Audiobook as we know it today is a recent invention that was made possible only with audio recording devices (the first such device, phonograph, was introduced in 1877 by Thomas Edison). However, a tradition of listening to various sorts of stories and tales existed long before this. Most researchers would agree that telling stories was there even before the first written word ever. It is true for individuals, too: one learns to listen before learning to read. As children, we listen to stories told or read by our parents, and then we tell or read stories to our kids.
Audiobooks are especially valuable for visually impaired people, but people that normally read paper books or e-books prefer audiobooks in a number of situations. For example, some listen to audio books when driving a car.
A professionally published audiobook has certain advantages. It is read by a professional actor or even by several actors, may include music and / or sounds that enhance our listening experience, it can be saved to a portable player and taken anywhere (unlike your granny with her tales). Previously audio books were available on LPs and audio tapes, then on Audio CDs. Now they are even easier to obtain with the internet and online stores of digital products like iTunes.
Audiobooks that you buy online may come in different formats. Speaking of iTunes, we will mostly get audio books in the M4B format. M4B is just a different filename extension for the MP4 format (also known as MPEG-4 Part 14). M4B are audio-only MP4 files compressed with the AAC codec, but they also have a few additional features like bookmarks and chapters. Bookmarks mean that you can save your listening position in the file and later resume playing the file from that position instead of looking for it again. Chapters allow organizing the internal contents of an M4B file, you can easily select a chapter and start playing the file from that chapter.
M4B files can be protected with DRM (Digital Rights Management). Such audio book can be played okay on the device that you purchased it from, but it becomes unplayable if you copy it to a different device / computer. This protects interests of copyright owners, but end users typically consider this an unwanted feature.
The MP3 format does not offer the features available in M4B (chapters and bookmarks), but it does have one significant advantage: it is supported by virtually every player and device. Thus, you can convert your M4b audiobooks to MP3 to make them universally playable. Such MP3 audio books can be played by any portable player, mobile phone, etc.
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