In case you couldn’t tell from the title and the GIF, I love audiobooks. I love reading and I love performance, so an audiobook is the marriage of those two things into a consumable media that I just devour. Also, they are so handy to read when you’re traveling, doing chores, or cooking. Traveling is a particular draw for me, as the audiobooks I listen to are housed online or on my phone, which means I don’t have to carry any extra weight with me when I travel. Besides all this, I think they are just super neat! Seriously, of the fifteen non-school related books I’ve read in 2019, eleven have been audiobooks.
But there is phrasing around audiobooks that really bothers me, and it is that, supposedly, when one listens to audiobooks they aren’t ‘real’ reading.
Okay, I say after a deep, calming breath, I’ll bite. What are the reasons that audiobooks aren’t ‘real’ reading?
““I was a fan of audiobooks, but I always viewed them as cheating,” says Beth Rogowsky, an associate professor of education at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania” in Markham Heid’s article Are Audiobooks As Good For You As Reading? Here’s What Experts Say.
Rogwsky went on to conduct an experiment in 2016 where she had students read the same section of a book on an e-reader and in audiobook. She found that the retention of information from the reading was the same in both formats, although she did say that that might have been because e-books have been shown to sometimes have a smaller retention rate than physical books (Heid, Are Audiobooks). However, we know that this is not necessarily the truth, thanks to Maria Konnikova’s article Being a Better Online Reader where Konnikova finds that difficulties with retention in reading have more to do with distractions than to do with the physical format (Konnikova, Being).
The most compelling evidence that audiobook reading is not ‘real’ reading, in my opinion, is that the spatial and physical aspects of reading a physical book are lost, leading to poorer retention of material (Heid). However, those issues also exist in e-book reading, and I haven’t heard many arguments that ebook reading is not ‘real’ reading, just that you need to read it differently (Konnikova).
Audiobooks have immense benefits that should not be undermined by negative connotations. They can help children who struggle with reading, as we read about in Linda Flanagan’s article, but they can also help readers with disabilities, like dyslexia and blindness. By writing audiobooks off as cheating, people are also writing off those who benefit from audiobooks as less than as well. Also, people get the story the same way whether it be through physical, audio, or e-book.
Different people learn in different ways– for example, I’m a kinetic learner, (with my audio and visual learning coming in second and third, respectively) which means I learn things best when I’m moving. Audiobooks stimulate this for me, as I can move when I’m listening.
In my opinion, audiobooks are just as much of a reading experience as reading a physical or e-book. By saying otherwise, people might forget the ways in which audiobooks excel where the other formats do not.
*seriously, I don’t listen to music anymore HELP ME
Flanagan, Linda. 2016. How Audiobooks Can Help Kids Who Struggle with Reading. KQED
Heid, Markham. Are Audiobooks As Good For You As Reading? Here’s What Experts Say. Time. September 06, 2018. Accessed April 02, 2019.
Konnikova, Maria. 2014, July 16. Being a Better Online Reader. New Yorker.