There’s nothing like holding a book in your hand. Even if you have no intentions of reading it! They make great props. Books just make you look smarter. For this reason alone, I do not expect books to meet the heart-breaking fate that befell vinyl records. Any significant literary work will always be available in book form. Having said all that, let me make a case for adding good audio books to your library:
First, a Little History…
For us “Babyboomers”, audiobooks are a relatively new medium. “Gen Xers” and “Millenials” grew up with them. Audiobooks grew out of several programs created to produce written material in a form that the blind and visually impaired could digest. The first such “book” was produced in America in 1934 on vinyl records that were limited to only 15 minutes of recorded material on each side. They were called “talking books.”
Things began to pick up for the upstart medium, slowly but surely. Poet and writer Dylan Thomas’s 1952 recording of poetry by Cademon Records is credited with launching the audiobook industry in the United States. By this time, the “talking books” were produced on vinyl LPs that could hold 45 minutes of material. This was an improvement, but not by much. The minimal recording time restricted material to mostly poetry and instructional material. Good audio books would require a prohibitive number of LPs.
By 1969, The medium of choice for “talking books” was tape. Cassette tapes to be exact. This held true until the ’80s, when CDs became the industry standard for recording pretty much everything. However, they still had the same problem that the LPs had, albeit to a lesser degree: recording space. It just took too many cassettes or CDs to produce an unabridged literary work. Consequently, “talking books” were limited primarily to an abridged version of the work, and instructional and educational material.
Hmm… this looks like a job for… technology! Enter the very first digital media player, circa 1997. It could hold up to two hours of material and sold for around $200. That lit the fuse. All printed material – abridged and unabridged – became fair game. “Talking books” (deemed “audiobooks” by the Audio Publishers Association in 1994) began to outstrip the print medium. Public awareness was greatly increased when audiobooks became available in 2003 on ITunes. Today’s smart phones and tablets can hold hundreds of hours of material and with an obscene number of good audiobook titles available these days, the industry is pulling in more than three billion dollars a year.
Let’s say that like most people, you just don’t feel that listening to a book is actually “reading.” Well, it isn’t. However, listening does have some advantages over reading. One of the biggest ones is that you can multitask while you enjoy a good audio book. You’d be surprised (or maybe you wouldn’t) at how much you can get done while listening to Michael Wolff dissect the Trump administration in “Fire and Fury.”
Audiobooks also allow you to really use your imagination to put yourself “on location.” Sure you can do that with conventional books, but you can’t close your eyes. Other pros:
- more durable than paper books
- they can actually help you with speaking
- a good narrator can really add to your enjoyment of the book
- audio books cost less than hardbacks
Well, the biggest one is, it ain’t a book. And, as Alex Clark of “The Guardian” newspaper so eloquently puts it, we are “held hostage to someone else’s interpretation.” They are also dependent on technology. If you have trouble with your listening device, it’s a wrap. And, you must have a bank card! You can only order and download audiobooks on the internet. More potential tech issues. You can get books on CDs from the bookstore, but the internet is the sole distributor of audiobooks. Other cons:
- you may not like the voice of the reader
- they can discourage reading
- mind tends to wander more than when reading
Are Audiobooks For You?
Although some more than others, everybody can enjoy a good audio book at some point. After all, all of the best sellers are on audio books. There are a couple of demographics, however, that audiobooks are ideally suited for: chronic multitaskers and people really into DIY and self help. Hey, I know a guy who built a house while listening to an audiobook on how to build a house! Not really, but it could happen! If you travel a lot, audiobooks make a great traveling companion. Obviously if you have vision problems, audiobooks are the way to go. Or if your eyes just get tired easily, go audio. If you
If you get distracted easily, you might have a problem sticking with an audiobook. Unlike a conventional book, you can’t just go back a couple of pages. Doing something else while you listen is not necessarily distracting. That’s the aforementioned multitasking. Getting distracted is when your mind goes to a different place and you realize several minutes later that you were supposed to be listening to a book.
Another pretty cool thing about audiobooks is that they are available immediately. You don’t have to go to the bookstore, or wait for it to come through the mail. Just click on the button, and “whoop! Dere it is!”
It Doesn’t Have to be One or the Other
There is indeed a place for audiobooks in everybody’s library. However, they will take some getting used to. I’ve been listening to audiobooks for several years now, but I still feel like I’m cheating on the book. As I mentioned before, I am not alone in my perceived infidelity. I have not talked to a single person who listens to audiobooks regularly who does not share this feeling. Not to worry, though, the future of books is pretty secure.
That’s because we all enjoy curling up by the fire with a good book. Few of us have ever done it, but we’re all “gonna do it one day,” and this collective
“gonna do it” will keep books around for quite some time. Besides, whoever heard of an “audioworm”?
In the final analysis, audiobooks were never meant to compete with conventional books. They were initially created to serve a population that could not be reached with books. While that is still a critical audience, today convenience plays a big part in the decision to go audio. Die hard fans of books tend to view audiobooks as somehow inferior to their physical counterpart,
but it’s the same book, just a different medium. So, granted us “Babyboomers” and “GenX”ers grew up being admonished that “reading is fundamental,” when it comes to good audio books, listening can be fundamental too!