The Rise of the Audiobook

Photo by Neus Forner.

by Katie Waits.

Without a doubt, for many of us, literature has been an important part of our lives for the last few months. Whether you’ve sought out your favourite story for a sense of comfort, settled down with an interesting educational read, or started making your way through your ever-growing pile of unread books, lockdown has allowed some of us the time to embrace literature again. Although it’s nice to sit and relax with a physical copy of a book, sometimes it’s just easier to close your eyes and listen to an audiobook. 

Audiobooks are a wonderful creation. I’ll admit it though, I wasn’t always sure about them. For a little while, listening to a book rather than actually reading it myself felt odd, like I had taken a forbidden shortcut. However, as my personal and university reading lists grew, I found myself slightly overwhelmed by how much I had to read and gave in. I’m glad I did. 

Why should you try audiobooks?

Listening to audiobooks has a whole range of benefits. For starters, you can listen to them pretty much everywhere. Stopping to read a book for our own pleasure, beyond our academic readings, can often seem impossible. With audiobooks, this doesn’t have to be the case! You can be walking to your lectures, organising your bedroom, driving, or even going for a run, and an audiobook will allow you to listen to a book that you normally wouldn’t have the time for. They’re fantastic tools for effective multitasking. Plus, if you’ve left your course reading until the last minute and you only have a few days to read a difficult 600+ page book, audiobooks will make life that little bit easier. Not only can you get on with your normal daily routine as you listen, but downloading an audiobook also comes with the benefit of being able to change the speed of the narrator’s voice. Although it may sound a bit funny at first, it’s particularly handy if you’re under a time constraint. 

Ever find yourself in a lecture that you just can’t stay awake in? Regularly listening to audiobooks helps to improve your listening skills as well as the ability to maintain focus, which is useful as a university student, especially if you’re prone to getting distracted or wanting a nap. And if reading print isn’t necessarily something you’re comfortable with or don’t really like doing, audiobooks are a wonderful, different way to enjoy a good book! 

For bookworms, listening to an audiobook can be an interesting new way to explore a book. Listening to how the narrator reads, paying attention to the way they use their voice to portray characters or emphasise significant passages, allows you to critically engage with the narrator and the book, and to make judgments about your own reading. Another benefit that I’ve discovered is noting how narrators pronounce the names of characters and places. Now, if I want to talk about a book or even read it aloud, I can be sure that I’m saying the names correctly. 

In such an unusual and unpredictable time, it is no surprise that many people have sought out audiobooks, which can be good for our mental health. They have a calming effect and the ability to immerse listeners into another world, away from our problems for a little while. Unlike physical books, you don’t have to worry as much about getting tired or getting a headache. You can just close your eyes, listen, and perhaps even fall asleep.

Are audiobooks the new trend?

Audiobooks are quickly becoming incredibly popular. This February, The National Literacy Trust announced that the popularity of audiobooks amongst children rose by 138% in the last year. Their latest research, observing young people’s engagement with audiobooks during lockdown, found that nearly a quarter have listened to audiobooks more, with nearly a third stating that audiobooks made them feel better. Even before lockdown, audiobooks were on the rise, with the prediction by Deloitte that the global market for audiobooks would grow by 25% this year to $3.5 billion.

With this boom, more and more celebrities are willing to narrate audiobooks, aiding their increase in popularity. From Meryl Streep and Stephen Fry, Michelle Obama and Ian McKellen, David Tennant and Michael Sheen, many celebrities lend their voice to read stories to children and adults alike, bringing their distinctive accents and voices into the reading and listening experience. If there’s a famous person that you like narrating a book that you hadn’t previously thought of reading, give it a listen! You may find yourself exploring a new book series or a genre you wouldn’t normally have tried.

Where can you find them?

In the age of developing technology, audiobooks can be easily purchased and accessed on a number of devices and apps. Although Audible is probably the most well-known, there are many other apps that you can use if you want to give audiobooks a try. If you have an Apple device, you can access audiobooks through Apple Books. Google Play Books and Amazon Kindle also have a great range to choose from, and they’re often a bit cheaper than purchasing physical books. You could use Kobo, which has a huge variety of genres to choose from, or Scribd, where you can purchase a membership. Or you may find a few audiobooks on YouTube. If you’re looking to listen to a classic novel, LibriVox, where volunteers read the audiobooks, is particularly useful. Physical CD audiobooks, if you have the means to play them, are also fantastic to purchase for a drive or for relaxing at home. 

It’s exciting, as a reader, to witness the rise of another way to experience literature. Highly accessible and beneficial, audiobooks are ideal for reluctant readers, procrastinators, and enthusiasts. How much longer can we even use the excuse that we never have the time to read, when we can now listen to a book almost anywhere, at any time?