I have recently become engaged in some discussions about MP3 players and audiobooks. This is becoming rather fun and exciting, with a lot of libraries (such as any public library in MI*) offering audiobook downloads, as well as options such as Audible.Com, Barnes and Noble.Com or for lower priced downloads, there are sites like Audio Books Bay. Manybooks.net has a lot of audiobook downloads for free, there is another listing of them here and most of the paysites have free download options as well. For most any bibliophile, while actual hardcopy books are preferred, audiobooks are a great way to pass time on long drives or while engaged in most any mindless tasks.
And with the option of audiobooks in mp3 format, the question becomes - what is the best option for listening to them?
Personally, I am very happy with my 4gb Sansa Fuze. It has a Micro SDHC expansion slot, which allows you to insert a micro SD or SDHC chip at 1,2,4,8 or 16 gbs. And I am currently listening to three different books (I like to be able to suit my mood) - flipping from one book to another does not mean I lose my place, nor does powering down. When I want to resume one of the books I have been listening to, I just click resume and I am right back where I left off. It doesn't allow me to skip around within the book and go back where I was, but that is of little concern to me. It is my understanding that Sansa mp3 players do not have audiophile quality sound, but as I have hearing issues anyways and mostly listen to books, this is not a problem for me. And no one who I have played music for with it, had any issues with the sound quality.
The other option that seems popular, is the iPod touch. Stand alone it is apparently not a whole lot different than my Sansa Fuze for holding your place, but there are applications for audiobooks that apparently allow you a great deal more flexibility - including multiple bookmarks per book and the option to add notes. The downside of course, is that apposed to my Sansa Fuze that can be found for less than $60 brand new (less for the 2gb), the iPod touch starts at around $200. Of course the iPod touch is incredibly versatile, including fucking wifi, so there are other advantages. But for something cheap that will primarily be used for audiobooks, there are far more practical options available.
I have only written about the players that I have confirmed familiarity with. If you know of a player that would work well for audiobooks, please mention it in comments. I am also rather interested to know whether formatting a player with Linux would make it possible to install a better audiobook platform and whether such a thing is available. I recall Greg Laden posting instructions for formatting an iPod with Linux and would love to find out what sorts of fun things one might manage to do with a Linux based mp3 player.
* MI residents should click here to help protect the Michigan State Library system. This includes not only the MI digital library, but Melcat and other great MI library services.