Mike Connell

The Big Question: Audiobooks vs Reading

By: Mike Connell | December 15, 2017 | 

The Big Question: Audiobooks vs ReadingWe’ve asked about your favorite books, but we have never actually pitted formats against each other in The Big Question.

We’re big readers here at Spin Sucks.

As a rule, it’s probably safe to say that communications professionals (along with content marketers and other like-minded practitioners) tend to be avid readers.

But many of us are keen listeners as well, evidenced by the responses to our Big Question asking about favorite podcasts.

That said, circumstance and environment will affect my choice of format.

I’ll always have a podcast on deck, an eBook queued up, a physical book by my bedside, and an audiobook at-the-ready (and comics strewn about).

So, it depends, right?

That said, during last week’s preamble to this Big Question, I admitted that, if forced to choose, audiobooks have become my favorite—preferred—form of “reading.”

In the week that followed, I found myself regretting that statement (clearly there’s a lot going on in my life).

Yes, I do love audiobooks, however soon after publishing that post, I went to pick up a comic (I’m a comics guy).

“Waitaminit,” I said to myself. “You can’t listen to a comic book.”

(FYI, I talk to myself a lot)

Or you shouldn’t, anyway. As a result, I retract my previous statement. Reading it is.

So, what about you? This week’s Big Question—the last of 2017!—asks:

Audiobooks vs reading.

Given the choice, what’s your go-to format?

Audiobooks vs Reading: It Depends

Let’s start things off with Bryan Scanlon, who mirrors much of my thinking:

Audio has nearly completely taken over most of my serious reading (fiction, business books).

I can squeeze more story in places that normally were just music or dead air.

If I love the book, I then buy the hardcover.

To this day, there’s a lot of pleasure in seeing those books on the shelf.

And, seriously, as I’ve gotten older and screen time pummels my eyes, it feels like if I open a physical book in any prone position, I’m on a one-way street to nap time.

But I can have some read to me for hours especially in cars and planes.

There are exceptions. I’m also a comics guy and avid photographer—and for me, that visual medium requires printed words and pages. Visual art for me remains physical.

Audiobooks vs Reading: Yes

The problem with being an avid reader?

It’s hard to say no to a good read, regardless of the format.

Kevin Vandever agrees:

All of it.

I read either from an actual book or Kindle when I’m home, Kindle almost exclusively when I fly, and audio during my daily commutes.

How do I know what format to purchase? I don’t, but I make sure I always have each type on hand.

I enjoy audiobooks, but as others have mentioned, the narrator can make or break them.

On two occasions, I have listened to books where the narrator, who also happened to be the author, provided added commentary during the reading. I thought that was awesome, but probably not for everyone.

Oh, and I never listen to audio when I run.

Nor do I ever run.

Audiobooks vs Reading: Whichever Leads to Exercise?

From Lisa Kidder:

I am a reader at heart, but do listen to books on the treadmill!

Sometimes the book is the ONLY reason I can make myself exercise!

Julie Murphy sits in the “it depends” camp, but weaves in exercise to her decision-making process:

Format selection depends on the situation.

My 45 minute (each way) commute and long training runs are ideal for audio books (usually novels—nothing too heavy).

Business books are great on the Kindle because I can make highlights and notes and then download them to review later (it’s difficult to access highlights and notes in a printed book).

But the tactile side of me loves the heft and page-turning action of a real printed book.

In short, the go-to format is dependent upon the situation.

Matt Maxey:

I’m almost exclusively audio now, largely because of situation.

Two kids under three in the house, marathon training runs, and a daily commute, don’t allow for much time sitting still to read.

Also, I love getting lost in a story during a run or drive. It lets my mind wander away from the monotonous miles ahead!

Audiobooks vs Reading: Out With the Old, in With the New

Paula Kiger is worried about her brain:

I get the bulk of my reading done via audio.

I am a proponent of “real paper” books.

However, I hate to admit this but holy cow I don’t find reading “the old fashioned way” relaxing or engrossing anymore (shhhhhh).

I honestly worry that my brain and attention span have been fried by digital practices.


This is a post I wrote about audiobooks last year.

Audiobooks vs Reading: And the Winner is…

We had a ton of responses to this Big Question, which is fantastic.

While most respondents agree that whatever format will help them read more is the goal, audiobooks seem to be the most versatile (and the narrator is very important!).

Many of our answers this week came from our PR Dream Team and free Slack group, but this one—from our weekly HARO query—provided an excellent summary for why we’re crowing audiobooks as the winner (was it a contest? I forget?) of this week’s “format fight.”

Maybe it will become a thing!

Audiobooks: The Definitive List

From Jeremy Porter:

When I lived/worked in NYC (long before the iPod/Kindle were invented), I devoured paper books on the subway to/from work each day.

These days, I live in Atlanta and commute an hour each way to work—and reading physical (or digital) books is frowned upon while driving, so I’ve been doing the audiobook thing for at least 10 years now.

First, with super-expensive CDs I used to buy at Barnes & Noble, but later as an early adopter of Audible.

I agree with your points re: narration—the narrator makes or breaks the book.

So my first tip is to preview the narrator—it doesn’t take long to figure out whether or not it’s going to work.

Also—an interesting anecdote for your story, I read an article not too long ago that your brain stores information from audio sources similar to visual (so you retain knowledge from written/audio in similar ways).

I’d argue that people learn/retain in different ways—I tend to remember more from books I listen to vs. read, but that’s me.

I do think there are additional advantages to being able to speed up an audiobook—it’s much easier than learning how to speed read.

Additional tips:

Get an Audible subscription if you can afford it—they have the best selection I’ve found, and the iPhone app is great (and trust the reviews—they’re usually correct since this is an audiobook crowd).

I like the Audible subscription because it keeps me on-pace with my learning (encouraging me to listen to new books each month)—I typically buy additional credits (which they sell at a discount).

If you’re on a budget, a lot of libraries offer some form of audiobook option.

Depending on your interests, you may be able to find some things worth listening to on Spotify (or sometimes I’ll put together a list of videos I listen to in the car—I’ve done this on the reg with TED videos for example).

If you don’t go the subscription route, and you can’t find what you want via these other sources, look for the CD on eBay or ‘used’ on Amazon—rip it on your computer (if you can find a CD drive) and then share it in a Google Drive or Dropbox folder for your friends (not technically legal, but you used to be able to share books with friends, and I think you should be able to do this with audiobooks).

You can also hit your peers up on Slack (or the public socials) to see if any of them might already have a copy you can borrow.

Up Next: Welcome to 2018!

As the year comes to a close, many of us are compiling our goals for 2018.

Health and wellness. Fitness. Professional. Creative.

Whatever you’re trying to achieve, it always helps to have some accountability. A support network to cheer you on, help you out when you’re down. A group to help you get out of your own head from time to time!

Writing Groups, book clubs, running clubs, support groups, in general.

These come in all shapes and forms.

But Slack groups are increasingly becoming one of the best ways to connect with your community.

Those people who get you, and who are in a position to motivate and keep you accountable.

The next Big Question asks:

What are the top Slack groups you are a part of? Which would you recommend your peers to join in 2018?

You can answer here, in our own free Slack community, or on the socials (use #SpinSucksQuestion so we can find you).

The 30-Day Communications Challenge begins on January 3. Are you subscribed?

About Mike Connell

Mike Connell is the director of client services at Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. He is also a contributor to the award-winning PR blog, Spin Sucks, the leading source for modern PR training, trends, and insights. Find more of Mike's musings on his blog, Communative . Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • paulakiger

    Now if only this post were available in audio form. 😉

  • Dawn Buford

    Audio books would be great to listen to in the car…….if only I had a car! (A driver-less one it would be, complete with my trusty AI driver shuttling me to my destination while reading me the latest bestseller. A girl can only dream!) I will have to give audio books a try while I am cleaning the house, though I really like to devote my undivided attention to whatever I’m reading, so not sure how that will work out.

    • LOL!! I love how you’ve gone from having a driver like Mr. Big did to having a driver-less one with your AI driver while you read a book. Hilarious!

      I think you’re a lot like me when it comes to reading. I cannot listen to books. I’ve tried and tried and tried.

    • paulakiger

      I get that part (the challenge of getting distracted while listening to an audiobook). I think that’s a bigger challenge with some types of books than others. I do think the narrator can make a BIG difference for a book – like listening to Shonda Rimes (sp?) narrate her own book (Year of Yes) is probably more satisfying than reading it on a page. Ditto for Michelle Visage’s book.

      • Debbie Johnson

        I loved Shonda Rhimes narrating The Year of Yes. I also loved Mindy Kaling narrating her books.

    • Jen

      I work from home, so am not in a car frequently enough to make audiobooks a logical choice–but honestly, I’m not sure it would be a good format for me. I tend to get involved in stories, and would be concerned that it would distract me from paying attention to the road. The radio is different, NPR stories, even when very interesting, are short, and then they move on to another one.

      This is also the reason that I never, ever talk on the phone (even hands-free) anymore while I’m driving. I remember years ago I got off of a call and couldn’t immediately place whether I had passed my exit or if it was coming up. The mind can only do so much at one time. Podcasts are a go-to exercising.

  • This sums it up! “It’s hard to say no to a good read, regardless of the format.”

  • Debbie Johnson

    I will listen to audiobooks during car trips or long commutes. At home, I prefer to read physical books.

  • Hi, Mike! As a professional audiobook narrator, I’m delighted to see this discussion. I’m thrilled to learn that audiobooks are your preferred media for text consumption and that you have favorite narrators!

    Like you, I always am listening to an audiobook and reading a different book in a print edition, usually a Kindle ebook. When choosing a book for pleasure, I decide the format based on 2 main factors:

    1) Do I want to retain the material and/or make some change in my life? Business or self-development books require you to take action in order for retention or change to occur. I read those books on Kindle so I can highlight passages and make notes.

    Once I’m finished with the book, I send my Kindle notes and highlights to my Evernote account. I may quote the material or use my notes in an article. Also, the book info may appear in an Evernote search that leads me to make new associations or draw conclusions based on relevancy to the other search results. Finally, I may set up reminders in Evernote to take actions suggested in or inspired by the text.

    2) Do I have a block of uninterrupted time for the book? I primarily read while on vacation or by the pool, as well as almost every night before bedtime. If I am doing another activity such as exercising or walking my dog, I am listening to an audiobook.

    I hope these thoughts are helpful to your audience. Best wishes for happy holidays and every joy and success in 2018!

    Karen Commins

  • Jenna

    Only reading for me. As someone who is hearing impaired, I just can’t do audiobooks or podcasts. (I need to watch TV or DVDs with SDH. I will go to movies in the theatre, but I know I miss probably 50% of the dialogue. I also love live theater but I tend to go to classic plays, not new plays, so I can read the script first.) I also read very fast so I usually could read the same amount of material faster than it takes someone to read it aloud–although I’ve heard there are some great audio readers, so I wish I could appreciate it more as its own form. Oh well, reading (no audio) for me.