Being late to the party, I thought it was time to give them a go, but it’s safe to say I was disappointed.
In 2020, audiobooks’ sales grew on average at a rate of 25–30% and made up around a third of the overall book market. As the pandemic set in, people turned to read in all forms, but many people discovered the new joy of audiobooks. Deloitte’s survey found that these new listeners tended to be younger — in their 20s and 30s. While audiobooks’ popularity is growing, it will take a lot to overtake the traditional physical book or even eBook sales.
Being part of the online book community, I have also noticed the increase of people talking about audiobooks and their benefits. I have read many articles of people raving about them and, as a result, did trial audible to see how I would get on. I’m an avid listener of podcasts, so I thought I would enjoy the experience of listening to an audiobook as a chance to fit in an extra bit of reading whilst doing some more mundane tasks.
But the truth is — I really struggled with it — and I’m wondering if I’m not the only person who has experienced this. I wanted to like them and really felt like it could be a solution to my natural resistance towards sitting down with a non-fiction book, but alas, it didn’t work for me, here’s why.
I found it hard to stay on track
The first audiobook I trialled was The Truths We Hold: An American Journey by Kamala Harris. I wanted to learn more about her and her background and thought this was the perfect way to read about her. For some reason, sitting down with any non-fiction book for long periods of time often feels like more hard work for me. When reading fiction, hours can go by before I realise, but with non-fiction, sometimes it can feel like a real slog, even if it’s a subject I’m interested in.
I started off well, as I would put it on while cooking, putting clothes away or doing other tasks. But as I got more of a way through it, I found it hard to keep track of what was being said. Listening rather than reading is more passive in my experience, so I found it hard to retain information and knowledge of what had been said.
Recall was difficult
In other words, I would take a break from it for a few days, come back to it and completely forget what had been said in the chapters before. This doesn’t happen to me immediately when physically reading a book, as it would take a good few weeks for me to feel lost and potentially forget large parts of information or the overall plot.
But I only ever listened to this audiobook as a secondary activity. There was never a moment where I just sat and listened to the book without doing another activity. Does this make it more of a passive experience? For me, I feel like my attention was focused primarily on the physical activity I was doing alongside listening. So my concentration would wane, and I struggled to keep track of where the book was going and what had been said before.
It was hard to find the time to listen
It seems a bit ironic, right? Part of the convenience of audiobooks is that you can plug in any time and make progress while doing other things, like commuting, walking, cleaning or cooking. Well, I thought that too.
But because I found it hard to concentrate whilst multitasking, I avoided listening — and instead —felt more inclined to put on a podcast as for me; it doesn’t matter that I’m more passive as you can dip in and out of the conversation quite easily, but never lose track of it’s overall trajectory.
I’m not sure if others put it on and listen on its own — but for me — there wasn’t any time in the day I could set aside to do that. And if I were going to, I would want more than ten minutes to be able to sink into it and get stuck in. Maybe I didn’t give it enough time, but I did feel like it was more of an inconvenience for me.
Are there certain activities that are more compatible with audiobooks?
As I struggled with concentrating whilst doing another activity alongside listening, I decided to try it whilst doing something that didn’t require much concentration at all — walking. I often listen to podcasts whilst I’m out exercising or running, so I thought this might work quite well.
Deciding to go for an hour-long walk, I thought this would be ideal for me to listen to some of my audiobook. About ten minutes later, I found my mind was wandering, and I wasn’t even listening to the words being said but felt more consumed with my own random thoughts. Exercise is a form of mental release to me. This was no exception as my mind started to unravel, making it quite inconvenient when you’re trying to concentrate on an audiobook.
After that, I gave up. At this point, I had already tried listening whilst cooking, cleaning and walking. Still, neither activity gave me that same sense of inner concentration that sitting down and physically reading has always done, which led me to think that perhaps it’s just me; perhaps audiobooks and I are incompatible.
Physically reading has always come naturally to me
I have slight difficulties with reading non-fiction, but part of that is because I spent three years at university reading heavy, dense academic books, and it still feels like a bit of a hangover from those long library days. Hence, my obsession with fiction. But compared to the concentration struggles I experienced with audiobooks, physically reading didn’t feel like an effort at all. I was rather relieved when I decided to quit my free trial of audible and stick to reading physical books.
But maybe it’s just me? I’ve read for as long as I can remember and only recently got into ebooks, so the physical feeling of sitting down with a book almost feels second nature. In fact, I like setting time specifically aside to read and do nothing else, so perhaps that’s the solution. For me, it’s too difficult to read (or listen) whilst doing another activity — but audiobooks are specifically designed for this.
Are audiobooks for everyone?
After contemplating for a good few years about whether to try an audiobook and reading lots of articles of peoples’ positive experience with them, I was rather disappointed with my first experience. But it could be down to a range of factors. The book itself I was listening to, how I was listening to it, and the level of expectations I had going into it.
I’ve only tried listening to one book, so there’s no way I’ve written it off altogether yet, but even from this small experience, I can tell that I am more suited to reading in a physical capacity. For some people, audiobooks work; as I know, many can struggle with finding the time and maintaining the concentration to sit down with a physical book. In this way, audiobooks are great as it increases that accessibility. But for now, I think I’ll stick to the traditional way.
Audiobooks may be increasing in popularity, and for good reason. For some, they can be a more convenient way of creating a reading habit and offer a way to do it on the go. I can see how it can easily slot into your routine without having to set aside time for reading specifically. But for me, that’s part of the enjoyment of reading. I don’t have to do or think about anything else — apart from the words in front of me for those precious moments.
I was late to the party on ebooks, so perhaps I’m late to the party with audiobooks, and it will take a bit more time for me to get used to them. For now, I’m definitely more inclined to spend time physically reading, but I haven’t written off audiobooks altogether.
Please note, this was originally published on Medium.com