There has long been a debate surrounding books and audiobooks. On one hand, there are those who will claim you only get an authentic experience with reading. Audiobook enthusiasts will counter by saying they are able to listen to far more books than they could read.
And on and on the argument goes.
But is one better than the other? Is it just a matter of preference? Or is there a reason you might be more inclined to like reading over listening or vice versa?
One of the biggest reasons hardcore readers tend to avoid audiobooks is it feels like “cheating”. This may be true for you, or you may know someone who feels the same. Without the time dedication sitting down and opening a book to read takes, are you really getting the same amount of knowledge and enjoyment out of it?
A 2016 study done by Beth Rogowsky set out to answer that question. She set up three test groups, one which would read a prologue and chapter from a non-fiction book, one which would listen to the audiobook recording of the same selection, and a final group that would do both simultaneously. Two comprehension tests were taken afterwards, one immediate, one two weeks later.
The results were astounding. For both the immediate and two week retention tests, all groups performed the same. It also didn’t matter if you were male or female; the results stayed the same regardless of gender.
If comprehension is the same, then why might someone choose books over audiobooks? Another common argument is the selection. In the past, audiobooks were fairly limited. But over the years that has changed drastically. The selection continues to grow, and you’d be hard pressed to find a genre that doesn’t have audiobooks.
So What IS the Difference?
While many of the long held beliefs over why books or audiobooks are better may not be entirely true, there are still reasons why some people prefer one over the other. Lots of research and discussion has gone into figuring out some of the reasons why you might choose one over the other. Below is a list of advantages and disadvantages to each medium.
- Potentially greater comprehension (though not guaranteed), especially with more technical topics (science, math, some non-fiction, etc.)
- Ability to highlight, underline, and physically interact with the text
- Easier to reread portions/go back if need be (we all have read pages of a book only to realize we have no idea what we just read)
- There is no doing anything else when reading
- Character voices and tone are all up to you (though maybe you prefer it that way)
- Certain emotions can be hard to pick up on in text (sarcasm being one of the chief ones)
- Certain disabilities (such as dyslexia, or motor dysfunctions) can make it hard to read or even hold a book
- Ability to multitask/do other things (great for those who drive a lot, or have a lot to do)
- Kids especially can benefit from and enjoy audiobooks more than regular books (my dad would always read to me and my brothers growing up)
- You have professional narrators who can bring characters and worlds to life (making emotion so much easier to pick up on)
- Potentially weaker comprehension (though this has been most often linked to multitasking). Being unable to focus our minds on listening for long periods of time can also affect this
- Harder to directly interact with the text (going back and re-listening to sections, emphasizing words or phrases, etc.)
- Certain disabilities (such as hearing impairments) can make audiobooks difficult to listen to
- Can’t go at your own pace. Stuck with the narrator.
Both traditional and audiobooks have their pros and cons. But one thing you might notice is that each compliments the other’s weaknesses. If you don’t have a lot of time on your hands, an audiobook can be a great way to get some reading in. But if you are a person who loves to dig into something, a book might be the way to go.
Really, there isn’t a one size fits all answer to the debate. Some people are naturally going to enjoy one over the other, depending on their preferences and lifestyle. So it’s up to you. But rather than sticking doggedly to one or the other (something a lot of us are guilty of), it might be wise to try out both.
And who knows? In the process you may rediscover your love of books all over again.