Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Whatever Brings in New Readers

 By R.J. Harlick

If you listen to audiobooks, how do you find they compare to old-fashioned reading, as far as absorbing the content? What are the pros and cons of each? If you don’t listen to audiobooks, why not?

I see my blog mate, Terry, has chosen to write on another topic, which by the way I found very interesting. I was going to do the same and then I decided I would do some research into audio books vs regular books and report my findings.

But first I will answer the question with a resounding NO. I have never read an audio book and have no interest in reading one. I think in part it is due to my style of reading, which is in bed before going to sleep. I know if I tried listening to the book rather than actively reading it, I would be asleep before the first couple of paragraphs were finished, which I suppose is part of the reason I read in bed. I want to cleanse my mind of the day’s activities and put myself in a tranquil mood for sleeping. But hey, I also want to absorb myself in the book’s action and follow it along for a few chapters at least. If I listened to an audio book, I would never finish the book and would likely forget the meagre amount I had already heard. 

I enjoy listening to discussions and documentaries on CBC radio while I am driving, but I imagine that it is because it’s a style of listening to which you don’t have to pay complete attention. You can go in and out while you concentrate on your driving and still have an idea what is being discussed. Not so with an audio book. I would need to be 100% attentive to understand and remember what is going on and I know that I would never be able to do that. I would think listening to an audio book is best done when doing a mindless job like painting or taking public transportation that allows you to concentrate on something else at the same time.

So what did I find out from my quick Internet research?
A 2011 Forbes article suggested that studies show that there is no difference in cognitive ability between listening to a book and reading one, but it can depend on the type of book. I imagine a complex scientific tome would be more difficult to remember than a fast pace crime novel.  The article also recounted a small study that showed that there was no difference in retention of a short story that had been listened to over reading it. However, another study mentioned in a 2014 Bookriot blog, revealed that those who listened to an audiobook excerpt scored worse in mind-wandering and memory than those who read the excerpt. So there you go.

Both articles did, however, mention multi-tasking and that audio listeners often did it while doing other things. The Bookriot blog also said that people who enjoy listening to audiobooks, often report that they had to learn how to actively listen in order to stay attentive and remember the contents. Another article did mention that those who adjust to audio listening often were in a habit of listening to podcasts and the like, something I will admit I have never done. 

Several articles reported that audio sales are on the rise as opposed to ebook sales which are on the decline, so some people do enjoy them.  But they still only account for less than 5% of book sales according to the 2016 sales figures from the Association of American Publishers. 

A British article on Verdict.co highlighted Nelson Book data which showed that young males between 25 and 44 are the greatest users, which I found fascinating.  According to Nelson this isn’t a result of increased interest in books, but rather is related to the technology. Unlike most of us, who started out as book readers, many audio listeners aren’t book readers, rather they are listeners having been brought up on listening to podcasts and other audio content on their mobile devices. So if audio books entices non-readers to start ‘reading’ books I am all for them.

To support this a 2016 booklistreader.com article mentioned a study that showed that audiobooks were having a significant impact on literacy development in grade two and three students.

Despite all this, I still don’t think I will convert to audio books. I like physically reading either a real book or an ebook too much. But, hey, if they attract those readers who don’t normally gravitate to books, I am all for it. The more readers the better regardless of how they choose to immerse themselves in a book.

And what about you? Do you enjoy listening to audio books or would you rather read the old fashioned way?


Paul D. Marks said...

My wife listens to audio books all the time and really enjoys them. I don't. I can't. I can't focus on them, my mind wanders too much, whereas if I'm reading a hardcopy book I can stay focused more. So I'm with you in that I don't listen to books. I won't say it's never happened, but almost never.

Kristopher said...

I will always prefer a "real" book and "real" reading, but I have adapted to audio by necessity. When the blog took off, publishers and authors were begging for more reviews, but with a day job - and a life - it would have been impossible to squeeze in more reading time.

But, I do have a 45 minute drive in to work, so I thought, "let's give this audiobook thing a try." For the most part, I have managed it pretty well. Occasionally, when I go to write my review, I realize that I have no idea how a character's name is spelled or if I forgot the name of the town where they live, it's not easy to look up. But you can adapt to those things.

A suggestion for those wanted to try audio for the first time, go with a YA book. In fact, most of my YA reading is via audio these days. They are just slightly more simple (generally), so I find them perfect for this method.

Dietrich Kalteis said...

I prefer to read when I'm at home, but there's a time and place for audiobooks, like when I'm driving.

RM Greenaway said...

Interesting info here, Robin - thanks. I'm not sure but I think I can absorb an audio book as well as written, and sometimes better, ie when I'm too tired to keep my eyes open. Also depends on narrator. A good narrator I think improves on a book. The one I'm listening to now makes me laugh out loud, and I don't think I would if I read it on paper. What I can say for sure is I'm getting a whole lot more reading done with audio as an option.