Changing the way we Interact with Literature
In the last 30 years, technology in society has evolved to such a degree that it would be unrecognizable to a time traveler catapulted here from the 1980s. Computers have developed from very basic gaming machines enjoyed by children, to devices that people live their lives through – an essential life tool no less.
Something else that this technological quantum leap has had a major impact on is the world of literature. In the same way that the music industry has been transformed by moving from traditional bulky recording formats, like cassettes and vinyl records, to new digital storage devices that are able to store thousands of albums on something the size of a cigarette packet. Huge libraries of books can now be enjoyed in a more convenient way.
A Modern Phenomenon
Whilst audio books as a concept are nothing new, it is in their current format that their popularity has soared to new heights. Audio books on tape became commercially available in the 1970s and were subsequently replaced by the formats of the day, like vinyl, CD and MiniDisc. Since those times, the retail experience has also altered significantly, with high street outlets like HMV and Our Price suffering, as the majority now choose to download their music instead.
The reason why the current format of the audio book has become so popular is its availability. From a time when it was necessary to make a conscious decision to go into to town and visit a retailer of audio books to buy one, it’s now possible to make an audio book purchase with a couple of taps and swipes on a smart device. Seconds after the consumer thinks of buying a particular audio book, it’s in their possession and being listened to.
Popularity with Commuters
The daily commute to work can be a long, dull part of the day that merely needs to be endured rather than lived. It’s one of the main reasons that audio books are so popular with commuters, offering as it does, a way to escape into the realms of their own and the author’s imagination. Of course, many people still choose to carry a paperback with them for the same reason, but even that takes up more space and there’s not always the requisite amount of elbow room to read a book comfortably during rush hour.
The digital format also opens up the world enjoying books on the move to those who suffer from travel sickness. Ask anyone who gets car sick, train sick or air sick and most will tell you that the last thing they want to do try and read print whilst travelling – it just makes the problem worse.
What the audio book offers to the commuter is the ability to tap PLAY, sit back and listen to the dulcet tones of the narrator. It represents a uniquely relaxing, immersive and hands off book experience.
Ease of Consumption
Another aspect of the audio book that sets it apart from the printed word is that it can be consumed so easily. Not everyone has the patience and stamina to work through 300-500 pages of a book, whereas an audio book can be plugged into the ears of the listener and enjoyed from cover to cover, with no effort at all from the consumer.
No one is suggesting that listening to an often abridged version of a book offers the same experience as reading a novel or biography for yourself, but it stands up as an enjoyable medium in its own right and it gives those who don’t tend to read books a chance to enjoy the classics in a more easily digestible way.
One of the main differences between reading a book in the traditional way and listening to an audio book is the fact that a story can be listened to whilst doing other things. Whether jogging, walking, cleaning or even working, it’s possible to get on with your day at the same time as enjoying the vast range of literary content available to the audio book customer.
As wonderful as physical books are, they need to be read with little or no distraction and at a time of the day when focus is able to be dedicated entirely to reading it. As most people have busy lives these days, audio books ensure that literary content can be enjoyed in a way that allows it to fit around people’s other obligations and responsibilities.
A book genre that positions itself strongly in the audio book market is the self help and personal development category. The gurus resident in this field actively encourage people to listen to their content when they’re doing other things, with some even meant to be listened to whilst a person is sleeping.
Whether driving, shopping or even at work, people are able to become more confident, assertive or relaxed whilst getting on with what they need to get done – something that just isn’t possible with traditional books. Of course, self-help books are widely available in print form – it’s just like with other types of books, the words inside need to be actively read, rather than simply absorbed.
The Rise of the Audio Book
Whilst the explosion in the audio book market looks set to continue, it doesn’t mark the end of the printed word. There are enough romantics among us to ensure that hardback and paperback books will still continue to be bought, not least because of the unique aesthetic pleasure that one gains from holding a new book in your hands. The audio book doesn’t necessarily have to be in competition with the way books have been enjoyed for centuries.
Audio books offer an extra layer of convenience to the literary consumer that can be used as well as still buying books in the way that people have done for so many years. What they offer is an entirely different way to enjoy literature and if that means that more people get to experience some of the great works that otherwise wouldn’t, that can only be a good thing.
For that reason, we hail the rise of the audio book.