Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
Let’s get this out of the way: I love audiobooks. Since reluctantly trying them earlier this year, I have found I cannot get enough of them. I listen to them all the time. They have become part of my daily routine.
But as I listen to more and more audiobooks—sometimes as many as two a week—I find myself feeling a bit shameful. When someone mentions a book and I offer that I recently read it, I rarely mention that I actually listened to it. I feel like I’m hiding a big secret.
In my view, despite the fact that the content is identical, audiobooks are not the same thing as books.
When I read a book, it’s the only thing I am doing in that moment. I’m not looking at my computer, I’m not texting, I’m not walking anywhere—I’m just reading.
When I listen to an audiobook, however, I am never just listening to it. I am always doing something else, be it taking the train, walking somewhere or exercising.
In this way, listening to an audiobook—at least how I listen to it—becomes a more passive act than reading a book. I’m trying to put all my attention on the audiobook, but because I am doing something else while listening to it, there’s no way I can ever put in 100 percent.
At its most basic, this is a content vs. container argument. What’s more important? The content (the words that compose the book) or the container (the physical object that is a “book,” or the audio files on my iPhone)? But it is also a reading vs. listening argument. While the content remains the same, I’m absorbing it in different ways, using different means to process the information.
Whether I’d read Rich Cohen’s new book (I didn’t) or listened to it (I did), I’d still have taken in the same content.
Maybe, then, it’s also an argument over priority. What is my intention with the audiobook? Is it to take in the content, or is it to help pass the time while I do something else?
For me, when it comes to audiobooks, despite how strongly I fall into the former camp, I also fall into the latter a bit too much for my liking. Again, I never listen to an audiobook unless I’m doing something else (and I doubt I’m in the minority on that one). I listen to it to make my commute go by faster, to make my workout less boring.
Reading a physical book (or ebook), on the other hand, is a much more intention-based act. That’s the only thing I’m doing in that moment (hopefully). I’m not reading for any other purpose than I want to.
I love audiobooks. I’m not going to abandon them anytime soon. But, for me, they possess an undeniable hollowness that I cannot escape.
They may seem like books. They may have the same information as books. But I cannot say that I actually read them. And for that reason, to me, they’ll always be separate from books.
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