🎧 Do Audiobooks count as reading?
There's a part of me that feels that audiobooks are more of a threat to reading than television ever was. But having mixed-and-matched between audiobooks and written books for years now, I've put together my thoughts on whether audiobooks really count as reading.
My overall thoughts to save you some time: yes, they do count as reading, but they're really not ideal.
Arguments against audiobooks: why they are inferior to reading
You're not actually reading, you're listening.
You're being paced by somone else rather than yourself. The book is no longer your own, the rhythm at which different parts of the book are read is external and structured. When I read a physical book, I can read it in my unique way: I can focus however long I want on everything. I can slowly enjoy the parts that resonnate with me and skim the parts I find less engaging. This becomes very difficult/high friction to do with an audiobook.
I can't use my imagination as much Especially when reading fiction, with a phsyical book I can build a whole world in my mind: characters, places, colours, voices and sounds. When I hear the character's voices in an audiobook, I am almost forced to build the other attributes of that character around the voice, limiting my imagination. Furthermore, most characters are all narrated by the same person: so people of one gender are narrating all genders, races, accents, nationalities, which greatly dampens the realistic experience for me.
Notetaking is terrible It's infinitely harder to take notes on an audiobook than any phsyical book. It requires pausing the book, going back and forth to catch the exact words, and typing things out physically. Underlining or highlighting on physical or digital books is infinitely easier.
The sensory experience is lacking Reading a physical book is a whole experience for me. I get to sit down, touch a book, feel and smell it, hear the pages turning etc - when listning to the book, it's just somewhere in the cloud - I'm just holding onto myself and I'm not feeling anything. As someone with sensory synaesthesia, this is a huge loss for me.
Arguments for audiobooks
Accessibility If you struggle with reading, audiobooks are a godsend. They make reading possible entirely or easier for people who would otherwise be excluded from properly enjoying the content in written books.
Usability You can get to read a lot more with audiobooks than you can with written books. You can "read" in dimly lit or completely dark enviroments, while walking down the street, without having to carry a book that is too big or too heavy, while doing the dishes etc. Fitting reading into little slots of your day where otherwise you couldn't easily reach for your physical books does help with being able to get more information.
Speed Reading As someone who's taken speed reading very seriously since being a little child, audiobooks have taken this to the next level. I get tired quite fast speed reading, and definitely cannot maintain my attention for hours at a time in the way I can with audiobooks, where I can go through properly long books in 2-3h. If you're into this kind of thing, it's a huge plus.
Saving space I'm currently on a physical-book-buying ban, so I'm not allowed to buy them anymore, but audiobooks definitely save a lot of space. They don't clutter your home.
Creating jobs for voice actors I have a soft spot for actors in general, so I love to support them working on projects related to education too.
When to read audiobooks
Ok, this is my formula: I will read any pop-non-fiction book as an audiobook. This is the type of modern writing that is quite "cheap and fluffy", one main point for the whole book and too many overly-expanded examples, making and re-making the same point again and again. I can speed-read these as an audiobook and take notes on my Apple Notes while I listen.
Any book that turns out to be surprisingly good, or I already know is good non-fiction, I will always buy as a kindle and read and note-take on it slowly.
All good fiction books I'll read as physical/kindle books.
Harry Potter is the only exception here. I've read the physical books way too many times, and I now listen to the audiobooks every night as I fall asleep :)