Audiobooks have been among the fastest-growing segments of publishing for a while now. Which is hardly surprising, as anyone spending long hours commuting will attest to. However, buying audiobook after audiobook can become quite the expensive hobby after a while. And the free audiobooks are often read in a computerized voice that isn’t exactly pleasing to the ear.

Thankfully, there is a legal way to access thousands of audiobooks for free — and legally — thanks to Microsoft AI and Project Gutenberg.

Listening to Audiobook | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books

You can browse the full audiobook collection here!

How is this possible?

As Lance Whitney explains on ZD-Net, Project Gutenberg and Microsoft have created thousands of free audiobooks that use neural text-to-speech technology to generate the voices. Specifically, the audiobook developer uses AI to generate natural-sounding speech that matches the emotion of human voices.

Working with Microsoft AI, Project Gutenberg was able to cut that time dramatically by automatically producing high-quality audiobooks from existing online e-books.

“In particular, we leverage recent advances in neural text-to-speech to create and release thousands of human-quality, open-license audiobooks from the Project Gutenberg e-book collection,” a team of people from Project Gutenberg and Microsoft said in a paper about the project.

“Our method can identify the proper subset of e-book content to read for a wide collection of diversely structured books and can operate on hundreds of books in parallel,” the team explained. “This work contributed over five thousand open-license audiobooks and an interactive demo that allows users to quickly create their own customized audiobooks.”

To listen to any of the audiobooks, browse to the Project Gutenberg Open Audiobook Collection. From here, you can access the books via Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or the Internet Archive. The books are all public domain, which means you’ll mostly find classic works from authors such as William Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Edith Wharton, Leo Tolstoy, Jules Verne, T. S. Eliot, and Robert Louis Stevenson.

Click the book you want to hear. You can then listen to it directly in your browser where you’re able to pause, play, skip ahead, go back, and control the volume.

Using Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or one of the other services, you can also download and listen to the book on your mobile device.

“This project aims to make literature more accessible to (audio)book-lovers everywhere and democratize access to high-quality audiobooks,” Project Gutenberg said. “Whether you are learning to read, looking for inclusive reading technology, or about to head out on a long drive, we hope you enjoy this audiobook collection.”

You can browse the full audiobook collection here. Happy listening!