Is listening to audiobooks really reading?

As a fan of TikTok I’ve noticed this topic comes up frequently.

Is listening to audiobooks really reading?

I’m clear on Instagram and TikTok when the books I’m reading are audiobooks, and I’ve never been attacked personally for reading audiobooks (thank goodness!). However, from some of the TikToks I’ve seen, it seems that some BookTokers do occasionally get attacked by people who don’t believe listening to audiobooks is really reading.

So, let’s dig into this a little bit…

I found this great article from the Washington Post with a post they republished from a blog post originally by cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham. I’ll summarize the key points here.

Reading consists of two fundamental processes:

  • Language processing which refers to the same mental processes you use for oral language.
  • Decoding which refers to figuring out words from print.

Listening to an audiobooks is exactly like reading print, except the latter requires decoding and the former doesn’t.*

*Of course there are some exceptions to this. Refer to the full article for details on that.

There’s another important factor:

Prosody which refers to changes in pacing, pitch, and rhythm in speech.

When it comes to reading audiobooks, the listener doesn’t need to supply the prosody. Instead, the person reading it does.

So, what does all of this mean? Is listening to audiobooks really reading?

My answer: It depends.

It depends on the point of reading. To me, the point of reading is arriving at a final destination and enjoying the ride. It’s not about how you got there.

Want to go to Florida? If I take an airplane, you go by car, and someone else goes by train, and each of gets there eventually, does it really matter how we got there? I think not.

On the flip side, if it does matter to you…if you do prefer the road trip rather than the flight, then stick to what works for you. But don’t judge others for their choices.

A lot of readers enjoy audiobooks. I know some people who don’t have the attention span to sit and read a physical copy of a book. I think it’s great that listening to audiobooks work for them. I would prefer that they listen to audiobooks (and gain the wisdom and experience that comes with that) than not read at all.

Personally, I like to have audiobooks in the mix. I’ve learned that I don’t like listening to non-fiction books in the audiobook format. I don’t absorb the information the same as I do when I have a physical copy in my hand where I can highlight, underline, dog ear pages, etc. However, I love listening to fiction audiobooks. I can get lost in the story when I’m doing something else that doesn’t require any mental processing.

I typically read 10 pages of a non-fiction book (physical copy) every day. I’m also always reading a fiction book, usually one chapter per night before bed. And then I like to have an audiobook to listen to when I’m alone—sometimes that’s when I’m driving or when I can go for a walk outside or when I tackle boring chores like folding the laundry.

For me, audiobooks would never be the only choice, but if I can fit in a few more books (stories) throughout the year by mixing in an audiobook format, I’m all for it!

How about you? Do you like listening to audiobooks?

Published by Kelly Schuknecht

Kelly Schuknecht is a marketer with a background in the publishing industry. She is passionate about all things related to books and loves helping authors navigate the world of social media for book promotion. She recently launched the course Marketing Your Book on TikTok.

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