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Lend Me Your Ears…. The Rise of Audiobooks in Recent Years

Rise of Audiobooks

We have come a long way in embracing books in different forms. From the pale yellow undertones of old book pages to immersive, hands-free audiobooks, we have seen it all. The rise of audiobooks has indeed added a new dimension to how content is consumed.

In 1932, the American Association for the Blind created the first audiobook. It was a collection of fifteen-minute recordings on vinyl records. Since then, audio recordings of books have become a part of most libraries worldwide. Audiobooks have undergone several transitions over the years. From vinyl records to cassettes, to CDs, and finally the downloadable formats. The rise of audiobooks is high after the increase in smartphones, tablets, and IoT. You can play your favourite audiobook while you commute to work or when you take a stroll. This has indeed redefined the way people consume information.

The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021 has led to a leap in audiobook subscriptions.  This is way higher than the numbers in previous years. Many users find listening to be more personalized as they feel a deep connection towards it. This is true after experiencing screen fatigue due to the saturation of visual content.

Advantages of Audiobooks

The statistics of publishers prove that the rise of audiobooks is due to the several benefits it provides.

According to American Audiobooks Publishing industry statistics, the growth of the audiobooks market is 10.6% per year. This study is based on the years 2016 to 2021. The expected revenue in 2021 is $1.1 billion.

Let’s take a look at some of the prime advantages of audiobooks.

Multitasking

The most important advantage of audiobooks is the ability to multitask while listening to them. People find it a time-saving experience to indulge in more than one activity, provided the task does not interfere with their concentration. For example, listening to an audiobook while walking on the treadmill or when travelling.

The audiobook storytelling experience

Storytelling has captivated humans since time immemorial. It opens up our senses and kindles our emotions. A good narration of a book is like music to your nervous system. Indulge in an immersive storytelling experience as you listen to the voice of the narrator. The words come to life as you vividly imagine the scenes in front of your eyes.

Ability to learn a language through audiobooks

By listening to a native speaker of a language, you get the benefit of learning the nuances of pronunciation, grammar, and tonality of the words in it. The more you listen, the more you get used to the way the language is spoken. Imitation is a key factor in learning a new language and certainly, audiobooks help you get a grasp of the language.

Enjoy translated audiobooks in regional languages

Knowledge is not to be confined to a single language. Translated books carry the wisdom of the original book to several other languages and widen their reach. With audiobooks, you can now listen to translated masterpieces in your own regional language.

Limitations of Audiobooks

Cost of audiobooks

Creating an audiobook is more complex and expensive. It involves a recording studio, sound engineers, and voice-over artists during the process. Eventually, the high cost of buying turns out to be a limiting factor in the sale of audiobooks compared to the printed version. But those who do not want to shell out extra bucks can go for a monthly subscription plan. These plans have some great deals for the consumers of audiobooks.

Comprehension and retention of information

Listening has more chances of going off track due to a poor attention span. This is more specific to cases that involve the narration of a very complex subject. It is always easier to reread a text during distractions than to replay in an audiobook. Also, retention of information becomes difficult when one has to take notes while listening.

Speed and navigation in an audiobook

Speed of reading varies from person to person, and reading enables you to quickly scan through a passage or stop by to pay more attention. Whereas in an audiobook, you have to listen to each word in it. You might not know if you can skip or increase the speed of a section without listening to it.

Other difficulties include adjusting the navigation bar to revisit a particular content. Retrieving information also becomes difficult when your account gets locked or due to any technical faults with the device.

Not suitable for all genres

Listening to enchanting fictional stories or simpler non-fiction books might work well in the audio mode. But we cannot turn every book into the audio format for the actual purpose to be attained. It is difficult to convert any content with many tables, charts, or other infographics into an audio version. They might not be as effective as the visual form in conveying the exact information.

Future of Audiobooks

AI-enabled voice and text-to-speech software

The voice of the narrator in an audiobook makes a lot of difference in the experience. Some find the books more personalized when they listen to it in a voice they want it to be narrated. The cost and efforts involved in creating an audiobook would go down, as artificial intelligence (AI) enabled voice has begun to take over.

With machine learning and AI, it is now possible to generate a more lifelike voice. It could come with pauses, breaths, pitch, and intonations. Users could now choose their favourite voices, ranging from celebrities to famous personalities, for a wholesome listening experience with the help of AI.

Text-to-speech software would ensure mass conversions of prominent books into audio format. This is indeed a revolution in the publishing industry.

Translated audiobooks

Audiobooks can break barriers by translating the originals to different regional languages. This could make the audiobooks accessible to everyone. Manual translations are taken over by Machine Translation (MT), a part of AI.

Less cost

With the help of the latest technologies, we can expect a surge in publishing audiobooks. This could also reduce the cost of it in the future. With less price or free versions made available to the public, we can bridge the gap in information consumption among different sections of the society.

Accessibility of Audiobooks

People with print disabilities cannot read printed materials. This is due to a visual or a physical disability. Some reasons for it include loss of vision, multiple sclerosis, dyslexia, paralysis, arthritis, and Parkinson’s disease. This severely affects their ability to read and has raised concern for inclusiveness in publishing.

Accessible publishing is where they design and publish a book in alternate forms of texts. This could include Braille, audiobooks, or ebooks to aid the print disabled.

Audiobooks were initially developed for the blind. They help them to receive information through listening. It has reduced the need for volunteers to assist them. It has also made them self-reliant with the help of mobile applications.

Books need to be made more accessible and inclusive. This must be done right when they are published, rather than doing it at a later point. Several NGOs have been working together in bringing inclusiveness in publishing.  Some of them include DAISY.org, inclusivepublishing.org, and accessiblebooksconsortium.org. The rise of audiobooks has undeniably proved to remove the barriers in reading.

Conclusion

Some claim there is nothing like owning, touching, and reading through a physical book. But many have already moved on to the hands-free audio format. You can also choose to go hybrid with the help of several apps. They seamlessly allow transition between audio and an e-book. Critics state that audiobooks can only be supplemental rather than substituting the offerings to traditional reading. Only time will reveal how the rise of audiobooks will impact the habit of reading in the future.

Audiobooks have their own set of pros and cons, and it is up to each individual to decide what fits the best for them. Indulge in this audio learning experience sooner, if you haven’t already.

Sources:

  1. Great advantages to listening to audiobooks
  2. A short history of the audiobook, 20 years after the first portable digital audio device.
  3. Google wants to turn every book into an audiobook using machine learning
  4. AI reads books out loud in authors’ voices
  5. Numbers and Facts You Need to Know About Audio Content in 2021
  6. Audiobook Publishing in the US – Market Size 2003–2027

Readers’ Choice

Despite the rising popularity of audiobooks, the results from our LinkedIn poll showed that half the respondents still prefer good old paperbacks over other modes of reading. But as audiobooks continue to grow, only time will tell if print can sustain its position in the market.

Reading mode poll result
Reading mode poll result
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