As we near the end of audiobook month I thought it might be fun to consider the ways in which the audiobook is better than a book. I am a lifelong book lover and an audiobook narrator. I love to listen to audiobooks, also it’s part of how I develop my own craft and skill as an actor, but I can also be found happily browsing bookshops or sitting around with my head in a book.
A few people I have spoken to about audiobooks don’t know that much about them. So perhaps before I get into their benefits its worth busting a few myths about audiobooks based on some of the comments or questions I have received.
1. Aren’t audiobooks for people who can’t read?
There is no doubt that audiobooks are great for people who can’t read a book for whatever reason. I, and a number of my audiobook friends, have narrated books for the blind allowing them access to a wide range of literature.
They can also be extremely helpful in supporting those with reading difficulties to access stories and texts that feel bewildering otherwise. But the success of Audible suggests that the appeal is rather wider than that. I can read very well and would still, at times, choose the audio version over the physical book.
2. Don’t they cut them down?
There was a time when many audiobooks were abridged versions of the physical book but thanks to smart phones there is no need to abridge them as you can now carry hundreds of hours of audiobooks on your device, making them always available in full. In the years of CDs a full 10 hour audiobook would take 9 CDs (not that easy to carry around) but now that is no problem.
3. Aren’t they hard to get hold of?
Not at all. Audible is the main distributor and is an amazon company so, as you might imagine, they make it easy to spend your money on audiobooks and quickly download your book to your device.
4. Aren’t they expensive?
Again, not really. Although the headline price of an audiobook can seem high (£21.99 not being unusual) audible offers subscription offers where you can buy credits to spend on audiobooks. They also have regular sales where you can purchase 2 for 1 or similar deals.
5. Aren’t they a bit slow if you are a quick reader?
Hopefully not. Books are meant to be savoured rather than inhaled but sometimes we want a speedier hit. The narrator will read to the pace that seems to fit with the style and substance of the book. However, if you are finding them a little slow, you can speed them up on your audible app. I know quite a few who speed up to one and a half times the normal pace so they can listen to more in a shorter time.
6. Can’t it get boring listening to one person for ages?
There is no doubt that you won’t like every narrator and some will be more fun for you to listen to than others. Listening, especially into your headphones, can be a very intimate experience, and you don’t want to give just anyone access to your inner ear. It is worth listening to samples to see who you like and who you’d like to spend time with telling you a story.
Having said that, narrators do put a lot of effort into keeping the text lively and moving along. Reading in a monotone is a very boring way to record and not the way I want to spend my days. I always try and play with the delivery to keep it engaging for me and for my listeners.
If you really do want even more variety there are a number of audiobooks with co-narrators where several actors tell the story from different points of view. My own novel is one such audiobook with Tom and Ellie being given distinct voices and passing the baton between each chapter throughout “The Way Home”.
7. Do you do all the voices?
Yes I do. I alter the voices of the characters to fit the person described in the text. Narrators are actors and love bringing characters to life. Some, including me, have a fairly wide range of accents they are proficient in and enjoy using them where they can. Others will use fewer accents but will still look to bring the flavour of the character into the voice they use for any dialogue. It is a full book “brought to life” experience. The narrator of each book also has their own character….
Which brings me neatly on to why audiobooks are better than books.
Why are Audiobooks Better?
1. Extra storytelling and creativity
When you read a book you only have the input of the writer and editor supporting your enjoyment. When you listen to an audiobook you have the benefit of the creative storytelling powers of the writer, editor, actor or actors, and producer bringing the world of the book to life for you. This can really enhance your experience as the choices the actor makes lifts the words off the page and helps your imagination to make the world even clearer for you.
2. Dense texts makes more sense
Some texts can be really dense and hard to de-code. I have found this especially with some brilliant non-fiction where reading it on the page is hard to follow, especially as my mind has a tendency to wander. Listening to it being read aloud by someone who has spent the time getting to know the concepts and really understanding the full message of the book can suddenly make it all seem much clearer.
3. They solve arguments
Whenever my two children get in the car for a long journey on the motorway they turn from relatively well behaved human beings into argumentative dynamos. Suddenly, while I am faced with the crazy driving of other people, they decide to try and kill each other across the car, arguing about everything from who has the best seat to who’s is the best music.
Audiobooks solved all of that. With a bit of time and thought we can choose books all three of us can enjoy, (David Tenant’s recordings of the “How to Train Your Dragon” series being a particular favourite). Instantly all arguments cease and we are all in a shared imaginary world being taken on a magical adventure and I can avoid either losing my shit or crashing or both.
4. You can listen anywhere
There are times when you can’t read a book but you can listen to one. I listen when I’m walking the dog or driving my car. My children listen in the bath or when they are getting ready to sleep, with the lights off. Friends listen on their smart speakers while doing housework or cooking. With Bluetooth headphones and smart speakers linked to your audible account the possibilities are endless.
5. You can listen when you can’t read
I have been so tired at the end of the working day in London sometimes that I can’t manage to focus enough to read a book. At those times I have loved to plug in my headphones and let an expert storyteller transport me out of the train and into a new world. It is engaging and relaxing, mind-expanding but also mind-releasing.
There have been other times in my life when audiobooks have given me access to books and stories when I couldn’t read. I spent a lot of my early childhood in hospital, as you know, and audiobooks kept me company when I was too ill to stay awake and read. It is also widely understood that hearing is the last sense to go so playing a favourite audiobook to a loved one who is unwell in hospital or even unconscious can be a way of showing them love and care.
6. It expands your horizons
This is my favourite I think and I’ve saved it for last. I have used audiobooks to give me a way of approaching books I don’t generally read including thrillers by Stephen King and classics like “Middlemarch” and “Madame Bovary”. Somehow I don’t find time for these in their paper form but walking the dog I can delve into their stories and enjoy every word.
It has also been extremely helpful for my daughter as she tackles books that are a long way from her experience for school. The days of ploughing through seemingly turgid text can be over with the help of an experienced actor and an audible subscription. Her time on the bus can then be spent reading the required book and realising that it might not be as boring as she first thought. I don’t think I’m alone in this as there are many parents of teenage boys or, perhaps, resourceful teenage boys themselves, realising this might be useful to them.
Give it a try…
If you haven’t tried audiobooks yet I hope I have inspired you to give it a try, find a book and settle in to be told a story. After all, don’t we all remember being told a story as children and loving every second, why do children have to have all the fun?