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The “Boom” in Audio Books

Books now on Audio
Books now on AudioPhoto by Tim Boyle/Getty Images

To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee’s Pulitzer prize-winning book, is now the latest masterpiece to be reinvented as an audio book. Why is that news? Well, it is one of many that are changing the landscape of available literature to a worldwide mass audience.
Fourty years ago only a limited number of books were available on LP albums, mostly marketed to the blind. At the time most titles were either best sellers or classics that would be acceptable in a public library collection as they were the main consumers of the records. In the 80’s, with the advent of cassette tapes, the market opened up to travelers who wanted something other than music to listen to on long trips. Unfortunately the largest consumers tended to lean towards the “dime store novel” product and they soon dominated the market, sold mostly in truck stops rather than book stores. In the 90’s CD’s upped the standard in both quality and stature. Public libraries and books stores started carrying a larger selection of audio books from all genres. Yet the real boom came with the smart phone and the internet.
Over the past decade audio books have become more popular than ever, as they have been easy to find, cheaper to buy and simple to own. With some books, like To Kill A Mockingbird, the cost is still much higher than the paper or e-book, but because one can download a computer file rather than purchase a collection of CD’s the production and distribution cost is as minimal as can be. It has even become a viable option of self published authors who can read their work into a home computer, up load the file to a publisher’s web site and sell it for a much larger royalty than their paper book.
There are those who have concerns that we lose something when we have a book read to us, rather than take the time and effort to read the page. It is a valid point. The process of reading requires more focus and in turn more imagination from the reader. Yet there can be a benefit to listening to the written word. Story telling can lose much of its effect when dramatized into a movie or play. There is nothing wrong with a visual media, but the written word is an art of its own. When it is read aloud, it has the effect of the story teller, who uses words to excite the imagination.
Book sales don’t seem to be negatively effected by the sudden popularity of audio books. That would indicate that the popularity of written stories is on a climb as a whole. The book distributers and other high tech companies have recognized this trend as many are creating apps and services to offer audio books to a market that had usually only targeted those looking for music and movie downloads. The times are changing to a more conservative setting; an exciting future for the wordsmiths of the future.