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Audible: There’s something nostalgic about being read to

Ciaran Dunbar


Many love the idea of being read to

Many love the idea of being read to

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Convenience of audiobooks had added to their appeal

Convenience of audiobooks had added to their appeal

Getty Images

Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol

Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol


Many love the idea of being read to

I have always loved reading, but I prefer being read to.

I don’t know if that’s just laziness, a natural disposition, or something from my childhood, though I have no memory of my parents reading to me.

Reading for my daughter is a highlight of my day, though it’s pure torture for her as she openly and overly readily admits.

For me, audiobooks are embedded in my daily routine, ‘me time’, that selfish part of the day in which I chose to ignore other people.

Formerly I would have listened to books on CD or from some electronic format downloaded from the internet, not anymore.

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Now I spend, at the very least, £7.99 with Amazon every month, as a subscriber with its audiobook service, Audible.

For that, I get one ‘credit’ a month, which can buy one book of any length, and access to some extra ‘free’ material. The subscription makes sense for me in terms of cost though I often find myself buying extra credits.

I admit the narrators’ voices are sometimes strange, they are generally not relatively well-known actors. They often sound like people trying to do an impression of computers trying to do impressions of people. The English is very much an international version, mid-Atlantic, sometimes a little smarmy. But you get used to it.

Let there be no doubt about it, I find Audible excellent.

In the past two years, I have listened to 57 books through the service, spending 16 days, 17 hours and five minutes listening time, all through my phone.

It would have been a lot more, but I have spent 12 months working from home whereas formerly I generally used my two-hour commute for audiobooks, mixed with some radio, podcasts and ‘Teach Yourself Italian’.

Reading a book in public – is that posing? 

And sure, doesn’t reading an actual paper book nowadays not just makes you look lazy, or worse, a poser?

That’s because the beauty of an audiobook is of course that you can, within limits, do something else at the same time, travel, wash the dishes, lift weights, you name it.

You can do none of those reading a book, or at least it is seriously ill-advised, if not downright illegal is some circumstances. I wouldn’t drive and listen to an audiobook for example, you could not concentrate on both.

And it’s hard to see bouncing print on a bus, books get destroyed if they go in the sink and as for bench pressing with a paperback, take it from me – don’t try it.

What do I listen to? It’s never literature. On the rare occasions I read fiction, I do traditionally, with a book in bed.

For me, there are so many true stories, so many histories, so much wisdom in the world already, that it just never made sense to read something that someone else has made-up, though friends tell me that that doesn’t mean it’s not true. They also find reading a novel to be entertaining and pleasurable of course.

For me, my Samurai reading code means that once a book is begun, it must be finished – no matter how turgid, plain stupid or demanding.

Practically speaking, I try not to order short books – I want to get my money’s worth. But I also avoid books which are too long, it’s a false economy, they just don’t work in audio format. There’s a danger you will struggle to finish it. A 24-hour long audio book will take a long time to listen to. For me, my Samurai reading code means that once a book is begun, it must be finished – no matter how turgid, plain stupid or demanding.

Although, I find that having a book read out aloud helps me understand even the most challenging material and that, for example, the Oxford Short Introduction series, of which I have read/listened to scores, is a superb way of approaching subjects which hitherto I would not have the confidence for, nor the ability, to understand. I’m looking at you Foucault. I have listened to, think I have understood, and at least partially absorbed many books which would have baffled and bored me in print form.

Do you actually own anything? 

But the negative part of Audible is that you never actually own anything physical, my ‘purchase’ is simply buying me the right to listen to that work.

That’s probably more environmentally friendly, I stand to be corrected on that, but I would like to own the thing that I paid for, I am not sure that I do.

Audible controls about 90% of the world’s English language audiobook market. If you try and buy an audiobook online, say on Amazon, you guessed it, you are directed to Audible, almost exclusively so.

So, whilst I love Audible, I don’t have much choice. It is monopoly. That just doesn’t seem right.

And if the books I have consumed on capitalism, economics and politics are correct, it isn’t healthy for audiobook industry and its listeners.

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