Want Some Free Audiobook Classics?

I’m not talking about Librivox, although some of those can be quite good. I’m talking about a great, almost-hidden deal from Amazon to promote their Wispersync for Voice titles for the Kindle.

When you buy a Whispersync version of a Kindle book together with the Audible audiobook (usually priced at a steep discount, as with The Hobbit Kindle/Audible combo) of the same title, the audio version syncs with the Kindle version. That way, you can leave off reading at one point, switch to the audiobook version for a little while, and then return to pick up reading where the audio leaves off.

To promote the feature, Amazon is offering 10 free, professional audiobooks, with narrators including Kenneth Branagh, Tim Curry, Anne Hathaway, and others.

All you have to do is “buy” the free Kindle version of a public domain classic and send it to your Kindle. On the next screen, just select the Audible version (which should cost $0.00) and check out. It’s at least $200 worth of free audiobooks.

Give it a shot. Here’s what they have for free:

  • Wizard of Oz (narrated by Anne Hathaway)
  • A Tale of Two Cities (narrated by Simon Vance)
  • The Three Musketeers (narrated by John Lee)
  • Huckleberry Finn (narrated by Elijah Wood)
  • Dracula (narrated by Tim Curry, Alan Cumming, Simon Vance, and others)
  • Heart of Darkness (narrated by Kenneth Branagh)
  • Jane Eyre (narrated by Susan Ericksen)
  • Gulliver’s Travels ( narrated by David Hyde Pierce)
  • Moll Flanders (narrated by Davina Porter)
  • Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (narrated by John Lee)

If anyone ever tries the deal and finds it expired, please post a comment. As of 1/23/13, it works.

Habemus Appam: The Pope’s Own App

I may have to take back all the bad things I’ve been saying about Vatican communications. (Okay, some of them.) First, the Pope starts Tweeting, and now they roll out an app.

And … it’s actually a pretty good one! Given how crummy the Vatican’s own website is, this is nothing short of amazing.

The Pope App (free, iOS, and Android forthcoming) could have been all kinds of wrong, from the function, to the name, to the icon. (Icons matter on mobile.)  Instead, The Pope App hits most of the bases in style. The name is light, direct, and almost saucy. Just imagine the ponderous Latin names that were probably kicked around. The icon has a bold yellow silhouette of Papa Bene. The only strike I can really level against the rollout is that it’s iPhone-native only, with no native iPad support, and no simultaneous Android.

Why am I starting with these incidentals rather than the content? Because content is (or should be) obvious, but the incidentals show an awareness of how to work with the mobile–and particularly the iPhone–ecosystem. Style matters, and although I adore our tendency to the baroque in visual matters, in the this particular marketplace of ideas, you need a certain kind of approach. If you want to see how to do it wrong, look at the Vatican Radio app. The Pope App does it right.

The app opens onto a home screen featuring rotating images of the Pope with a headline and a few lines of his most recent address. This can be opened to the full address in-app, formatted for mobile reading.

A menu system has live events (empty now); a calendar of papal events; a list of recent  speeches  homilies, and audiences, with full-text; news stories fed by Vatican Radio; a gallery of images; video of recent addresses (dubbed or narrated in English); links to other Vatican resources (including his Twitter and account and various web pages); and the only really unexpected part of the package: webcams! Feeds from St. Peter’s Square, the dome of St. Peter’s, a full shot of the basilica (currently on the fritz), the Governorate, and the garden at Castel Gandolfo.

This is a nice piece of work. It’s simple, light, but full of useful stuff. It needs push notifications to alert people to new content or live events, and some more text and video, including historical material like his inaugural homily and important addresses and encyclicals. There’s room for growth, but there always is with apps. The important thing is that they seem to have the fundamentals right.