MP3 books open new chapter online

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The Independent Online

"Man is a rope, suspended between animal and superman – a rope over an abyss," so the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche noted in his work Also Sprach Zarathustra.

If the burden of reading that book sounds too much like hard work you'll soon be able to download a spoken version from the internet in MP3 format and listen to it.

MP3 books are taking off, with the innovation likely to be popular with commuters, foreign students learning English and the visually impaired.

The format, which was popularised by music-sharing sites on the internet, is ideally suited to the spoken word. Three hours' worth of material can be stored on 32mb of memory, making it feasible to put entire books into comparatively small files that will download in a couple of minutes. The same amount of memory can only hold half an hour's worth of music. J K Rowling's tales of Harry Potter have been put into the format and there is a huge underground trade online.

The idea to exploit Hitler's favourite philosopher's work in the new medium comes from Ruslan Fedorovsky, owner of the Audiobooksforfree.com website. He offers hundreds of spoken books in MP3 format, but there is plenty of competition on the internet from sites such as audiobooksonline.com or MP3audiobooks.com.

All the sites are generally limited to books which are either out of copyright, written by the owners of the site, or interrupted – as on Mr Fedorovsky's site – by adverts.

"Our listener base is very, very broad," he said, adding that commuters who had MP3 players were a natural target.

It seems most of them prefer something less challenging than Nietzsche. His site's most popular download is Jerome K Jerome's Three Men in a Boat.

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