George Clark, Print Comment Editor, discusses the debate of audiobooks versus physical books and how they are different rather than a copy of the other
Ah, the famous modern debate: to listen or not to listen. According to an article in The Guardian in July 2019, audiobook sales increased dramatically by 43% in 2018 over 2017. So what’s all the fuss about?
Personally, while I still prefer a physical book, I am definitely a fan of audiobooks. For starters, it is very useful in our fast-paced world to be able to delve into new texts without taking your eyes off the pavement. Books are clunky, heavy and expensive, while audiobook platforms like Audible give you access to a whole lot of content for relatively little cash and don’t take up any space in your bag. There’s something comforting about them as well, something nostalgic: like being read a bed-time story. I still remember listening to Horrid Henry cassettes when I went to sleep as a kid.
“There’s something comforting about them as well, something nostalgic: like being read a bed-time story.”
Despite this, there are still plenty of advantages to the humble book. Yes, they’re clunky and make me wish I had a bigger bag, but they’re also loveable and tangible and old ones just smell amazing! There is something very satisfying about filling up a bookshelf rather than gigabytes on your phone. Plus, you need to be focusing when you’re reading an actual book; I personally find it very easy to get distracted when listening to an audiobook as opposed to a hardback.
On a more analytical note, there is another potential issue with audiobooks: when it comes to readings of books that many would consider classics, the reader really has a responsibility towards the text. Reading an audiobook is not dissimilar to being an actor in a play: it is up to them to interpret the words as they see fit for an audience. Now, while this is certainly a comforting way of being introduced to a text, it should not be considered the be-all and end-all of your reading of them. Anyone who has ever studied a Shakespeare play at school knows that there are an enormous variety of ideas that can be drawn from single lines in a great work of literature. For me, while audiobooks can be a comfortable route into a difficult text, you really need to read the original to appreciate the variety of different meanings the text can be viewed as propagating. But hey, I’m an English student so this is kind of my life: if you are just looking to try out and enjoy a new book, by all means go for it and whack on the audiobook!
“while audiobooks can be a comfortable route into a difficult text, you really need to read the original to appreciate the variety of different meanings the text can be viewed as propagating.”
While audiobooks are certainly digging into the market share, books are still very much a big part of modern society and I for one hope they never go out of fashion. Books and audiobooks should not be treated as direct translations of one another, but entirely different animals. And I am happy that they’re both still alive and kicking.