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Audio book sales are increasing since 2010 in the world.

But do audio books really help us analyze a book? I ask because some people (including me) like to touch what they read. This is also the reason why I don't like e-books.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of audio books?

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I don't see what the actual problem is here. Audio books are just another form of input; it doesn't objectively make it easier or harder to actually process the data in terms of analysis. There are no (dis)advantages to audio books, you like it or you don't. The advantage that makes me like an e-book is in your case a disadvantage... – Tom Wijsman Sep 8 '11 at 18:44
I guess that for some people, it is easier to digest the information when listening rather than reading. So in that case, it does help productivity. – tehnyit Sep 18 '11 at 8:45
People are offering their opinions here, but is there any research on this topic? Without a research we can know which kind of book is more comfortable; but it would be also nice to know which kind of book makes people understand or remember the topic better. – Viliam Búr Jan 7 '13 at 14:19
up vote 14 down vote accepted

I don't think that the fact that you can touch the book is all that important.
The main differences are first of all that reading doesn't allow you any other simultaneous activities, so that you are much more likely to be fully concentrated on the book.
The second difference is that with reading you determine the speed of the information intake. You can slow down or stop on passages that require more thought, or reread parts for better understanding. You can also skim and skip parts. With an audio book you are tied to the performance of the reader. This means that audiobooks are unsuited for anything structurally complex that requires your full attention.

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@mielu You can skip/rewind, but it's much less convenient. If you want to mull over a particular sentence for a while, which is fairly common with technical books, you have to either pause, in which case you can't hear the sentence any more, or keep rewinding a little to replay the sentence, which is inconvenient. It's even worse if you want to go back and forth between two different sections. – weronika Sep 9 '11 at 17:16

One advantage is quite obvious: You can listen to an audio book while doing the dishes, commuting, ...

But there lies also the dilemma: When you are doing the dishes you don't have a piece of paper to take notes, and you might not be that concentrated.

Another thing might be the fact, that the best form of presentation differs from person to person: An audio book might be the best choice for you.

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I belong to, and have listened to over 260 books over the course of four years. I mostly listen to books while commuting (one hour each day), and walking for exercise. As someone pointed out, you wouldn't want to "listen" to a programming language book. I'm not sure that any audio programming books exist -- not on Audible anyway, and they have thousands of books.

Sometimes I will be become preoccupied (usually because my mind starts to wonder), and find I need to rewind. There is a handy button on the app for my iPhone that rewinds in 30 sec increments, so that makes it easy to replay something. Frankly I find myself having to do the same thing when reading a "real" book sometimes -- I'll have read a page or two and then realize I wasn't really comprehending the material.

I like to listen to fiction, autobiographies, history, and non-fiction. I recently listened to "Getting Things Done" by David Allen. There were a few places where he referred to figures in the book. Obviously I couldn't look at those in the car (most audio books on Audible that have figures have an associated PDF that you can download).

So yes, I believe audio books increase our productivity, because you can be listening to them during what would otherwise be "dead time". I don't have to spend time reading the same books, which would take away from free time I could be spending on something else.

One disadvantage I'll point out, is that you can't look up passages if you want to refer back to the book later on. There was a recent question on the Science Fiction & Fantasy Stack Exchange site about the book "Hunger Games", which I had listened to several months ago, and I could answer it only in general terms because I couldn't look the passage up. If I had bought the book for my Kindle, I would have been able to do a search.

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Many light non-fiction paper books, such as business or self-improvement titles, could get the same message across in half the space or less. Unfortunately they either repeat the same message too many times or have unimportant passages/chapters tossed in to make the purchase look more attractive.

Audiobooks save the day here with their abridged versions, where all the filler is automatically removed for us.

Play them at 200% speed (totally understandable) and one can get through an abridged title very quickly--in fact so quickly I feel no need to even take notes. I just listen to the whole thing again every few months or years. This gives time for the information to resonate and growth to continue from other sources, so when I relisten, I pick up on different things I was too green to understand before.

A common theme in speed-reading is that comprehension is better from reading something twice but at double the speed, than slowly once. Abridged audiobooks more easily allow that, especially as they can be listened to walking, driving or whatever.

Another common theme in speed-reading technique is that it's better to read through a book through continuously without backtracking to try and understand something. I remember I used to do this, using all my mental power to work out what was being said, where as if I kept on reading it would have been revealed anyway. Then I'd have to suffer through the next few pages mumbling, "I get it, I get it, move on". Audiobooks somewhat force this momentum forward.

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"...comprehension is better from reading something twice but at double the speed, than slowly once". Is there evidence of this? I'd like to read it if you know of any sources, thanks. – Toby Booth May 19 '15 at 20:17
I think I first came across it in "Breakthrough Rapid Reading" by Peter Kump, but have both read it multiples times over the years and verified it personally. My books are in storage, otherwise I'd see if Peter references any studies. – jontyc May 23 '15 at 5:34

An big benefit of audiobooks is also their biggest downfall--everywhere accessibility.

I would never walk the dog or even hop up the street in the car to get milk without listening to something technical, even if it was just a StackExchange podcast.

However that meant my mind never stopped taking in. It never had time to rest or assimilate.

It's only when I moderated the use of audiobooks did my brain have a chance to catch up and big revelations would just pop up out of nowhere, saving days of unnecessary work.

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Depending on how you learn best, audio books could be quite advantageous if you prefer to take in new information through your ears rather than reading or other formats. There can also be additional information in terms of how someone reads something that may or may not be noticed by someone reading this such as volume of voice or speed of speech. Cacophony, euphony and onomatopoeia come to mind as literary tools that work better in an audio format of hearing the terms. For example, you could look at George Carlin's "Seven words you can't say on TV" in text and not quite get the same impact as him performing the bit.

By providing a different perspective, I'd argue audio books add quite a bit of value to analyzing a book particularly if one cares to examine the challenges of what interpretations are made in converting a book to an audio format. For example, if there are references to song lyrics in the book, does the reader try to sing these or is the material just read? Are instruments added or is it just a voice alone in the recording? These are other factors to consider here.

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It depends, at least in part, on the type of book. I wouldn't want to try to learn a new programming language via audiobook, but I love listening to light fiction while I do chores, knit, or wait for the bus.

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Personally, I've been listening to business radio for the last few weeks and it's been very helpful. I do them while programming, so you can actually learn do a difficult task while learning at the same time!

Some things are better in audio - such as interviews and direct advice. Interviews are especially good because the brain seems to comprehend them better in audio. Things that are enlightening, or things you were curious about. The kind of things that you wish people told you about earlier.

Something that requires significant mental thought, any kind of practice, or any kind of diagram is not a good book. Certainly programming and logic/math books are the worst. I know there are some good video programming tutorials, but they've never worked for me because they needed practice and notes.

I would say lengthy, low brainpower books along the lines of the Chicken Soup for the Soul or Getting Things Done are the best. Fiction books are great. Expect to miss a lot of content, so good audio books are those which would be fine without rereading anything.

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In addition to the advantages mentioned in other posts I can add

  • One advantage of audiobook is that you can listen it when you are resting on a sofa. in comparison with reading e-books that you must seat behind the computer in an awkward position that is a big relief.

  • The second advantage is that I think listening takes less energy than reading. reading makes the eye tired while listening need less energy.

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