Pros and Cons of Audiobooks

Audio books

Audiobooks are becoming more and more popular by the day, but there’s still some argument about whether or not they are inferior to actual reading. I don’t claim to be the best judge in this competition. I enjoy both audiobooks and actual reading immensely. What it really comes down to when deciding whether to purchase the audiobook or the hard copy is personal choice. Mostly your lifestyle.

Time

The first thing people tend to think of when they think about books in general is time. With an audiobook you can read in the car, they can make your workouts bearable, or if you have a more hands-on type of job that doesn’t require a lot of thought, you might even get away with “reading” at work (But don’t come to me when your boss writes you up).

When Stephen Fry read the fourth Harry Potter book to me I found that I ended up jogging almost 8 miles without feeling tired. We creative types also tend to like hands-on activities like drawing and sewing. An audiobook is a great source of mental distraction or entertainment if you want to participate in these activities but can’t bear a silent room.

But there is one con in the perspective of time. Audiobooks take longer to consume than actual reading does. When I got my hands on the seventh Harry Potter book I decided to listen to Stephen and read it myself. What better way to get full immersion in the world of Harry Potter, I thought. Turns out that was a bad idea.

My normal reading speed (which is actually pretty slow) was at least twice the speed of Stephen Fry’s narration. Narration, you see, has to be spoken relatively slowly and clearly so that the recipient can follow along easily, not missing anything or needing sentences repeated. When we read, we don’t even need to see every word to understand a sentence. We can just fly through, scanning the pages, and understand without “hearing” the words spoken in our heads, thus dramatically cutting down the consumption time when choosing text over audio.

Cost

Audiobooks are indeed more convenient than books. You can just load ‘em on your phone and whip them out whenever you want. However, that convenience comes at a cost, a pretty steep one in some cases.

Unless you can find an audiobook at the library, usually it’s better for your budget to just stick with print. Choosing used books over new or borrowing from the library (it’s a lot easier to find a paperback at the library than it is to find an audio CD) are definitely the best options when operating on a tight budget, as so many of us are forced to do these days.
For a small monthly fee Audible.com does offer thousands of discounted (and even free) audiobooks. It just depends on how often you plan on purchasing whether this option makes sense to you or not.

However, if you have $32 to spend on the Game of Thrones audio CD versus the $14 for a used copy or $5 Kindle copy, be my guest. That’s a long book and it just might be worth it to be able to listen to it on your commute to work.

Engagement

This is the argument for which I like to play the Hard Cover Advocate. Audiobooks, though great, reside a little too near the to television camp for my taste. Listening to words spoken is far less active than reading them on a page. Less brain activity leads to disengagement, often times leading to less enjoyment from the experience.

Plus, when “reading” audiobooks you don’t get that same subtle education that real books give you. Real books can help us pick up on nuances of the English language, learning better where to put commas and what a semicolon is used for. I learned that commas and periods go INSIDE the quotation marks and that a new line of dialogue from a new character goes on a new, indented line all from simply reading fiction. And as boring as that may sound, it wasn’t boring at all to learn because I wasn’t focused on learning how to write well. I was focused on whether or not Ella would break her curse.

Considering the dropping literacy rate among middle class Americans, I tend to vote against using audiobooks unless the situation demands it. We in America like to forget how privileged we are to even be able to read and write. We look for the easiest way, not the best way of doing things.

But, for all my cons here, there is one pro: Audiobook narrators can be fantastic. Though active engagement usually leads to a better experience, sometimes a good narrator can unleash a goldmine of awesomeness with great character voices and inflection. It wasn’t until I had Romeo and Juliet spoken to me that I caught on to Benvolio’s hilarious crude humor. Well-paid audiobook readers are supremely talented and can serve to increase engagement in a story simply by reading a work more diversely than we would read in our heads.

Interesting Uses

People talk about how immersion is the best way to learn languages, but most high school students can’t travel to Spain or Mexico to pass their finals. They can, however, pick up a translation of a book they like, pop in the audio track, and listen and read along. This can help increase vocabulary, reading skills, audio comprehension, and help students better understand the rules of pronunciation. This is my favorite use of audio books and I’m currently using the audio version of Harry Potter und der Stein der Weisen to accelerate my German studies.

Another interesting use of Audiobooks is learning how to read out loud. I’ve heard some eighteen-year-olds struggle to get through a passage of the NIV Bible or read a piece of text in a monotone that could put any crowd to sleep in seconds. Good public speaking abilities can get you far in life and audiobooks can help with that.

Good audiobook narrators are spunky and fun. They can read text that sounds not like it’s being read from a page, but like they’re making up a story from their own heads. To learn about inflection and character voice and accents, try imitating your favorite audiobook reader. Pay attention to how he ends a sentence or connects a paragraph. It might take some work, but it will open your eyes to the world of Good Public Speaking ability.

 

Over all, I’m still a hard copy lover, mostly because I read to exercise my brain. If someone asked me which is better, I’d side with a paperback. But I will admit that audiobooks have a time and a place (after all, it was an audiobook that got me through chapter 14 of The Silmarillion. If you’ve read that book all the way through you know what I’m talking about.) But I’m old school. I like typewriters and pocket watches and hard copy text.

Which do you prefer and why?

4 Responses to Pros and Cons of Audiobooks

  1. Bryan Kelly says:

    As I’ve hinted at in previous comments, I’m more of an audiobooks guy, myself. I put a very high emphasis on the Time bit, since I have way too many different things I’m wanting to do with any time I do have to fully commit to something like reading.

    That said, I do actually agree with your breakdown of all the pros and cons. I would even add another pro to books (or con to audiobooks), which is that you define the characters more yourself when voicing them in your head. Similar to reading compared to watching a movie, sometimes it’s nice to not have a world too defined by someone else, and instead let creativity fill in those gaps.

    One note about reading speed is that for some works I’m not too invested in (non-fiction histories, books I’m finding particularly dull, etc.), I actually speed things up to 2 or 3 times speed. It doesn’t pitch the reader’s voice up (unfortunately, as that would be hilarious), just increases the tempo. It takes some getting used to, but can be really useful when my mind is moving quicker than the book or I want to get through a lot of material in a shorter amount of time. It’s bad for fiction I really want to engage in, though, for obvious reasons, so it’s a conditional use.

    Actual reading is something I’d definitely like to do more of, though. The Kindle helps with that, though that opens a new issue! Physical or digital books? There you go. Your next post for you. ;)

    • Abigail Endsley says:

      Haha! I definitely will do a post on digital vs. regular sometime. ;)

      Hm, I suppose you’re right with that character thing! I tend to like the voices in my own head better than the ones the reader makes… unless that reader is Stephen Fry. :P The only bummer about books (when compared to movies, which is a totally different topic but one I’m thinking about at the moment) is if I read the book first, I’m often dissatisfied with the movie. Mostly because I imagined the character one way and the actor looks different, or says things differently. Sometimes it’s wonderful to see the way what was in my head is displayed on screen, but it’s never, NEVER as good.

      • Bryan Kelly says:

        Agreed; I remember having that hangup with Lord of the Rings for quite awhile. Eventually I just started enjoying movie versions as an alternate view of how someone else saw the books, rather than expecting it to be a realization of how *I* saw the books. Lead to less frustration. ;)

        (Yes, I totally did that comment thing again… I can blame nothing but myself.)

        • Abigail Endsley says:

          Haha! It’s okay. I saw. And I fix. ;)

          I’m just glad that I saw the movie LOTR first. Which is weird… but the movies were actually SO GOOD. Unlike most movies made from books, they weren’t disgraceful to Tolkien’s world at all. I’m glad that my reading of the books is slightly colored by my consumption of the films. It’s an interesting relationship. :)

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