These days most of the reading I do is listening to someone read me a book. I have written about this before but I came across this tweet by James Clear laying out that audio is the biggest trend in books.
1) The continued rise of smartphones.— James Clear (@JamesClear) January 24, 2020
Billions of people already own a smartphone and billions more will soon. That's a massive force that makes it easy for anyone to always have a book on them.
Crucially, it is much easier to listen to a book on your phone than to read one.
2) The continued rise of AirPods, etc.— James Clear (@JamesClear) January 24, 2020
The proliferation of compact headphones means billions of people will be consuming audio content.
Even if you don't start as a reader, it's a small step to go from podcasts or videos to audiobooks. It is the same type of consumption.
3) Convenience.— James Clear (@JamesClear) January 24, 2020
Audiobooks have one quality that makes them very different from print.
With print, you must put in effort to keep reading. With audio, you must put in effort to stop reading. All you have to do is press play.
This makes reading hyper-convenient. A huge win.
Honestly, he nailed this in my opinion.
Ease of Listening using Smartphones and Headphones
His first two points around the change in technology I can’t disagree with at all. The increase/change in technology has allowed audiobooks to be much easier to listen too as the technology has provided a very low barrier of entry and use. You can take them with you on the go and not have to worry about finding a cassette or CD player. Yes, you read that right, I just said cassette player. I was in that era where we had walkmans and boomboxes. So not super compact if you wanted to go on a run or walk around the house listening to your book tape. In fact, the first vehicle I purchased out of college had both a cassette and a CD player. Now the van my wife and I just bought 2 years ago doesn’t have either.
The other change in technology that is similar but not specifically called out is a change in media type. As I just discussed with audiotapes and audio CDs, that is more physical stuff you needed to carry around. I remember renting an audiobook tape from the library back in 2004 and it had 10 tapes I had to carry around. I used to make a lot of trips to Chicago from Minneapolis so this is when I first started getting into book tapes as it was a way to pass the 7 hr drive by myself. However, I would have to always make sure to flip the tape or put in the next CD. Now you don’t even have to mess with physical media as you can just download it on your phone, or tablet and go. In addition, it is much easier to get audiobooks, you can still get them for free from the library but now instead of having to go to the library to pick up your cassettes or CDs, you can just download them from Overdrive or something else your library might be connected with. Also, if you can’t get them from the library or don’t want to be put on the waitlist, you can quickly buy them though Audible or other platforms and pretty much listen to it instantly.
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Everyone loves Convenience
The third point he makes is the one that is maybe more concerning but even more spot on. I say that it is concerning as I am one of those people. Every year I have this idea in my head I am going to physically read more books but every year I only get though enough to count on one hand. Most of the ones I read like that are advanced copies I get from a friend show writes some pretty amazing books. Honestly, it is the convenience that I continue to stick with audiobooks because I can listen to them while doing a number of other things. I still don’t know if that is a great thing to always multitask while listening to books but I don’t see myself changing that. Most of the time it is when I am running or driving to work. For both of those activities, audiobooks are the perfect multitasking initiative. Also, both of those activities for me have a defined starting and stopping point that doesn’t allow it to flow into other activities.
Another article I was reading titled “The Rise and Rise of the Books you Don’t read” by Clare Thorp touched on a lot of other interesting benefits around audiobooks but one part in there was a different look at the Convenience topic above.
“Often audio is not competing with time spent with books,” says Richard Lennon, publisher at Penguin Audio. “It’s people who are either fitting books and authors into their day in new ways, so people who might be existing readers but have found that during their commute or exercising or cooking dinner, there’s an opportunity to listen. Or it’s an alternative to TV for people who are conscious of their screen time.”
Bingo! Richard validated that a lot of the times when I personally listen to books are times I would not have been sitting on the couch reading a physical book. As it would be hard to run down the streets in the morning with a physical book in my hands.
However, I do listen to audiobooks sometimes in the evening as I am doing small tasks around the house. The only issue with this is that it translates into not just sitting on the couch and relaxing or winding down. It then has me wandering all around the house doing various projects and tasks. Then what ultimately ends up happening is that I continue to listen to it much longer and stay up later than I was anticipating. These are the times that go against what Richard was talking about as it isn’t really a new way and I just cut out a good way to get back to physical books. In fact, these specifically are the times I should have reached for the physical book instead and the more times I don’t I find the more times I don’t even think about physical books.
So are you going to change any of your habits?
Probably not. Honestly, I do know I am taking the easier way out by listening to books instead of physically reading them but it works for me. Maybe when I am older and have some more time on my hands to sit by a fire or on my couch in the afternoon I will read more physical (or even digital) books.
For now, they are a good companion while running and driving to work so I don’t see that changing. The only thing I might try to change very slightly is to listen to less in the evening in a way to either try to read a physical book or do something else with my time.
How about you? Do you listen to audiobooks and what are your thoughts around it?