Listen up – audio is the new black

Posted: Tuesday 24th October 2017

Author: Michael Grass

Boy, what a difference four years make. It only feels like yesterday that I was blogging away on my keyboard about how my status as an avid book lover and closet Luddite had recently been threatened by the purchase of a Kindle Fire, only for me to realise by the end of said blog that it was indeed possible to have a deep appreciation for both digital and print media.

Fast forward to 2017 and a new medium is pushing its way into my life and onto my tablet, already giving my p-books and e-books a run for their money. I am of course talking about the proverbial new kid on the block in the world of publishing: audio.

It all started when the latest big screen adaption of Stephen King’s It was released last month. All of a sudden, a plethora of now fully grown 90s’ kids were flocking to the cinema to masochistically relive the scares that a clown-faced Tim Curry had once inflicted on them and, sure enough, my friend invited me to a screening. I respectfully declined as I thought I’d have a better appreciation for the film if I first read the book. All 1,138 pages of it. I quickly realised that there was no way I was going to have time to read the novel within the space of the month (the average time a film is screened in cinemas) – there had to be a quicker way of getting through the book! And that’s how I ended up opening an Audible account and downloading the It audiobook.

Audiobooks have been around for a while (remember the Harry Potter books narrated by Stephen Fry?), but it is only recently that they have been experiencing something akin to a meteoric rise. According to an article in GQ Magazine, audiobooks became the fastest-growing format in publishing in 2016, with approximately 59% of UK consumers starting to purchase and listen to the medium only in the last two years. Another report indicates that in 2016 Audible members across the globe listened to an average of 17 audiobooks and, rather interestingly, members were likely to listen to 30% more audio content on weekdays than on weekends.

It’s not difficult to see why audiobooks have become so popular. In an age in which we’re constantly distracted by screens at home, in the office or in our pockets, finding the time to pick up a book in whatever format is proving to be increasingly challenging. So having the option to listen to one while driving your car or standing in a crowded train carriage suddenly becomes a valuable commodity. Just as reading a book can be a truly immersive experience, having one read to you can be just as captivating, not to mention surprisingly soothing. Getting actors – i.e. professional storytellers – to deliver expressive readings is certainly a draw (Tom Hollander’s honeyed tones when narrating A Legacy of Spies by John Le Carré is pure ear candy), but I like to think that the appeal of audiobooks lies somewhere more in the subconscious. Maybe they just remind us of a time when our parents read us stories?

That being said, I’ve no intention of cancelling my Amazon library subscription or dismantling my Billy bookcase anytime soon. I still take in the smell of new print whenever I have the time to flick through some titles at Waterstones, but I also love how I can store and access hundreds of graphic novels on my tablet. Audio simply offers yet another exciting way to consume literature.

And just for the record, I still haven’t seen It.


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