Audiobooks vs. Reading – Why Listen to Audiobooks Rather Than Read
As our modern lives have become busier by the day, it’s no surprise that many of us struggle to find time to read. Sure, we may have time for a page or two here and there, but it can be difficult to carve out the time for full novels in between working and socializing. At least this was the case until audiobooks came in. Now, thousands of commuters travel into work equipped headphones to immerse them in a world of literary exploration.
In the past few years, the popularity of audiobooks has begun to soar. A report produced by the Audio Publishers Association found that in 2015, total audiobook sales rose over 18.2% to $2.1 billion. In contrast, over the past five years fiction sales have dropped by a quarter. It’s clear that the way consumers like to digest their books has become increasingly auditory in nature.
Whether it’s a classic piece by Dickens or a contemporary author more people than ever before are going about their daily lives, listening and digesting new books through mobile devices. As smartphones have risen to prominence and audiobooks websites and apps like audible have hit the market, traditional books have become comparatively less convenient.
In light of this transition, there’s been a vibrant debate over the virtues of traditional books versus audiobooks. The traditional print crowd finds audiobooks to be crude in comparison to the purity of the printed word. The main argument of such critics is that books are to be read rather than listened to. The core departure between advocates of audiobooks and their counterparts is convenience.
The shear ease of plugging in and listening through a device is much simpler than taking a bulky book with you everywhere you go. This is even more true if you like to switch books regularly, as you can change what you’re listening with the click of a button, rather than carrying around a bag full of heavy books.
The Case for Reading
As touched on above, the case for books relies mainly on tradition, but there is also a lot of scientific evidence that suggests reading has its advantages over listening. Many of us read and listen to books in order to learn and take in information and the evidence suggests that reading has the edge when it comes to concentration and memorizing information.
Recently, a study was conducted at the University of Waterloo in Ontario where 235 participants read excerpts of Bill Bryson’s 2003 book A Short History of Nearly Everything. Throughout the study, listeners had much more trouble absorbing information than those who read it silently. In addition, the group of listeners scored considerably worse on memory tests. This study is not alone in it’s observation that audiobooks aren’t as conducive to memorization.
Critics like Harold Bloom suggest that the reason for this is that audiobooks prevent listeners from ‘deep reading’, which is essential for learning. He suggests that having the text physically in front of you is extremely important when it comes to recalling information at a later date. Audiobooks simply don’t have the educational value of reading a book in print.
Audiobooks: Listening is Pragmatic
Preaching the virtues of printed books is all well and good but if people don’t have the time to read then no amount of deep-reading potential will help them. In spite of what critics suggest, listening to books is much better than doing nothing at all. For those who have time to read, the cognitive benefits of printed books outweigh those of audiobooks based on the evidence available.
However, if you’re trying to integrate literature into your everyday life, audiobooks have the advantage by a country mile. The ability to listen to your favorite titles on the go and pause without needing a bookmark is incredibly convenient. You can have a library at your fingertips, which you can listen to hands-free, anywhere you go, regardless of whether you’re on a train, a bus or a treadmill.
Rather than getting snooty about audiobooks lacking educational value or being a watered down version of a print book, critics should remember that the spoken word can also take us on a journey. We no longer need to sit silent and sedentary in order to travel on a fictional journey, all we need is some earphones and a good audiobook.