All About Audiobooks
Listening to a book read by someone else is quite a different experience than reading it yourself. I’ll tell you why I love audiobooks, why you should try one, and how to do it. UPDATED 2-2-19
A few years ago, my older brother, Dennis, died quite suddenly. I handled it well, I think, but internalized some of the feelings and had a lot of trouble sleeping. That is when I really started depending on audiobooks. They kept my mind occupied and entertained instead of dwelling too much on my sorrow.
I had listened to audiobooks before and enjoyed most of them. They are especially helpful during a migraine, when my eyes need a break but my mind still wants to stay active. Reading has always been a huge part of my life, and I grew tired of “wasting” the time when my eyes couldn’t help me.
But I really went ‘whole hog’ after that. I spent most of every night with my iPad or iPhone, listening to one story after another. Sometimes I played an easy card game at the same time or browsed Pinterest—visual-only pastimes that didn’t take my attention from the book. And that leads to the next section…
THE QUESTION OF COMPREHENSION
Do you benefit as much from reading or listening to a book? Some people might think light fiction is the ideal genre for audiobooks because they either don’t want to work while listening or they are afraid they wouldn’t comprehend heavier material. I would suggest you try an audiobook in the same genre as you would normally read. After all, how else can you compare what’s normal for you?
I have listened to quite a few non-fiction audiobooks and haven’t had any trouble understanding and/or remembering the material. There have been studies, especially with children, that insist some people are visual learners while others are auditory learners. But I found just as much research saying that it seldom matters; most people tend to comprehend at the same level regardless of the input medium. This is a lively point of contention and not all readers will enjoy audio versions. (But how will you know unless you try?)
“People who say they can’t concentrate on an audio book as well as a paper one are likely overlooking the fact that we are more likely to multitask while listening to audio books than while reading regular books.”
~Olga Khazan, “Is Listening to Audio Books Really the Same as Reading?” Forbes.com, September 12, 2011
“Reading a physical book and listening to the audiobook are two different paths that lead to the same destination. Each creates differing experiences and memories, but neither is better or worse than the other.”
~Dana Lee, “Audiobooks vs Reading: The Rules Are, There Are No Rules“
“… As far as the mental processes are concerned, there really isn’t much difference between reading and listening to a book.”
~Melissa Dahl, “To Your Brain, Listening to a Book Is Pretty Much the Same As Reading It“
I do have several of The Teaching Company’s The Great Courses in audio, and a recent one included a lot of historical names that I would have had to research in order to pronounce them correctly. In this case, I didn’t have to; the professor did it for me, which was an added benefit.
Needless to say, I listen to quite a few audiobooks. Most are excellent, but just like print or e-books, some were flops. It’s no exaggeration to say that no matter the quality of the writing itself, the narrator can make or break the enjoyment of an audiobook. That’s also why it’s imperative that you listen to a sample of the audiobook before you purchase it.
The narrator can make or break the enjoyment of an audiobook.
If you don’t like the narration within those few sample minutes, skip that book or read it instead. Sometimes there are other versions of the same work (especially classics); see if you like a different narrator better. Subscription services allow you to return a book, too; one of the main reasons I’ve returned audiobooks to Audible is poor narration.
THE SCIENCE BEHIND IT
When you read text to yourself, you are using your own voice (See “prosody”), including the pitch, emphasis, and rhythm. While listening to the same text being read, however, you hear someone else’s prosody—their interpretation of that text using their voice. That includes character accents, of course, which can be great or, occasionally, awful.
Trained actors can be very creative and their use of accents for different characters is usually delightful. Some authors insist on narrating their own work; this can be excellent because the author certainly knows the material, but it can also be a case of an amateur effort. Narrating a book is hard work, and trained voices make a big difference.
Pacing, too, is different than your own reading speed. When a narrator reads slowly, it gives your brain more time to soak up the meaning of the words and create feelings from that experience. Most audiobook software allows some adjustment for speed; turn it up a tad if the story is going too slowly for you. Also, you can easily “rewind” a digital audiobook if you need to repeat a particular passage.
WHERE TO GET THEM
- Whispersync for Voice on Amazon.com
- Audible Daily Deal
- Audible membership
Whispersync combines Kindle ebooks and Audible audiobooks into one package. You can read the ebook and switch to the audiobook and back again, never losing your place in the book.
Many (but not all) Kindle ebooks include this option. You purchase the Kindle ebook at Amazon.com and check the Whispersync for Voice box to add the audiobook. Prices for the narrations range from about $2 to $15. However, that is much less expensive than purchasing the audiobook alone at Audible, thus can be a great way to try some audiobooks.
The Audible Daily Deal is a wonderful feature. Sign up for a (FREE) account at Audible and then choose to receive the Daily Deal email message in your account preferences. These are full versions of books on sale for one day from $1.95 to $5.95 each and they offer quite a variety.
Memberships at Audible.com come with some nice benefits. I get one audiobook per month for my $14.95 membership fee, but also have taken advantage of some wonderful sales. Additionally, member prices to purchase more audiobooks are 30 percent lower. There’s a free trial, too.
Using the above methods, I have acquired quite a collection of audiobooks. Currently, there are about 630 audiobooks in my library at Audible.
Other membership sites like Audible:
- Audiobooks.com – very similar to Audible; $14.95 a month for one book credit, and the ability to purchase more credits when you wish
- Scribd – $8.99 monthly membership with a good selection, especially new and best-sellers
- Apple iTunes Audiobooks – no monthly subscription; a great selection and comparable prices
- Audiobooks Now – $4.99 a month and discounts on selections
- BookLender.com – rents audiobooks on CD (and paperbacks)
- Simply Audiobooks – rents audiobooks on CD
Another way to get audiobooks—this time for FREE—is from LibriVox. These are books in the public domain that are read and recorded by volunteers. Obviously, you won’t see any new bestsellers here, but I’m sure I don’t have to tell you the benefits of the classics. I have found some wonderful reads here that I would not normally have seen. However, the quality of the narrators varies widely; use that caveat wisely
And don’t forget about your library. Just like borrowing a physical book or an ebook, you can borrow audiobooks. Many of my fellow audiobook readers on Goodreads use this method for free listening, even for best-sellers. As with all loans, you may have to wait in a virtual line to borrow a popular book, and selection varies based on the size of the library.
- OverDrive – works with all lending libraries
- Libby – works with public libraries
- Hoopla – from a provider of books and media for libraries
HOW TO LISTEN
I distinctly remember the first time I listened to a book recording. About 1980 (yes, I’m that old) I was living with my boyfriend’s elderly grandmother for a few months. Mrs. W was legally blind and the only way she could read was using a service that mailed her LPs—vinyl records—of audiobooks. She would happily sit for hours, listening to a novel, a romance, or a history book. I was a big reader even then, and I was glad she could still enjoy reading.
Skip ahead to 2019, and instant gratification is the norm. Digital is the word, and it’s easier and cheaper than ever to be an audiobook listener. Search, choose, buy, download, and listen within a few minutes.
DEVICES & FORMATS
Historically, the format of the audio file dictated which device you could use to listen. This presented some confusion when you visited BestBuy (“Will this one play my Lynyrd Skynyrd album?”). Of course, you can still buy old cassette tape audiobooks at yard sales and used book stores, and CDs are available from some major producers.
Fortunately, digital files are pretty interchangeable these days, so the file format isn’t quite as important. We might call it an “MP3 player,” but now our gadgets play quite a few additional file formats: AAC (Advanced Audio Coding), WAV, and WMA (Windows Media Audio), for instance. Of course, there is still a divide in the Android vs iOS and Windows vs Mac arenas, but this is more about the app you use than the file format.
- Use your pc, a cell phone, a tablet, or a Kindle as an audiobook reader.
- Have an old iPod in a drawer? That’ll work.
- Does your GPS device in the car have a feature to play audio files? Let it rip as you drive to work.
- Did you get an Amazon Echo or a Google Home for Christmas? Let them read aloud to you!
Instead of duplicating perfectly good advice, I’ll just point you to these “roundup” articles that will give you an idea of what apps are available:
There are some great online resources for audiobook readers. Topics for discussion include acquiring books, narrators, genres, specials and promotions, free review copies, and technical aspects; they can help with enjoyment and lead to recommendations.
- My favorite is Goodread’s Audiobooks group; it covers all of the above topics and much more.
- Library Thing also has an Audiobooks group, but they are not as active or numerous.
- AudioFile Magazine includes reviews and recommendations as well as interesting articles about the business of audiobooks and behind-the-scenes tidbits. Sign up for the free newsletter.
- A Good Audiobook Speaks Volumes – a Facebook group from the non-profit Audio Publishers Association (APA); “An uncensored, unbranded forum for all audiobook listeners to discover audiobooks and connect with other fans, publishers, authors, and narrators.”
- AudioBooks forum on Reddit – “The audiobooks subreddit is a community of audiobibliophiles sharing and looking for their next great listen.”
- A few more links for sources and resources for the audiobook listener.
Please let me know if you enjoyed this article and/or have something to add to it.