Monday, July 23, 2007

Audio Books

In recent years, another "book" phenomenon on the rise (which means they're developing rather than quite mainstream) aside from eBooks are audio books. Now I don't quite know how bibliophiles will approach audio books. On one hand, they're books converted to a convenient format (to those who would buy them... namely people who don't have time to read but time to listen). On the other hand, we might still be using our imagination, but we're not using our active reading skills (visual) and instead utilizing our active listening skills (aural).

Technology, I think, has played an integral role in the development of audio books. I mean can you imagine an audio books as an LP or record? The biggest breakthrough I think came about with the release of the cassette tape followed by the Walkman. The former made carrying music easier while the latter made the medium portable. CDs brought audio books to the digital format but I think it's Pod Casts and mp3s that the popularity of iPods that will mark audio books of the future (if not the present). I mean with portable mp3 players, you can have an entire library at your fingertips and unlike eBook readers, people actually own portable mp3 players.

Of course the problem is still acceptance by its target market and availability. I don't listen to audio books, unless you count my childhood where I was learning to read. The other problem is that audio books have been typecast. I mean most of the audio books that are available in the country are the business-oriented books (for the busy man on the go!). The other segment of the local audio book market are the really popular books, such as Harry Potter or The Da Vinci Code. After those, there's nothing in between.

Then there'll be the advocates of reading versus the nonexistent advocates of listening. People will tell you that reading is different from listening (and it is) and that the former is an active act that exercises your brain while the latter is passive. For me, however, it's getting the story across. If you don't have the time to read (or "read" more books than just the scant few minutes of reading time you allotted yourself), aren't audio books a nice alternative? For me, it's about the story and and getting the word spread. Of course some books aren't suited to be converted to audio books. Can you imagine Nick Bantock's Griffin and Sabine trilogy as an audio book? And while listening may be a passive act, it's also a good opportunity to practice your active listening skills (which is just as important as your reading skills in my opinion). Will it be a different experience? Of course it will be. But that's the case when something is in another format.

Of course reluctant readers are not solely to blame. Audio books are different animals from plain books. Adapting something will always be a concern with different mediums and this is no different. There'll be decisions like giving personality to the dialogue or sticking to the narrative voice. There's also the issue of hiring good talent to narrate the audio book--I think an audio book lives and dies not just due to good writing, but to good speaking as well. And then there's visibility. Would it benefit audio book publishers if they courted music stores rather than bookstores? Or should they market audio books more? Or will audio books perpetually get not-so-good PR and be limited to the business books genre?

I have totally no idea how viable audio books are. But it's something I'm interested because like eBooks, it gives me another tool to read and hear stories. I think some people are hopeful that audio books will be "gateway material" to reading the actual book. While that's a possibility, I also wonder if audio books can stand well on its own.

No comments: