Readers Write

Preferred Format: Ebook, Audiobook, or Print?

by Ivy Lariviere

A passion for books has been in my family for generations and was naturally passed on to me and my siblings. When I was younger, my mom read my favorite story before I fell asleep, as I marveled over the artwork in the picture book between my tiny hands. Having stories read aloud or holding books in hand form childhood memories for many people.

The first recordings of books being read aloud were made soon after the invention of the phonograph in 1877. Recorded books became more widely available in 1930s, when they were produced primarily for readers with impaired vision, such as wounded veterans of WWI. As recording technology advanced through the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, audiobooks have been preserved on vinyl, cassette tapes, and CDs.

Ebook technology came along in the early 1970s. In following decades, easy access to the Internet made sharing electronic information, including books, easier too. When Amazon introduced the Kindle in 2007, it became the first widely popular device for electronic reading. Barnes and Noble’s Nook followed two years later. Ebook sales have been expanding ever since, including those from independent publishers and self-published authors.

Although recorded or audiobooks have been around a long time, they’re experiencing a renaissance in the digital age. Smart phones can hold a virtual library that goes anywhere, allowing readers to hear stories while working, driving, or drifting off to sleep. Audiobooks are available via listening apps and subscription services like Audible from Amazon, Apple iTunes, Google Play, Scribd, and Downpour. Amazon’s Whispersync combines its Audible and Kindle options, allowing users to use virtual bookmarks to shift between audio and ebook versions of the same book.

As well as print books, public libraries offer free downloads of both ebooks and audiobooks. Free reads are also sometimes offered as promotions by subscription services. With so many ways to consume literature—print books, ebooks, and audiobooks—reading preferences vary widely, as different people have unique wants and needs.

Creating audiobooks for authors and publishers is one of the services of Davis Sound in Hopkins, Minnesota. Owner Marshall Davis has noticed that audiobook sales have grown in popularity over the past few years, alongside the growth of podcasts.

“People enjoy hearing a voice telling stories to them,” he says. “With audiobooks, people are allowed to multitask while listening to a story. They look for the emotion and character voice that comes with an audiobook narrator.”

Because he spends so much of his time with audiobooks, Marshall says he doesn’t listen to them in his free time, preferring to read a print book or an ebook.

Preferred reading formats - ebook, audiobook, or print?In this month’s Readers Write, we asked: What book format do you prefer to read? Do you read ebooks, audiobooks, print books, or all three? Do you ever choose multiple formats for the same book? Do you choose different ways to read for different genres or reading environments? What influences your choices? A few of the responses:

Claire says, “I am almost exclusively a print book reader. I find I savor the story (fiction) and information (nonfiction) when I am turning paper pages. That said, I love a well-read children’s audiobook. We love audiobooks for long car trips when we travel and even for just riding around town. We especially loved this when my kids were a little younger (later elementary and middle grades years). Our kids are all readers, and audiobooks provided a way to read on the road without the carsickness. But, I love audiobooks in the car because you can start and stop them easily. Everyone is a captive audience. It affords some excellent, natural discussion about characters and life situations—teachable moments.”

Piper prefers to read ebooks more than anything else, because they allow her to access hundreds of different genres of books all at the press of a button. When traveling, ebooks are handy because they are light and portable. She loves print books for the originality and the art behind them, but ebooks are her favorite.

Ashleigh says “Of course, I love real books the best, but with travel and other activities, Kindle and audiobooks play a huge part, too. Audiobooks are good when I’m driving for work trips or on a plane, but it’s also easy to let your brain wander so I find myself rewinding a lot. If you still call it rewinding!”

Mark enjoys books mostly in print and usually nonfiction. “My wife and I sometimes listen to audiobooks when we’re on road trips. She likes classic mysteries, and we both enjoy history, so when we find good historical fiction about spies during WWII, those are perfect. My son and I listened to a Winston Churchill biography on a long trip together.”

Lucia says that she and her husband try to listen to audiobooks on long car trips too, but adds, “My mind wanders after a while! I’m a traditionalist. I prefer holding a book, turning the pages, and I have a better feel for how far back to look if I want to check or reread something. And I assume it is better on my eyes not to be reading from a screen before going to sleep at night. I like having books in my bookcase to look through rather than on a device. Oh, and I’m also wanting to support hardcopy books for fear of their eventual demise in the digital world!”

Linny loves print books as well, but a chronic vision problem makes it difficult for her to read words on a page or screen. Audiobooks allow her to read by listening to books while traveling, doing household chores, and taking walks.

Joe answered that he enjoys reading print books the most. He loves the way books smell, and the physical turning of a page is satisfying. He says being able to see exactly how much more he has to read is extremely motivating, and he doesn’t get that visual with an audiobook or an ebook.

Susan likes to find free books to read on her Kindle. “I like to read historical fiction mainly, especially inspirational books. I enjoy printed books but sometimes do use my Kindle. I use my Kindle for reading my Bible at night and for traveling. I use my Kindle for traveling with other books too.”

Scott says print books are his first choice, especially for research and study. “I like to underline and write in the margins and turn down the corners of pages or use stickies for quick reference later. I also know my books, so I can find references relatively quickly. If reading a novel (which I do less of these days) I don’t underline, I just read. I normally read through a book but when doing research, I use the table of contents, glossary, and notes to find what I need, and I cross reference.” The only exception to his print preference, he says, is that he and his wife listen to audiobooks when they travel.

Kris usually chooses print, “unless the library is out, and I need it before book club! I need to be able to flip back and forth and can do that best when I can see the pages. Plus, I don’t like the light when reading on my iPad. And when is the last time you found someone else’s unusual book marker in a library book? Can’t do that with an ereader!”

Jennifer prefers print books over anything else. Although she has read audiobooks in the past, she always turns back to ebooks. She reads anything in print format. She loves print books for the visual aspects, including the illustrations on the front cover. She enjoys collecting print books.

The readers who responded range in age from their teens to their seventies. Most enjoyed print books but used ebooks or audiobooks for convenience, especially for travel. Audiobooks allow for relaxation and focus, with the opportunity to do other activities while listening to a book. Ebooks are lightweight, portable and allow readers to read at night with the lights off. So, from the smell and weight of a paperback or hardcover, to the soothing voice of an audiobook, today’s book lovers have many ways to appreciate fascinating literature.

Ivy Lariviere is a high school junior who enjoys the creative writing of poetry, prose, screenplays, and more. She also loves reading and uses print books as her main source of literature. At the moment, her favorite book is The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. She hopes to read it many more times, maybe as an audiobook!

This article was first published September 2018.

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