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Audiobooks vs. eBooks vs. traditional paper books: A professional book person’s comparison

I’ve been reading since I was 4 years old, having demanded my dad teach me how because I got tired of waiting around for him to read me the Sunday comics. I think a Berenstain Bears book may have been the first one I ever read on my own. Not surprisingly, I got A’s in elementary and high school English and went on to select nonfiction writing as my college major, with journalism as my minor. My first job was in a newspaper library. My career of choice is helping people self-publish their books. Words, reading, books, and research have always played giant roles in my life.

But, as we’re all well aware, books are changing, as is the experience of buying them. While you can still wander from stack to stack and genre to genre at your local bookstore – or library – that opportunity is unfortunately shrinking, as we head into the digital age. There are definite benefits to these new methods of reading, but there also are drawbacks.

I’ve never been much of an audiobook person, but I recently decided to give this format a try, checking out Mike Dooley’s Infinite Possibilities from the library. I loved the book and loved listening to it on my computer while I was doing other tasks. I listened to it three times before returning it, each time hearing new things I’d missed the previous time(s), no doubt do to my multitasking. The next audiobook I checked out was Life Visioning, by Michael Beckwith, who with Dooley, was featured in the movie version of The Secret. Different from Dooley in style but similar in content, I found Beckwith a bit more challenging as an audiobook because he punctuates his chapters with meditations that required my full attention, forcing me to stop what I was doing or risk skipping out on those segments in the hope of eventually returning to them.

Soon after that, I signed up for Audible.com, Amazon’s audiobook outlet. One of the first books I purchased was Rachel Maddow’s Drift. A radical departure from the self-improvement genre of Dooley and Beckwtih, I found myself facing a new challenge with Drift. I needed to pay a lot more attention to the content in order for the details of the book to actually make sense. Occasionally, I’d find myself wondering, “Wait, what did I miss?” and needing to “rewind” because in my distraction or multitasking, I had missed a key component of the message.

The same was true when I borrowed the audiobook version of Paul Krugman’s The Conscience of a Liberal. Like Drift, this book required my full attention when listening. The benefit of owning Drift, though, is that I can go back and listen to the whole thing in its entirety, anytime I want, whereas with Krugman’s book, I’ll have to check it out again if I want to hear it again.

For me, this multitasking experience is exclusive to audiobooks. I sometimes see people at the gym paging through magazines or juggling a book to pass the time while doing cardio. But I learned from my personal trainer a long time ago not to try reading on the treadmill or stair stepper, as you never get the same quality of workout as when you are focused on exercise alone. So when I read, the physical book in front of me has my full, undivided attention. And when I do encounter a distraction, I put the book down, attend to the issue, and then resume reading. With audiobooks, we may not even realize we are distracted until we’ve missed a significant enough section of the text to be jogged into that whole “Wait, what did I miss?” awareness.

In a recent post about book blogger statistics, I mentioned that I was startled to find out that of 300 book bloggers surveyed, 71 percent did not even OWN eReaders of any type. I somehow mistakenly believed that avid readers like those who blog about books would be early adopters. My husband thought he would be an eReader holdout until I got him a Kindle for Christmas – now he loves it. I asked him why he likes his Kindle so much, and he tossed of three reasons quite easily:

  1. Without a the cover of a traditional printed book, an eReader makes it easy to conceal your reading materials from passersby, something he often finds useful when reading during his lunch break on his commercial plumbing jobsite. Regardless of what book he’s reading at the time, when people ask, he automatically answers, “Stephen King,” as this both satisfies their quasi-curiosity and shuts them up.
  2. Another benefit my husband finds with the Kindle is having a wide selection of books at your disposal. Whether he’s in a Deepak Chopra mood or wants to read Sports Illustrated at lunch, he’s got both choices at his fingertips.
  3. Perhaps the biggest benefit of the eReader is the ability to purchase in an instant. “I can learn about the latest rock autobiography in Rolling Stone and be reading it in a matter of minutes,” explains my musician hubby.

My friend Carol, on the other hand, finds the impersonal technology of an eReader distracting. “You can get what, a third or a quarter of the contents of a printed page on that thing,” she said pointing to my Kindle Fire. To her, having to sweep your finger across the screen every two or three paragraphs is just plain annoying.

As more and more people make the transition from paper books to audiobooks and eBooks, it’s important for you to get your books out there in as many formats as makes sense. You can best determine this by knowing your readers. Print books are the most expensive to produce, but audiobooks also require a significant investment of time and dollars. eBooks are no doubt the easiest to take to market. If your readers are older church ladies who don’t read eBooks, though, it wouldn’t make much sense to go that route, now would it? While I think each format has place – and its fans/proponents – I suspect I will remain loyal to paper books for while still.

Happy formatting!

Laura

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