Volume XXVII: All Things Audiobooks
Their benefits, their necessity, and why we love them
June is Audiobook Appreciation Month and for the 11th straight year in a row, audiobook popularity is on the rise. But audiobook appreciation goes beyond a love for reading—audiobooks possess many benefits, including making reading more accessible and strengthening mental health.
[Dear readers: This issue contains discussions of ableism.]
In 2022, audiobook sales were up 10% from 2021—the 11th straight year in a row of increased revenue. In comparison, physical book sales fell 6.5%. (Granted, physical sales were still 11% higher than 2019, before the pandemic book boom, but audiobooks’ continual increase demonstrates their changing value.)
First emerging in the 1930s, audiobooks were created to assist visually impaired and blind readers. Over the past century, the way readers discover and read audiobooks has changed dramatically, as well as the quality of audiobooks. Whether listening through our computers, phones, or watches, we’ve come a long way from lugging around records, CDs, and “books on tape.” Now, narrators compete for the coveted annual Audie Awards, and even the Oscars have a category for audiobook narration (which is how Viola Davis secured EGOT status). And most publishers (at least the Big Five) have audiobook divisions that operate separately from their main publishing programs, possessing their own marketing, publicity, and production teams.
Whether for long-time audiobook lovers or those just getting started, audiobooks can fit into pretty much any lifestyle or routine. This Audiobook Appreciation Month, we’re diving into the benefits of audiobooks, particularly on our mental health and for accessibility purposes.
A Deeper Look
Not only can audiobooks help us add more reading time into our everyday routines—such as when doing chores, taking walks, commuting, etc.—but they also are an incredibly important resource for visually impaired readers, disabled and/or neurodivergent readers, and readers whose lifestyles are not conducive to reading physical books.
In fact, audiobooks play a valuable role in improving reading comprehension and attention in readers with attention and/or hyperactive disorders, and are especially important for younger readers who may feel judgment from their peers for their reading level (audiobooks are more incognito than physical books) or may need additional support with text pronunciation. As for visually impaired or blind readers, a very small number of books are translated into braille (this source estimates less than 2%); Audiobooks can help make current stories more widely available to all types of readers.
Reading audiobooks also improves critical thinking skills, literacy skills, time management, and is scientifically proven to have the same benefits as reading a physical book. A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience found that whether reading audiobooks or a physical book, the same cognitive and emotional areas are stimulated.
And audiobooks benefit our mental and physical health, too. By limiting our screen time and relaxing our eyes (and, yes, that does include ebooks), we increase our ease of falling asleep and lower our chances of exhaustion-related headaches, neck pain, and more. They can also improve symptoms of depression and anxiety. The UK’s Sleep Council and Penguin Random House collaborated on “Sleep Tales” to create the ideal blend of soothing sounds, narration, and soundscape to help readers of all ages fall asleep. (And if you need more recommendations, PRH has a collection of physical and audiobooks to help you fall asleep.)
Ways to Respond
Despite the fact that science has proven audiobooks’ necessity in making reading more accessible for all readers and that they hold the same benefits as reading, plenty of individuals still claim that reading on audio is not the same as reading a physical book.
And while audiobooks do make reading more accessible for many, the publishing industry still has a long way to go until they are widely available. Audiobooks are a significant cost—not only does a book need to go through its usual production process, but it also requires a narrator (or cast), a producer, and an audio production team. For this reason, many books aren’t available on audio in the first place, particularly those from small presses, who (claim to) lack the budget.
Some in the industry are calling for AI audiobook narration, claiming it would drastically decrease the cost of production and therefore allow for more stories to be turned into audio. But as Kendra Winchester writes in BookRiot: “‘Better than nothing’ is not equitable access. For disabled people to truly have the access to books that we deserve, the audiobooks available shouldn’t be stripped of all of the humanity that narrators bring to their performances.”
How can we advocate for the importance of audiobooks?
Start by reading them! Check them out from your library and/or buy them through an app. This demonstrates their importance to publishers.
Encourage others in your life to do the same. Gift audiobooks or subscriptions, or just share more about them on your social channels.
Support narrators you love. Follow them on social media, advocate for their award nominations, and check out their recent projects. Examples of narrators we love:
Follow creators who read mainly through audiobooks, whether because of a disability or lifestyle. Amplify their posts.
Bring individuals who claim audiobooks aren’t reading into conversation. Share the facts and (if comfortable) your personal story.
Even if you personally prefer reading physical books, we can all help amplify the necessity of audiobooks.
We are looking for short (~150 words) writing submissions on any topic that are rooted in and/or guided by an intersectional feminist lens.
Each published writer will receive their choice of one of the following:
$25.00 gift card to bookstore of choice
$25.00 donation to organization of choice
Feel free to reach out with any questions and submit your pieces either at the link below or via email, with the subject line Collected Words Submission.
What do we recommend reading on audio? A long time audiobook lover, Fiona always recommends Crying in H Mart because of Michelle Zauner’s narration, and Olivia will read pretty much any romance book on audio. And what about where to listen? Fiona is a long-time Libby lover (free audiobooks through your library!) while Olivia devotedly uses Libro.fm, the only audiobook platform that allows you to buy audiobooks through your independent bookstore of choice. (She also works for them, but that started after she fell in love with their mission.)
We’ll be back in a few weeks with a deep dive into Geena Rocero’s Horse Barbie (highly recommend)! In the meantime, make sure to check out our free downloads (wallpapers, templates, and more), and our exclusive downloads for newsletter subscribers (with password newsletterdownloads).
If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, don’t hesitate to get in touch via email, the comments below, or Instagram DM.