Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Joy and Evolution of Audibooks

September 22, 2010 by · 19 Comments 

An audio cassette recording
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I mostly read business books, biographies, science books, or science fiction books. However, I don’t always have the time to read books in a quiet place other than when at home at night. During the day I get nauseous when reading in a car, bus or train, and I usually try and sleep in a plane. Thus, before I discovered Audiobooks (again) I mostly read only when I had studying or inspired to.

Audiobooks aren’t new, they have been for quite a while as books on tape (or later CD), however, they were a bit clumsy and again, not in an ideal format to carry around various books. With the rise of the MP3 player, however, that all changed as it allowed you to carry a virtual library with you. Audible.com, the main player in the audiobook space basically owns the largest catalog of mainstream books. As a member, I pay them a monthly fee to receive some credits and then I download books with these credits (different books are worth different number of credits). I now have over 30 audiobooks read and I carry them on my iPhone for whenever I want a reference or just to revisit a funny bit from a book.

Audiobooks have brought back the joy of reading for me, and some additional benefits as well… such as:

1) The Ability to move around and maximize transport time by reading – Now, I can ‘read’ while on the bus or while walking somewhere. This was typically ‘dead’ time for me from an educational point of view.

2) The Ability to observe and enjoy the scenery – Now I can sit at a beach and see the water, the sun, the seagulls, etc whilst enjoying a book at the same time.

3) The Ability to immerse yourself into a story – with sound isolation you are now effectively in the ‘sound stage’ of the book.

4) The Ability to hear the characters, music, and staging of a novel closer to what the author may have intended – This works great for works that have various characters and with characters that have regional accents. The best narrators usually do a great job of representing this for you, thus you get a better ‘feel’ for the character than you would be simply reading it and trying to imagine what the characters sounded like if you weren’t familiar with what an accent sounds like.

5) Some people are better at retaining ‘heard information’ rather than ‘read information’ – were you better in school at remembering what the teacher said or what you read in a text book?

6) If you are hearing an audiobook on your phone, it will pause automatically when you receive a call making interruptions seamless (you can always turn off the phone’s service if you want complete isolation though)

Although I very much consider those benefits as key factors for me to choose the audiobook format over any other, the format does have its downsides though.. for example:

1) Bookmarking and referencing is not easy.. not even with nifty applications such as bookmark for the iPhone.

2) Reading is sequential, you can’t jump paragraphs like you can in a book when you can expect – this effectively makes the experience of reading a long book slower if you are a fast reader and can jump ahead.

3) Visual items like graphs are poorly represented – try trying to verbally describe a bar chart.. it’s an exercise in patience (in the x-axis we have….)

4) There isn’t a large community for audiobook commenting and discussion – Whilst there are many sites out there that comment on books in a visual format, there aren’t that many that help the audio reader in identifying key passages while they read.

So whilst I’m a big advocate of audiobooks in general, I do think there is an evolution that needs to take place.

In the first instance, buying and going straight to reading needs to be simplified. Audible at this point in time requires you to download the books and then import them into iTunes (unless you buy them straight from iTunes at a ridiculous price). Other Audiobook stores unfortunately don’t have the catalog that Audible does at this time.

Secondly, the way that Audible deals with interactivity within the book is very poor. Basically all it is right now is a static file you listen to. At best it will have chapter markers for you to advance or refer to if need be. However, all the cool features that new e-book readers have, like community highlighting and contributions aren’t there.

Lastly, there isn’t a very good integration of the necessary visual elements to an audio book for those that want to refer to them. In an ideal world, I’d like to be able to see the graphs at the point when the book starts describing them. How come I can’t do that if enhanced books in the iTunes store allow you to do the inverse (audio portions for text based books)?

Needless to say, I think there are still opportunities out there for innovative products and services within the Audiobook space… I, as a fan of the format, look forward to using them when they come around.

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