Saturday, 8 December 2018

Audible Audiobooks

As I mentioned in previous posts, I took out an audible subscription a couple of months back. I already have a Netflix account, but I also like podcasts whilst doing things that require a little more concentration, like stringing the piano and cooking dinner. Some of the podcasts I like include The Allusionist, Blank, Tea and Jeopardy, Unexplained, and Berkhamsted Revisited. But the problem with podcasts is that they often work in seasons, stop broadcasting, or take a week or more to put out a new episode. I'd pretty much caught up with everything I enjoyed, so was looking for something else.

My dad and I used to listen to a lot of audiobooks in the car when I was a kid. With family up in Carlisle, it helped pass long drives up the M6, prizing open chunky plastic boxes containing eight or ten tapes. 

I hadn't listened to an audiobook in years, except Emma Newman's reading of Rosy Hours, my own novel. I think that's when I really became aware that audiobooks were a thing again, but the price always put me off. Audiobooks usually retail for between £13-30, whereas your average Kindle edition comes in around £4-8. 

My friend Tiga suggested Scribd:

I much prefer scribd, which is a digital library that includes books, audiobooks, magazines, sheet music, and documents (often rare books) uploaded by other users. You don’t get to keep the books but you can save and download them. I love it as it allows me to read and listen to multiple books at the same time.

I looked at both but eventually opted for Audible, mostly out of familiarity and keeping all my book lists in one place. A crap reason, I know, especially after once attempting to wean myself off Amazon.

Anyway, I took out a monthly £7.99 subscription, which entitles you to one token per month. A token equals one 'free' audiobook. It doesn't actually mean free, it just means you're paying £7.99 for something that would otherwise cost £13-30. So, in that respect, it's a bargain. Problem is, you're likely to get through your audiobook in about a week. So, what do you do for the rest of the month?

Well, I've been quite satisfied so far, as Amazon regularly run promotional sales. For Black Friday they had a selection of audiobooks for £2.50, so I splurged £20 and now have enough to listen to for a couple of months. There's a Christmas two-for-one on at the moment. They also allow you to buy three-token packs for £18, so £6 per audiobook, which is also a major discount. Then there's the combined packs they do, where if you buy a paperback you get the Kindle copy free or greatly reduced. They also do that with the Kindle and audiobook copies now. 

Personally, I'm not that interested in listening to a book I've already read, but it might be of interest to some customers.

So, on the whole, I'm quite content. The cost of audiobooks is so high because the average full-length novel spans around thirteen hours of audio, and that's just the finished product. It doesn't account for the hours of editing and mouth-noise removal that goes on. You try reading out a chapter of a book without stumbling over your words or mispronouncing something once. It's pretty much impossible, so the process is extremely time consuming. That considered, it's fairly amazing Amazon can offer £2.50 deals at certain times of the year. I have no idea how that works out for publishers, voice artists and writers.

I've seen a couple of polls on the question of whether audiobooks still count as reading a book:

An interesting debate. I think, in terms of content, it's the same. You're getting the same story. But my experience with The Wasp Factory did bring home the difference. I couldn't fully appreciate the writing style, and the quality of the narrator's voice strongly directs your connection with the character. You don't get to choose what the characters sound like. If you don't like the narrator's voice, you might not enjoy the story so much. In the case of The Wasp Factory, I actually felt the narrator's voice gave away a key plot twist. 

My other issue with audiobooks is that I tend to drift in and out of them more than the printed word. We've all done that thing where we've turned a page and realised we've zoned out for the past paragraph or two, but that happens a lot more to me when listening to audiobooks. The nice thing about the audible app is that it has a 'flick back 30 seconds' button that you can hit as many times as you want, to rewind to the last place you stopped listening. I don't usually stop listening because I'm bored, but because I'm often doing other things (piano stringing, cooking, etc.) whilst listening and suddenly that other thing needs more of my attention.

There is another nice feature which puts Audible to bed after 10, 15, 30 minutes, or at the end of the chapter, so you can listen to it whilst you're dozing off at night, safe in the knowledge that Audible will turn itself off without you having to wake up to fiddle with the close menu.

Before signing up to Audible, I did a bit of research on 'whether Audible is worth it', and was interested to find quite a lot of articles from people explaining how it's changed their book habits. How they tend to read printed fiction just as much, but listen to non-fiction, and in this way increased the number of books they get through in a month.

I've certainly noticed that in two months (one month free trial and one on subscription) I've already read two more books than I would have done. Both of those were fiction, but my library also contains quite a lot of non-fiction. I've previously mentioned my love of text-to-speech software when going through lengthy documents (and news articles). It's often easier to listen to, and absorb, spoken facts than to try to retain them whilst reading.

However, I do find it a lot harder to satisfactorily review audiobooks for that reason. When I reviewed The Silk Roads, I repeated some of the parts that I'd most enjoyed. I do the same with fiction. But you can't really do that with audiobooks as you can't flick to the right page as easily, and you have to try to transcribe. It's harder to remember the bits you liked the most - the phraseology and construction of a sentence. 

So, yes. They are different. But, as with print books and Kindle, I'm glad that both mediums exist. I'm definitely enjoying the resurgence in audiobooks.

No comments:

Post a Comment