A Little Extra on the Side

White earbuds on a blue backgroundMy love of audiobooks blossomed wide like a rose bud during eye surgery recoveries. Over the years I’ve tended to my literary rosebush, pruning away poor listens as needed and fertilizing and watering with new narrators and genres to grow the intellectual interest. 15 years ago, audiobooks demanded more energy to read: the time spent search and selecting a title at the library or bookstore, schlepping the title home and loading the piece one CD at a time into a CD player or perhaps riding around with the whole lot to listen in the car on commutes. The variety of titles lacked depth. I definitely remember checking out books just because they were in audio format, desperate to pass the time. My how things have changed.

Now, we’re surrounded by choice. Smartphones and digital downloads allowed audiobooks to rise in the mass market. According to a Wall Street Journal article, the industry retail sales went from 480 million dollars in 1997 to a robust 1.2 billion dollars in 2013. The convenience of the format increased its popularity. The quality improved as well. Not only do seasoned authors read their works in a professional production but many voice actors make solid careers as audiobook narrators–Jim Dale and Scott Brick and Katherine Kellgren, I’m looking at you.

I have my favorites when it comes to narrators.  Also, I noticed I’m starting to develop an appreciation for titles with bonus content. Have you encountered one yet? It’s like watching a DVD and accessing the special features menu to watch a directors cut of the film or additional behind the scenes interviews with the cast and crew.

A couple of titles I finished recently which included more material than the print version were Eddie Huang’s Fresh Off the Boat and Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance. I’m partial to the comic memoir. I seek out the audiobook version for comedians who write books. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler and Mindy Kaling and Jim Gaffigan are all consumed, by choice, by sound rather than light. The performer’s ability to make a sentence interesting is so much more humorous when I can hear it.

The books mentioned earlier fit in bonus material in a few ways. First, both of the authors acknowledge you’re listening to an audiobook and they didn’t simply read the manuscript. They broke down the fourth wall, adding side jokes for listeners. Secondly, Modern Romance included charts and graphs in the print format. Aziz acknowledged it would be difficult to convey all the information the pictures would’ve shown, so he describes them to give the basic information to you. He also jokingly gives you a hard time for being a “lazy reader” by listening to the audiobook which amused me. With both books, the extra effort to differentiate the audio version from the print version improved the literary experience.

Have you listened to an audiobook in the last year? When and where do you listen to audiobooks? What kind of narration keeps your attention? Would you buy an audiobook rather than a print copy if you knew the writer included additional original content? Tell me about it.


7 Comments Add yours

  1. blindbeader says:

    I read audiobooks almost exclusively. I like the portability of the content, and how libraries are getting on board and purchasing much more digital content.
    I read “Code Talker” earlier this year, and loved the bonus interview at the end. The book itself was terrific, but that extra interview at the end was just the icing on the cake.
    The only downside to much of the bonus content of audiobooks is that it is generally an interview that simply rehashes what has already been stated in the pages we’ve just read/listened to, so what’s the point?

    I love narrators who become the characters they are reading. My personal favorites include Humphry Bower, Kathe Mazur, and Joe Barrett. I’m sure there are others, but those come to mind. There’s also a fine line between narrating and performing, and some narrators who perform almost overshadow the text they are meant to narrate.

    1. Thanks for sharing those recommendations, I will be looking into those.

      Oh yes, there is the specter of the dreaded over-performance! It can ruin a book.

  2. Casee says:

    I listen to about six audiobooks a year. The rest of my books I read on my Kindle because I love being able to adjust the font size. I love urban fantasy like the Dresden Files and science fiction. I go through a couple of the Great Courses available on Audible. I love learning and the Great Courses let me learn the things I ignored in college. 🙂

    1. Which Great Courses have you enjoyed Casee?

      1. Casee says:

        The last two Great Course I read were the following:
        Your Deceptive Mind: A Scientific Guide to Critical Thinking Skills
        The Story of Human Language
        This one was not a part of the series but I really learned a lot with it:
        The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution

  3. Wow!! The numbers you quote here are astounding!! Even with self publishing, industry is changing so rapidly one of the things I’ve noticed is many self publishers haven’t even considered audio versions of their books – I’m sure this will evolve as well.

    It amazes me how quickly the transformation occurred with regard to print vs audio. Even with newspapers, magazines, etc. I was addicted to print and was one seriously irritated individual when I had to resort to “listening” to books. While I can definitely appreciate, and would have loved them had I no other choice, I was not a fan of the books on tape. It could have been the titles I selected but the narrations sounded mechanical. When I joined Audible.com years ago, it was then that I began to appreciate this form of reading. As you say, some of the narrations are actual performances and I found myself once again being able to partake of the story. When I used to read the print versions of a good book I felt like I was there and I’m glad to once again experience this pleasure. Up until last year I was listening to an average of 30 books or so a year but unfortunately I just don’t have as much time as I’d like to read as often.

    1. Very interesting–I agree that the early books on tape left much to be desired.

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