The Difference Between Audiobooks and Text-to-Speech

ByAndrew M.I. Lee, JD

Both audiobooks and text-to-speech (TTS) can help kids who have reading issues like . These types of assistive technology let kids listen to a book being read aloud as they look at the words. But audiobooks and TTS are different in key ways. Use this chart to find out the differences.

Did you know that your child may be eligible for free digital text-to-speech books? Learn more.
 AudiobookText-to-Speech (TTS)
What it is

An audio recording of a book being read aloud

A technology that speaks aloud digital text, such as books, news articles, magazine articles and websites, on a computer or mobile device

Type of reading voice

Human voice

Computer-generated voice

How the voice sounds

Audiobooks are usually read aloud by actors. Because a person reads the text, audiobook readings tend to include things like:

  • Changes in tone and emotion.
  • Pauses in the reading at natural places, like at the end of sentences.

There are many different TTS voices. As technology improves, the voices sound more and more natural. But since TTS is a digital voice and not a human voice, the reading may have:

  • Words pronounced wrong.
  • Pauses in places that don’t make sense.
  • Words read in a tone or with an emotion that doesn’t make sense.
Technology format

Typically a digital file. Audiobooks are often formatted as MP3 files that can be played on a computer or mobile phone.

Software or program. Many electronic devices come with TTS built in. TTS is also available in a wide range of apps and programs.

How it’s used with visual text

Kids listen to the book read aloud. They may have a printed copy of the book and turn the pages to follow along. Or they may follow the words on a screen.

Kids listen to the text spoken aloud as they follow the words on a screen.

Highlighting words

Most audiobooks don’t highlight words as they’re read aloud.

However, some newer versions of audiobooks sync the audio recording to digital text. In that case kids can hear words read and see them highlighted on a screen.

Many TTS tools highlight words as they are spoken.

Moving around in the text

You can jump around to different parts of an audiobook. But it can be hard to find a specific passage or sentence, since you have to rewind or fast forward to locate it.

Some newer audiobooks sync with digital text. In that case, you can scroll or use Control/Command+F to search for chapters, page numbers and even words.

With TTS, it’s easy to find a specific part of a book. You can search the table of contents or look for particular words using Control/Command+F. TTS then reads the text that’s found.

What to know about cost

An audiobook is a recording of just one specific book. You can buy an audiobook for every book your child wants to read. Or you can use a service and pay a yearly fee for as many audiobooks as your child chooses to read.

Costs vary:

  • Audiobooks can be free or inexpensive. You might find them at your local library.
  • Newer types of audiobooks that sync to digital text cost more but can still be reasonably priced.

TTS software can be used for any digital text. Once you have it, you can use it for multiple book and for other uses, such as reading email.

Costs vary:

  • TTS software may be free if it’s built into a mobile phone, tablet or other device.
  • TTS programs can range in price. Many come with more natural-sounding voices and features like a built-in dictionary or the option to speed up or slow down the reading speed.
Where to find it

Some places to look for audiobooks:

Learning Ally

  • $49/quarterly for four audiobooks; $119/year for unlimited audiobooks
  • Must have a documented print disability to be eligible for membership
  • 75,000+ audiobooks available
  • Learning Ally is a nonprofit organization


Commercial Services

  • $14.95/month for one audiobook, from a selection of 100,000+ titles
  • Kindle: $9.99/month for unlimited access to 3,000+ audiobooks
  • Amazon Immersion: Prices vary; allows some audiobooks to sync to digital text


Apps for Purchase

Some places to look for TTS resources:


  • Free for U.S. students with a documented print disability
  • $50/year plus one-time $25 setup fee for other users with a documented print disability
  • 660,000+ digital TTS books
  • A project of Benetech, a nonprofit organization and Understood founding partner


Commercial Services

  • Kindle: $9.99/month for unlimited access to 4 million digital books; requires an app or built-in feature for TTS


Built-in TTS


Apps for Purchase

  • For example: Voice Dream Reader ($9.99)
  • You can explore more TTS apps in Tech Finder

Learn more about where to find free audiobooks and digital TTS books, including online sources like Bookshare.

Understanding the differences between audiobooks and TTS can help you select the right assistive technology for your child. Many kids with reading issues use both audiobooks and TTS for support. They choose between the two depending on the type of reading they need to do.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Andrew M.I. Lee, JD is an editor and attorney who strives to help people understand complex legal, education, and parenting issues.

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Sean J. Smith, PhD a professor of special education at the University of Kansas, specializes in technology-based solutions for students.