for this walkthrough, but you can install any software that's capable of converting a CD or audio files. In Creator 2009, first open the Music-Audio tab, then select ‘Create Audiobooks' from the Edit and Transfer menu.
2. Choose whether you want to rip your audiobook from CD or files you've downloaded to your PC. For CDs, insert a disc and wait while Roxio rips the audio and adds it to your library. For downloaded files, you'll be presented with a familiar Explorer window; simply select the files you want to import and press ok.
3. We've used the CD method. Once the files have appeared in your library, you may need to rearrange the ordering of chapters - simply drag them into place. Also check that Roxio has correctly identified the author and chapter. If you need to listen to any files to check, press the Play button at the bottom left.
4. If your portable audio player has a screen, you may want to display cover art for your audiobook. Select ‘Change Cover Art', then browse to the image stored on your hard drive and press ok. If you later change your mind and don't want any cover art attached to the file, simply choose ‘Remove Cover Art'.
5. Next, select the audio quality and file format. From the Settings menu, choose between Low, Medium and High file quality. Select iTunes (.m4b) as the file format if you plan to listen to your audiobook on an iPod or iPhone; choose WMA or MP3 if you plan to use another brand of digital audio device.
6. Roxio can export your audiobook to iTunes, an MP3 disc, a playlist or a digital audio player. If you're exporting to a portable player, the device will appear in the Output menu once it's hooked up to the PC. Press ‘Output to' and begin the audiobook creation. When it's complete, you're ready to start listening.
>> NEXT PAGE: Turn a book into an audiobook
Turn a book into an audiobook
1. Project Gutenberg is a great resource for finding e-books, which can then be turned into audiobooks using a text-to-speech converter. We used Pistonsoft's free trial (you get 10 uses) of Text to Speech Converter. You can download this from pistonsoft.com.
2. Next, import the text you want to convert to speech. Click ‘Open Text', then browse to the e-book file stored on your hard drive and click Open. Pistonsoft is compatible with .doc, .rtf, .txt and .html files; if your e-book is in a different format you'll need to copy-and-paste the text into the program.
3. The software supports Microsoft's Speech Application Programming Interface (SAPI) 5, which is included with Windows. Choose a narrator from the Voice drop-down menu and press ‘Read Aloud' to preview it. The text will be highlighted as it is spoken. To end the preview, press Stop.
4. If you don't like any of the narrators' voices, download alternatives from pistonsoft.com. To adjust the speed at which the text is read, use the Rate sliding bar. As before, you can get an audible preview of how things sound. When you're happy with the speed, adjust the volume.
5. The software allows you to insert ‘Smart pauses' for a more natural-sounding playback. This feature automatically pauses speech in the way that a human narrator would when catching their breath. To turn on this feature, press the Smart Pause button or go to Options, Smart Pause.
6. Now you're ready to record the document and save it as an MP3 or WAV file. Press Save Speech, then browse to the location on your hard drive where you want to save the file. Select your desired file format, then press Save. Once the file has been converted you can copy it to your audio player.