A recent report by children’s publisher Scholastic found that while parents often stop reading aloud to children once they can read independently, many children up to the age of eleven wish their parents would continue. Reading with a parent is, of course, quality time, but I think the reason also comes down to the joy of hearing a book read aloud.
Storytelling is an art form that dates back as long ago as the formation of speech. But for so many years it was purely oral. So you may say it is in our blood to enjoy a story told aloud – we are programmed, like our predecessors, to sit at the fireside and listen avidly to a story that is not only a good tale, but also one that is told well enough to hold our interest.
Until the digital revolution, audiobooks were not widely popular. They came in large, clunky plastic cases full of cassettes – and then, finally, CDs. Many associated them with the elderly and those with visual impairment. They didn’t have quite the panache of the paperback or the serious weightiness of the hardback.
But then digital as a medium crept into the market, and exploded. People began to demand that technology offer more ways to engage with all manner of cultural things – art, music, theatre, film and, of course, books. Much has been written of the ebook. But alongside the development of the ebook, the audiobook has gone from strength to strength.
Audible became a frontrunner in changing the reputation of the audiobook and working to widen its consumer base. To date, it has amassed 150,000 audio programs from audiobook publishers, as well as broadcasters, entertainers, magazine and newspaper publishers and business information providers, which amounts to more than 1.5 million hours of listening. So successful did Audible become that it was bought by Amazon in 2008.
Why the growing interest in stories told aloud? I think several reasons exist:
- Audiobooks are more readily available than ever, via various means. You can buy a CD, for example, or you can access the book on a pay-per-month platform like Audible. You can even, via Whispersync for Voice, switch between reading a book on the Kindle and listening to it as an audiobook.
- As more and more publishers go audio, a wider range of books is available, making it a viable format for many listener-readers.
- They’re more in vogue than ever. Those who can read now sometimes choose to listen instead.
- The pace of life has picked up, which can make fitting in the time to sit and read a book more difficult. Audiobooks allow one to multitask – ‘reading’ while commuting to work on the train, for example; thereby giving eyes overloaded with digital information from phones, tablets, computers and so on a much-needed rest.
- Production has become even more professional. Some of the narrators are just wonderful, and so much thought goes into making the book. Here, for example, is the narrator of the audiobook for my novel The Echoes of Love (actor Matt Addis) sharing a little about the process:
The future, then, for audiobooks is bright indeed, with ever-more innovative initiatives being rolled out to entice new readers to the medium. Audible, for example, has launched the ‘Stories that Surround You’ campaign in an attempt to bring onboard new, younger readers. It has created a brilliant video showing the joy of immersion in a story world via oral storytelling. I love the blend of the real world with fantasy: it really conveys what it is to be a book lover.
My books The Echoes of Love and Indiscretionwill be available as audiobooks soon. Watch this space for news!