Siobhan, a reader from Ireland, did something a bit different and focused her guest post on the importance of audiobooks.
Listening to books is one of the few forms of reading that people apologize for.
When friends say, apologetically, “Well, I didn’t read it, I just listened to it.”
When parents say, “I don’t mind them listening to one audiobook, but I prefer them to read more real books”.
Remind them of this :
- Audiences of the 17th Century did not say that they were going to “see” a play. They literally said that they were going to “hear” a play.
- Written texts, such as the Bible, have for centuries been pitched to the ear.
- Ironically, when more people starting becoming literate, priests argued that reading was inferior to being read to because there was no interaction involved.
Audiobooks are somewhere between the stage-watching experience and the reading of text. Our brains haven’t massively changed from our cavepeople ancestors either so we’re still primed to latch on to a story being told us.
If anything, our ears are a more direct path to our brains that eyes > symbol to meaning filter > brain.
Audiences develop passionate attachments to the voices of audiobook readers even when they know nothing else about them.
The death of the author, the birth of the reader?
In 1977, Edison recorded “Mary had a little lamb”.
Almost immediately, witnesses were asking : Was it possible to record a novel “so that books can be procured in this form, and by being placed on the phonograph the entire story be told to the listening ear?”
(Recordings of full-length books had to wait until the 1930s.)
Friedrich Kittler prophesied the phonograph would be the “death of the author”, with the imagined author being replaced by the real author’s actual voice.
Is this fairly typical modern disparagement of audiobooks that different ?
“It [audiobooks] just doesn’t stick with me the way it does when I actually read something. I’ll stick with physical books until the day they actually cease to exist.”
Nearly one-in-five Americans now listen to audiobooks.
It’s one of the few forms of reading that is actually rising.
Twenty One years ago, Amazon’s Audible released the first portable audio player designed specifically for listening to audiobooks.
It cost $200 and could only hold about two hours of audio!
Far from digital killing the library, libraries around the world have reached one billion digital book checkouts.
- Nearly half (48%) of frequent audiobook listeners are under 35.
- Audiobook listeners are often also podcast listeners. Respondents who consumed both podcasts and audiobooks listened to twice as many audiobooks in the past 12 months as non-podcast consumers.
- Avid readers are also listening. Audiobook listeners read or listened to an average of 15 books in the last year, and 77% of frequent listeners agreed or strongly agreed that “audiobooks help you finish more books.
The top three reasons why people enjoy listening to audiobooks are:
1) They can do other things while listening;
2) Audiobooks are portable and people can listen wherever they are;
3) They enjoy being read to.
Are audiobooks simply background wallpaper?
It’s true that many people can relate to this Reddit comment:
Even when a task is done, Reddit users want to keep listening so often do a little extra!
Still, Nielsen says that 56% of those they surveyed do nothing else while listening.
50% listen to relax before sleep, using audiobooks the way they do print books.
If you want to try out audiobooks for the first time, Charlotte’s Web wouldn’t be a bad choice.
You probably know the main story already, but having someone else read it can result in a slightly different experience of it.
There’s a rather touching story about the “Charlotte’s Web” audiobook.
In 1970, E.B White sat down in a studio to record the narration for Charlotte’s Web.
Author Michael Simms says:
“But every time, he broke down when he got to Charlotte’s death. And he would do it, and it would mess up. … He took 17 takes to get through Charlotte’s death without his voice cracking or beginning to cry.”
Makes me want to read it again. Now, where are my headphones?
Note: If you’re interested in the history of audiobooks, check out the excellent “The Untold Story of the Talking Book” by Matthew Rubery.
(Aliénor : I just wanted to add that we cannot ignore the ableism lurking behind dismissive comments about audiobooks, too, and how important they are to help people whose disabilities make reading paper books difficult.)