Are Audiobooks ‘Reading’?

Audiobooks tend to divide the masses in the world of literature. With applications such as Audible and Scribd helping with accessibility to books and stories, some adore them. Others, myself included, are not big fans of them. On top of this divide, there is an inherent question among consumers of literature: can audiobooks rightfully be classed as reading?

This question comes with a simple yes or no answer for many.

Many readers argue that audiobooks are not a form of reading, based on the simple fact that nothing is actually being read. Reading is traditionally based in the act of following words on the page, and actively reading the story as self-explanatory as that sounds. How can an audiobook then be described as reading? On the same grounds as audiobooks being classed as reading, surely podcasts, audio-drama and music fall under the same category because a narrative, a story and words are being taken in through listening to it. But no one would class music as a form of reading, right? If an audio format is considered as reading, then this blurs the lines for all forms of audio media. Existentialist debate aside, reading as an act transcends books. People read websites, someone’s Facebook update or the description on a food product, cementing the fact that reading can be viewed as an action primarily rather than a method of consumption. The key element of reading therefore, is argued to be the sight of and processing of words, stressing the visual aspect at hand.

On the other hand, readers also argue from the standpoint that the consumption of a story and a narrative is the most important and fundamental part of reading. How can you read without a story or a narrative to take in and enjoy? Regardless of the format the story remains the same, so by the same logic, any format of a book is still reading. I do not enjoy audiobooks for the most part, but I listened to the audiobook of Mythos by Stephen Fry as my introduction to them. Despite not having ‘read’ the book, I still use the verb ‘read’ when I discuss it as an instinct rather than a conscious choice to do so, because audiobooks are synonymous with reading. This point can especially be accounted for when those with learning or sight difficulties are able to still get stuck into literature and enjoy books, with alternative audio formats increasing accessibility to ‘reading’ and books. I personally would not want to deny someone the ability to read books based on the inability to do so. Audiobooks also add to the stories that books tell, adding dimensions to characters through the acting element. Voices and accents contribute a sense of reality and humanity to the people in literature, making the role of audiobooks also a constructive one, serving to enhance the reading experience.

This debate ultimately depends on your personal perspective. I myself can see the legitimacy of both sides of this argument, so I sit on the fence here. Audiobooks are not my cup of tea, but they provide enjoyment and a great experience for others, so regardless if they are a form of reading or not, they add value, which cannot be disputed.

Words by Sam Hewitson

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