audio myths


Why do audiobooks get such a bad rap? Below I discuss the top 10 most commonly held myths about audiobooks.

Myth 1: Listening to an audiobook is not the same thing as reading…it’s sort of like cheating.

Some people may consider the process of reading a book cover to cover a point of pride. Listening to an audiobook doesn’t require the same amount of effort so it’s almost like getting the reward without putting in the work.

Daniel Willingham, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Virginia explains that when examining the mental process, for the most part, there is no real difference between listening and reading. He goes on to describe that when we read, our mind is doing two things; decoding words from their letters and processing language which is used both in reading and listening to comprehend the narrative. Willingham states that by about fifth grade, we’ve mastered the ability to decode words, so the difference between reading and listening becomes negligible.

If the act of decoding were the reason why we read, listening to audiobooks might be cheating, but reading is about appreciating the journey and the destination, not the “work” it takes to get there.

To learn more about this, I suggest reading one of these articles about Willingham’s research.

NY Magazine: As Far as Your Brain is Concerned, Audiobooks are Not ‘Cheating’ 

Washington Post: Is Listening to a Book ‘Cheating?’

Daniel Willingham Blog: Is Listening to an Audio Book "Cheating?"

Myth 2: Audiobooks are only for people who don’t really like to read.

Slow readers, reluctant readers, or people learning English. These are the types of people who should be listening to audiobooks, right? Yes, they are, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. Audiobooks don’t need to replace reading print books. They are there to augment them.

If you’re like me, your to-be-read (TBR) pile is a mile high. It seems like every day there is a new “must read” title released. It’s nearly impossible to keep up with all the books to be read. Adding audiobooks in with regular reading is a great way to stay on top of that TBR list.

Myth 3: Reading a book is more convenient.

Maybe this was true in the past, but with technology has come convenience. It’s so easy to download an audiobook or pop a CD into your car’s audio system. Taking the plunge will be easier than you might think.

Myth 4: Reading is about consuming the book the way the author intended.

This is probably the most debatable myth on this list. Consuming a book through a mediator (the narrator) always runs a risk. A story could be ruined by a bad narrator who just doesn’t get the author’s meaning. However, I question how frequently this actually happens.

In an NPR article with George Guidall (one of the greatest narrators of all time) he describes his relationship with author Wally Lamb who is one of Guidall’s biggest fans. The two have developed a close working relationship. Lamb was quoted as saying, “When I listen to George translate or interpret my work, it's just accurate. It's how I think of the characters speaking."

Listening to a truly good narrator read a book brings the story to life. For me, narrator Simon Vance IS Captain Will Laurence in the novel HIS MAJESTY’S DRAGON by Naomi Novik. When I think of this character I hear Simon Vance’s voice. In fact, I get a big smile on my face every time I begin a new audiobook in the series.

Myth 5: Audiobooks are less intimate than print.

Sure there are definitely times when more quiet reflective reading is called for, but that doesn’t mean listening can’t be intimate as well. For example, it is becoming quite common for celebrities to narrate their own memoirs. It’s like experiencing a private performance just for you.

Myth 6: Audiobooks are too slow.

Again with the technology! Yes, there was a time when (especially for fast readers), listening felt too slow, but now most listening devices allow you to choose the narration speed. Listening at 1.5x speed takes a second to get used to, but then I hardly notice after that.

Myth 7: It’s too easy to get distracted and miss something.

Getting distracted or letting your mind wander can happen both while reading and listening. I already mentioned the research by psychologist Daniel Willingham, where you’ll find this concern is addressed more scientifically. I’d just like to say there is such a thing as a rewind button on CD players and a jump back 15 seconds option on most mobile devices. In addition, I’ve been listening to audiobooks while driving, exercising, and doing chores for years. If I get distracted, I rarely feel like I’ve missed enough to have lost track of the story completely.

Myth 8: Audiobook narrators have super annoying voices.

Maybe you had a bad experience once where listening to the audiobook ruined the whole story for you. I’m here to tell you that the production value of audiobooks has increased exponentially in recent years. These days professional voice actors, celebrity actors, and comedians create excellent narrations that bring stories to life. Jim Dale, anyone?

Yes, there are still those stinkers out there, but those are becoming few and far between.

Myth 9: There’s not a very good selection of books in audiobook format.

If you haven’t been paying attention, you may not know that audiobooks are the fastest growing segment of the publishing world. With this growth in popularity and sales, more and more books are being produced as audiobooks.

Did you know with a Provo City Library card, you have access to almost 28,000 audiobooks?

  • Nearly 10,000 books on CD
  • Over 7,000 downloadable audiobooks from OneClickdigital 
  • Over 11,000 downloadable audiobooks from OverDrive  

Myth 10: Audiobook abridgements and waiting for the release of the audiobook are the worst!

In years past it was far more common to find abridged versions of audiobooks (especially with nonfiction titles). Another past concern was being forced to wait six months between the release of the book and audiobook. I’m happy to report that these problems are nearly entirely in the past. Abridgements have almost completely disappeared and most audiobooks are now being released simultaneously with the book.

So are you ready to start listening to an audiobook?

Here are some great places to listen:

  • The commute
  • While exercising
  • Getting ready in the morning
  • Doing dishes
  • Yard work
  • Folding clothes
  • Crafts or scrapbooking
  • Putting together a puzzle or other simple games
  • Driving on a road trip

In addition to making long or boring tasks go faster, audiobooks are also great for:

  • Sharing the experience with others
  • Bringing stories to life
  • Making comprehension easier
  • Helping with difficult to pronounce or foreign words
  • Appreciating the cadence and rhythm of a book
  • Bringing a new perspective

So pick up or download an audiobook today and make your life just a little more enjoyable!

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