Friday, December 4, 2015

Engaging Readers Through Audiobooks

Audiobooks are for every reader, not the cheater.  ♦ 
When I was younger and up to no good, I got grounded, like most kids, I’m sure. The difference is, when I was grounded, I was allowed to watch television and play games. I was allowed to go outside and play with the other kids in my neighborhood. In fact, I was allowed to do pretty much anything, with one exception. When I was grounded, my parents locked the door to our small home library. This devastated me. To avoid this, I spent as much energy as I possibly could trying to be “good” and devoted the rest to devouring my next novel.
     I didn’t see anything wrong with this much reading, though my parents worried about me being antisocial. I first confronted the subject of my parents’ worry in elementary school, when I was laughed at by none other than my third grade teacher for mispronouncing the word arrogant. For the first time, I wished I’d had someone to read to me, so I could understand how to pronounce the new words that I was so rapidly learning. It was no longer enough to understand the meaning, spelling, or context of these new words. If I couldn’t pronounce them properly, no one would take me seriously.
     I received an audio set of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets that Christmas, and listened to the first two CDs before concluding that I was definitely cheating. After all, I thought, it wasn’t really reading if I wasn’t looking at words, was it? Besides, I figured everyone would assume that I was listening to music, and thought it was much cooler to be seen out and about with my books. Because of my early opinions on audiobooks, it wasn’t until much later that I started to see their benefits. I realized I could listen to them during work outs or while driving to be more productive, and my morning commutes became more exciting. Even as I stared into long, languid lines of traffic, I could be immersed in another world entirely. Additionally, with audiobooks, I could keep up with the stories that interested me without sacrificing any more of my precious free time.
     I began looking for more efficient ways to get my fix of books. I needed something faster and more convenient. The technology was certainly out there to accomplish this. According to the PEW Research Center, around 28 percent of Americans were reading e-books as of 2014. However, audiobooks shouldn’t be left out of the discussion on growing reading technology. The Audio Publisher’s Association estimated that in 2014, audiobook sales totaled more than $1.47 billion, rising 13.5 percent from 2013’s sales. Unit sales grew by 19.5 percent, an increase nearly five times that of the overall book market.
     Despite this positive trend, there seems to be a lack of conversation surrounding audiobooks. This is especially surprising when one considers the many advantages they offer. For many readers, audiobooks provide an easier format for comprehending material. They also allow one to multitask, turning long commutes into opportunities for knowledge or entertainment. Additionally, audiobooks take up no space, which can be important for readers trying to eliminate clutter. They’re typically cheaper than buying a printed book, and sometimes even cheaper than e-books. Clearly, they’re very convenient. Along with their advantages, audiobooks do, however, pose the same risks of isolation as all forms of self-entertainment do. Ultimately, it’s always harder to strike up a conversation when someone has ear-buds in, and without a visible cover or title, people are less likely to strike up a conversation with a reader about the chosen story.
     There are also effects that are not as easy to track. My little cousin, who’s only twelve years old and very bright, hates to read. He certainly can read, as his grades have shown, but he just doesn’t seem to enjoy it. He claims it hurts his eyes and is “too boring.” This is a trend that I’ve personally seen often with young readers: boredom. However, if one were to hand him an iPod loaded with an audiobook, he would happily listen to it for hours while playing a computer game or cleaning his room. This might say something about his generation – maybe they prefer to multitask, or maybe they don’t like to sit still. He doesn’t worry about whether listening to an audiobook is considered reading or not. Rather, he’s simply using it as another form of entertainment. The fact that he’s interested in listening to everything from Harry Potter to old classics inspires me. I just love that he is being immersed in some sort of literary culture. With audiobooks, he is able to discover worlds that would have otherwise stayed closed to him simply due to formatting.
     It is, without a doubt, incredibly important for children to learn to decode the alphabet. Early visual experience with letters, words, and sentences is vital to the development of reading and writing skills. In several ways, an audiobook is just a different package for a story, typically including the exact same words and storyline found in print versions of the narrative. However, audiobooks also make their own contributions to the narrative experience. A good narrator is often able to breathe new life into even the most familiar of stories, or make a difficult passage easier to understand through his or her inflection. This is quite a helpful function of the audiobook, as, in the end, it doesn’t matter if someone is reading or listening to something if he or she can’t understand what’s being said. Audiobooks offer readers an exciting new method to build and alter their understanding of a presented narrative.
     The realm of the audiobook is growing constantly. As thousands of new titles are recorded, there continue to be more and more options for listening. With this wide and growing variety, there are audiobooks for nearly every reader, spanning many different genres and all sorts of literary tastes. Just about anything that one could be interested in is available in an audio format. For a person who is on the go, comprehends better audibly, or simply prefers listening to traditional reading, audiobooks are a convenient and enjoyable new path to explore. And no, they’re not cheating.
  • About the Author
    Lauren McKenzie is a student at Miami University, pursuing a degree in Interactive Media Studies. She loves all things related to technology (especially when it involves 3D modeling), but can’t deny the pleasure of relaxing with a good hardcover book.

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