It used to be a matter of preference. More academic types would read the actual book, from fiction to philosophy to a pop-psych exploration on the effects of drinking only green tea for an entire lifetime. And the other folks, typically 9-5ers or anyone else with a packed schedule, would purchase the audiobook version and most likely listen in the car during their commute or a long road trip.
But lately, Audible (owned by Amazon) have been making a serious push to attract younger customers, banking on the fact that millenials are already accustomed to signing up for subscription-based services. Then of course there’s the angle that audiobooks are an easier way to catch up on your reading, especially in a time when few of us can even imagine picking up a physical book.
It’s a practical fix for the digital age, but Audible (and audiobooks in general) have drawn criticism for delegitimizing written works and making them more easily ignorable– background noise.
So what should take priority, maintaining the dignity of these written works, or getting larger numbers of people to engage with these works in the first place?
My personal experience with audiobooks has been mixed. Part of me is still my childhood book nerd version of myself, not wanting to accept the reality of how few people still read actual books. Another part completely understands why books have died as a popular medium. It’s a natural progression, given the amount and accessibility of alternative media, media that aims to engage the viewer within the first few seconds of content.
The continued popularity of podcasts implies that audiobooks could find a steady market among the same listeners, scratching the same itch, or a similar itch, as podcasts.
If anything, we’re sure to see more and more that only certain kinds of books adapt well to an audiobook form. Even poetry has the potential to see a resurgence among audiobook listeners thanks to its natural sense of lyricism.
It’s a sad time for readers, but it’s also an exciting time as we all wait to see how exactly books will live on in the 21st-century.