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Reading Books Is on the Decline But Audiobooks Are Rising

20 February 2017

From Psychology Today:

A recent New York Times article reported that:

“Sales of adult books fell by 10.3 percent in the first three months of 2016, and children’s books dropped by 2.1 percent. E-book sales fell by 21.8 percent, and hardcover sales were down 8.5 percent. The strongest categories were digital audiobooks, which rose by 35.3 percent.”

The Times proffered several explanations including the lack of a “hit” book that draws readers to purchase that and other books and a decline in leisure reading (in one study the National Endowment of the Arts found that in 2015 only 43% of American adults had read a work of literature for pleasure in the previous year).

I think that the explanation is simpler. When you read a hardback, paperback or e-book it is very difficult to multitask and the research shows that we all – and I mean all – love to try to do more than one thing at a time. When you listen to a book your hands are free to type or tap and your mind is free to wander. No page turning required!

. . . .

Students, adults, office workers and other studied groups appear to be able to maintain attention and focus for 3-5 minutes at a time before being distracted.

Link to the rest at Psychology Today and thanks to Dave for the tip.

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19 Comments to “Reading Books Is on the Decline But Audiobooks Are Rising”

  1. Those numbers look suspicious. They look suspiciously like the numbers from the big publishers, not the numbers from bookselling in general.

    I certainly hope someone isn’t building a complex theory of trends in the general population based on incomplete data.

    (Anyone know the code for the eyeroll emoji?)

    • (Anyone know the code for the eyeroll emoji?)

      Heh. I’m with you on the eye roll. I’m feeling increasingly fed up with all the nonsense that various publications publish (newspapers, magazines, science journals, etc.) in which the basic facts are simply wrong and the headlines are deliberately misleading.

  2. So reading is on the decline just because book sales have declined? Really? As though no one ever reads books from the library or from their own towering TBR stacks instead of purchasing new. Feh!

  3. The NYT, best fiction in the business.

  4. I must admit, I’ve taken to listening to audio stories in the car these days. Since my phone can hook up to the stereo automatically and always remembers where I was, it’s a way to get another half an hour of ‘reading’ into my day.

    • Same here. It’s amazing how much listening you can get done while commuting, waiting in offices, waiting to be seated, waiting for your food, waiting in the checkout line, mowing the yard, cooking, washing dishes, doing laundry…

  5. I like doing puzzles or sorting through stamps when I’m listening to audio books. I just get the audio books at the library. Very cost-effective.

  6. When you commute, audio books are the way to go to work.

  7. I don’t like audiobooks, generally. I bought some back in ye olde days on cassette (Harlan Ellison reading some of his short stories,cause he’s great doing that; some non-fiction), but I’d rather read. I think it comes down to the fact that I do not like most of the voices I sample on Amazon’s audible books section.

  8. First, the numbers are suspect, and likely incomplete. Second, as a writer, the real question is whether “customers” are enjoying my work, and paying me, regardless of format. So, as far as I’m concerned, audio books are still reading.

  9. I just like the value of my audible subscription. Its a great way to pass the two hours i spend in my car every day. And while I’m playing xbox on the rare occasions I get to play.

    I also can listen to audio books while mowing, doing the dishes, doing the laundry, vacuuming, etc.

  10. Would love it if I could multi-task, but it’s not in my skills set. Because I have to listen and do nothing else when dealing with an audio book, I tried saving them for when I’ve gone to bed. Unfortunately, I’d fall asleep listening and then not be able to find where I left off. I gave up after about three or four books. My kid, on the other hand, routinely listens to books while at work where she does accounting.

    • My limited experience with audiobooks is similar. If I’m doing anything else whilst listening I can’t immerse myself in the story, and if I’m not doing anything else I find it easier just to read the book.

    • One activity you might be able to multi-task with is walking. My commute involves about an hour on foot, and audio books are great for that time.

      • Good idea. The Echo was playing the books I tried listening to, but it’s not portable. I could put a book on my phone, which is something I’ve never tried before. It’ll fit well with my somewhat new walking routine at a nearby park–weather permitting. Weather has been like spring the past few days (really lovely), super warm for Ohio in February.

      • Inner city, high traffic, steep hills, snow on the ground several months a year – I’m afraid I need my wits about me when I’m walking. Good idea, though, if I were living somewhere a bit less hectic.

        I’m still not sure it would solve the immersion problem. When I am listening to someone tell a story, I am always more aware of the person than of the story itself.

  11. I’m calling a big pile or hairy craqpola on this:

    …’Students, adults, office workers and other studied groups appear to be able to maintain attention and focus for 3-5 minutes at a time before being distracted.’

    Give me something that really captures my imagination/attention any I can stay in the zone for hours!

  12. Eurico Conceição Palazzo

    I think that one of the most important benefits of reading a paper book is the FOCUS needed to complete the task.
    If you LISTEN to a BOOK, you are obviously not paying any attention; on the opposite, you are multitasking. In other words, NOT READING.

    Too bad people are preferring to LISTEN to books.
    They think they are saving time when they are actually missing FOCUS and MINDFULLNESS.

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