Audiobook sales, the Audio Publishers Association (APA) reports, are at an all-time high. Their increasing use, however, is met by resistance from those who say that deep reading requires having the text in front of you. Readers of audiobooks claim that they enhance the pleasure of reading and invite more people to read.  Regardless of the debate, over the past year the share of sales going to digital audiobooks has outpaced that of CD and cassette audiobooks, making the digital format a popular way of taking in information.

There are many reasons for audiobooks’ growing popularity. Being able to listen to a story while doing another activity—such as driving to work or exercising—is a boon to many readers with busy schedules. The convenience of having multiple books available to you on the go on a smartphone or portable digital audio device is matched only by ebooks. However, while ebook devices have the technology to convert text to speech, this doesn’t provide the same experience as listening to an actor’s interpretation of a story. A good actor’s interpretation can add to the sheer pleasure of having a story read to you and is even considered by some to be an art form of its own. In some cases, this is done by the author herself, but in others, the publisher will hire someone to read the text. Because the additional costs of producing an audiobook are reduced by the growing demand for digital audiobooks, which do not have the same manufacturing costs as CDs or tapes, publishers have more to spend on quality voice talent.

Some prefer to absorb information in an auditory way, and there are even educational and informational volumes released in audiobook format. On the other hand, having the text in front of you is useful to be able reread a line, or for reference in a classroom discussion. Then again, having the text read to you removes the temptation to skim. Critics argue that having the text before you is essential to a deep or slow reading of a text in order to better understand it. However, perhaps the strongest argument in favor of audiobooks being a legitimate form of reading is that audiobooks were originally made for the blind and continue to allow readers with disabilities to be part of the world of reading.

With a growing industry worth more than $1 billion, an increasing number of publishers who deal exclusively with audiobooks, and an expanding number of book titles being released in both hard format and as audiobooks, readers will continue to enjoy books in this format, which combines the benefits of new and progressive technology with one of the oldest forms of entertainment known to humankind—a good read.

Did You Know?
There are conflicting ideas on when silent reading was first introduced, as many believed reading aloud to be the norm in ancient history. According to Saint Augustine’s Confessions, he witnessed Saint Ambrose, archbishop of Milan, reading in his cell toward the end of the fourth century AD: “His eyes scanned the page and his heart sought out the meaning, but his voice was silent and his tongue was still.” Due to the proposed shock that Augustine felt upon witnessing this, scholars have interpreted Ambrose’s display of silent reading as one of the first. This was supported for years as the first instance of silent reading ever recorded in Western literature. However, several other references to silent reading have been discovered, both around the time of Saint Ambrose and much earlier.

In a speech called “On the Fortune of Alexander,” Plutarch notes that Alexander the Great read a letter from his mother silently, despite the shock of his soldiers, in the fourth century BC. Claudius Ptolemy is cited in Augustine’s book On the Criterion, written in the second century AD, as stating that some people read silently when they are concentrating to a great extent, as reading the words out loud would be distracting. While with his opponent Cato in the Senate in 63 BC, Julius Caesar read a love letter sent to him by Cato’s sister. Much, much later, in the year AD 349, Saint Cyril of Jerusalem suggested that women read to themselves as they wait during the ceremonies—although this was suggested to be closer to very quiet whispers rather than silent readings. Despite these occurrences, some still believe that silent reading wasn’t the norm until the tenth century AD.