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Audiobooks: Do they count as 'reading?' My answer as an author:

The short answer is yes,* but there is a lot to this question!

I saw this question posted on my Twitter feed the other day. It was from a user I did not follow, but the Tweet was liked by one of my friends. It brought to mind that I've seen this same issue brought up several times before, and I confess that I had not given it much thought up to this point. Does it matter? Is it simply a point of semantics if listening to an audiobook qualifies as 'reading' or not? Should avid listeners of audiobooks feel kinship or aloofness from those who prefer to have their nose between the pages? Should traditional readers revel in a sense of superiority? Let's dig a little deeper, shall we?

On the most technical level, the answer is no, and should always incur an asterisk even for the most prominent audiobook purveyors. Listening to an audiobook and reading a book are two different sensory experiences, and two different skillsets are being employed. Likely, different parts of the brain are being engaged as well, though I can speak no further other than to invite biologists to the comments section. The fact that they are different is confirmed in that the activities are not interchangeable; it is no more possible to read a book in total darkness or behind the wheel than it is to listen to an audiobook and your favorite music cranked up.

On a philosophical level, I playfully assert that listening to audiobooks does count as reading. We need to deconstruct the layers, briefly. The primordial medium being experienced here is language itself, letters and words put together in specific patterns to evoke a meaning, a narrative. Whether one is scanning their eyes across a screen or page, or hearing the words and comprehending their meaning, the story's meaning is imparted the same way- through the words. If you are able to accept this as one definition of the word 'reading,' then maybe I have reached you!

I will be quick to admit that I am not researched on the overall retention and recollection of a book's contents for listeners versus readers. Growing up, both in my education and leisure reading, I almost exclusively dealt with paper books. I remember being instructed to highlight, mark up, and tab certain pages when preparing for a report or to conduct a review. This type of note-taking, at least to my knowledge, is more immediately accessible when dealing with physical/eBooks than audio. Yet I have listened to a growing number of audiobooks for leisure, and in these instances I cannot identify a major difference in remembering characters, details, or memorable quotations any differently than when reading it.

From an industry perspective, most authors and publishers will probably feel the same- if their book is purchased, whether it's a traditional book, eBook, or an audiobook, they are simply happy to have the sale! Authors want to grow their audience, publishers want their authors' titles to stay relevant, and having the vehicle of audiobooks as an option is an invaluable expansion of their market. There's an increasing percentage of (primarily younger) people who are content strictly with YouTube, streaming services, gaming, etc., who are not interested in books as a medium at all, in any format. This distressing thought does encourage attempts at unity, does it not?

To look more inwardly, I am pleased to announce that my first novel, Spring City Terror 1903, was just released on audiobook and is now available through Amazon's Audible. In writing the book, rewriting sections, editing, looking over my editor's edits, rereading the edited version for final approval, rereading sections for public reading sessions, and any other readthroughs, I am all too eager to enjoy the book through an auditory experience! Am I just as thrilled as someone telling me they listened to and loved the audiobook as those who have read it? Absolutely.

I am still only listening to maybe 1-2 audiobooks per year, but I have already caught myself marking them as read on Goodreads, and feel comfortable enough to not hesitate in making any distinction and to rate and review them. This informal Goodreads test pushed me over the edge on the debate; I can honestly say that my recent consumption of two excellent books by Roger Crowley, The Accursed Tower: The Fall of Acre and the End of the Crusades, which I listened to, and 1453: The Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West, which I read, displayed advantages for either method in terms of recollection and retention.

When I take the sum of all of these points, examined on all their fronts, I perceive a tremendous degree of alignment. I can see enough at least to convince myself that they belong in the same encampment and not across the river by their own watchfires, eyeing each other warily. Yes, the asterisk will always be there, and it is an important one. But in the pursuit of experiencing good books and the entertainment, education, and community to be found therein, the similarities trump the differences, asterisk included.


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