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Letting the iPhone read to you

With apologies to Steve Jobs, who pretty much implied reading was dead, there are more and more applications coming to the iPhone/iPod touch to allow people to do just that -- read books.

Today, Traveling Classics has released several public domain titles that you download as applications. A voice reads the book to you while the text stays in sync.

The books are narrated by volunteer readers from the Librivox Project, who record the complete text and release their narration into the public domain. It is a bit like open source for books.

Among the titles are: (click on them for their App Store links)

* Treasure Island
* Art of War
* The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
* Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
* The Tell-Tale Heart
* The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
* The Gospel of John
* Pride and Prejudice

All the books are US $0.99 until February 20th, then they are all $1.99.The Gospel of John is free. I tried two of the books, The Art of War, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Both presentations sounded professional. The text did scroll along with the spoken words. You could exit the book, and when re-starting you are given the option to resume where you left off. That worked well. Audio quality was quite good on headphones, and clear enough through the iPhone speaker, but I don't think that is the preferred way to listen.

These books compare with other Audio Books available from the App Store, and are certainly cheaper than the same titles from Audibile.com, the iTunes Store or Amazon. On the other hand, those titles from other sources can be played back through a car audio system with an iPod adapter, or burned to a CD, where with the self contained books from Traveling Classics, you'd have to use the headphone jack to get access to the sound. Also, you can get current books from Audibile.com, but the Traveling Classics are just that -- Classics in the public domain.

There are other versions of almost all these books. There is, for example, a free version of The Art of War on the iTunes store, but it is text only, no narrator.

The Traveling Classics are a nice variation of the standard audio book that people started buying on cassettes years ago, then on CD, and now by downloading them from the Internet. This latest option will appeal to some, but many readers will stick with something they can download and use with other media players.

For those of us who like books, despite what Steve Jobs thinks about the market for them, having more to read, and more ways to read, can only be a good thing.

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