Most of us have heard the phrase “audiobooks aren’t real books” at some point in our lives. Whilst it is true that the medium through which you are consuming literature is different, you are still consuming the same literary work as those who read it. So, what are the real pros and cons of audiobooks.
Pro #1 – Comprehension of text
In 2016, a study was released examining the differences in comprehension between those who read a non-fiction text and those who listened to it. The researchers found that there was no major difference in comprehension between the two groups. This revelation was perhaps one of the most powerful in the debate about the pros and cons of audiobooks. This means that if you’re reading for interest, you will retain the information in the same way as if you’d read it. If you are reading for study, it is still imperative that you read the text. However, it may be beneficial for your comprehension to listen to the audiobook too. If you’re studying a text that doesn’t exist as an audiobook, there is no harm in recording yourself reading aloud and playing it back to create your own mini audiobook.
Pro #2 – Inferred meaning
Daniel Willingham, Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, suggests in a 2018 TIME Magazine article that people who hear Shakespeare read aloud are able to infer more about the meaning of the character’s dialogue than if they just read it in print. This makes sense, seeing as plays are designed to be performed, not read. In fact, research shows that combining print and audio may increase recall by up to 40%. Therefore, it may be a good idea to listen to an audiobook of a play alongside reading it to aid comprehension. However, it is important that you have the text alongside you when listening so that you can identify any adaptations or abridgements of the original text.
Pro #3 – Inclusivity
A staggering 85% of our learning is done through listening, the first language skill we acquire. Therefore, audiobooks may be seen as the most inclusive and accessible form of literature. Regardless of reading ability, every hearing person can access the same literature as their peers. This means that those who have barriers to reading can still participate in active literary discussions. They can also feel the benefits of interacting with literature.
Pro #4 – Mood booster
Psychology Today notes that listening to audiobooks can reduce both negative thoughts and stress. If you are in a spiral of negative thoughts, concentrating for long enough to read can feel impossible. However, you may be able to pick up your headphones and listen to an audiobook. As noted in a previous post, reading for just six minutes a day can reduce stress by 60%. Therefore, listening to a short burst of an audiobook should have the same impact. The voice of the audiobook can also act as a distraction from our own thoughts. We are not alone with our thoughts when we are listening to one.
Pro #5 – Portability
Lastly, audiobooks are a little more portable than a print book or an eBook. For example, you couldn’t read a print book while you were driving. However, you could listen to an audiobook through the car sound system. You could also listen to an audiobook instead of music if you really want to get yourself into literature.
As with almost everything in life, there is a flip side to the argument that deserves equal consideration. So, without further ado… (the post is called ‘The Pros and Cons of Audiobooks’ after all)
Con #1 – Price
In 2018, research found that the average cost of an audiobook was twice the price of its print equivalent. On the face of it, this seems a rather large premium to pay just to access literature in a different format. However, once you factor in production costs, the reasoning becomes clearer. The overall cost to produce a single 12-hour audiobook is estimated to be an eyewatering $5000-$6000. Despite its justification, the cost still acts as a barrier for most people.
Services like Audible offer a monthly subscription service which substantially reduces the cost, but being tied into a monthly contract isn’t ideal for everyone. If you are looking for free audiobooks, the BBC Sounds app is perhaps the most comprehensive resource available. It contains an archive of some more ‘traditional’ audiobooks as well as some dramatized performances of literary works. Most of these audiobooks are abridged, but they still give you the essence of the story.
Con #2 – Distraction
Some people find that it is easier to get distracted when listening to an audiobook than reading a book. This is no surprise seeing as audiobooks are listened to on digital devices. Notifications constantly popping up on screen can be one of the most annoying things when listening to an audiobook. For example, if you are listening to an audiobook and get a social media notification, you may feel compelled to check it. The momentary distraction seems fine until it’s 30 minutes later and you’re still scrolling through your feed. More often than not, you completely lose the thread of the audiobook which leads to the next point…
Con #3 – Re-reading
Whilst it is true that you can rewind an audiobook if you want to hear something again, it is difficult to be accurate. If you get distracted reading a print book, it is fairly easy to flip back to the page or passage you weren’t paying attention to. However, with an audiobook, you have to rewind as precisely as possible. The chances are that you will overshoot the passage you want to find and if this happens, there is a good chance that you may get distracted again in the meantime.
Con #4 – Performance
The enjoyability of the performances within the audiobook can sometimes be hard to gauge before you buy. You should always read reviews before purchasing an audiobook to see if anyone has reported an issue with the sound quality. For example, someone may write that they got three quarters of the way through the book, only to find that the sound distorted so badly that they couldn’t hear the ending. However, what is harder to gauge is whether you will like the voice actor’s performance of the text. What one person may describe as expressive, another may describe as monotonous. Like all forms of creativity, it is simply down to personal preference.
Con #5 – Malfunction
We can’t really finish discussing a topic that relies on technology without discussing the potential of a malfunction. There would be nothing worse than lying in bed listening to an exciting part of your book only to hear the dreaded low battery bleep. You may only have to take a few steps to reach a power socket, but the bleep probably ruined the moment. Although rare, like any internet platform, audiobook services can go down leaving you without a book entirely.
Although not an extensive list of the pros and cons of audiobooks, we can return to the statement at the beginning of the post. Audiobooks are real books, and it is up to each reader to decide if they work for them. Literature is one of the most accessible forms of communication on the planet and nobody should be judged for how they choose to consume it.