Monday, December 19, 2005

Don't Listen

It was my friend Pam Varley who got me hooked on audiobooks, and you can read why she thinks they are so terrific here. These days I get most of my audiobooks from Audible.com, and I can spend hours poring over their website, adding and subtracting books from my "wish list," and selecting my allotted two audiobooks each month. (The last round brought me Sense and Sensibility, which I'm finding hard-going, and Michael Connelly's The Narrows, which is a little more procedural than I like my detective novels, but I'm not ready to give up yet. If I can get through Memoirs of a Geisha, I can listen to anything.) But while I number myself among Audible's biggest fans, I have to say that their latest ad campaign, "Don't Read," has me seriously steamed. The campaign's posters mimic the American Library Association's venerable "Read" series, making a joke that it depresses me to realize probably most people won't get. And I think that the people who will understand the reference are also those most likely to be offended by the joke.

Some will be offended by the campaign's smart-alecky digs at reading (from the site's mock FAQ: "Should I burn my books? No, a stack of burning books pollutes the air, and worse - it kinda thumbs its nose at the First Amendment") but I think you have to take yourself awfully seriously to get ticked off at what is a harmless if sophomoric joke. What bothers me more is the campaign's nose-thumbing at audiobooks. By playing up how much easier and hipper listening is than reading, emphasizing the difference between the two experiences, Audible is inadvertently buying into a line that we audiobook fans hear often and hate heartily: listening to an audiobook is not really reading. As Pam rather more elegantly and eloquently argues in her article, them's fightin' words.

5 comments:

Betty Carter said...

Early research into the populations of audiophiles overwhelmingly indicated that such listeners were readers, albeit readers who cherished reading and chose audiobooks to feed that habit when they were driving, exercising, or somehow unable to move their eyes across a physical book. Even today a large number of audiobook fans tend to use the word "read" rather than "listen" when describing their experiences. Such an ad campaign would appear not only to irritate you, Roger, but also insult a ton of the existing market.

Kelly said...

I agree. Like you, Roger, I have my two book allowance at Audible and so far have used it to listen while walking to work and cleaning! I can't read while doing either of those necessary activities.

Also, so far I've chosen books that have been on my "to read" list forever but I couldn't get to them for one reason or another "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell" (great audio, by the way) and "The Kiterunner" as recent examples. We also use audible for kids' books for the car.

And, listening is just like reading. If you space out for a moment, you find you've missed a paragraph. The only difference is the addition of a voice, a voice that becomes part of the reading process. (Well, and it is a slower process. I read much more quickly.)

I LOVE audible. It has made audio books an affordable regular purchase for me. But this campaign stinks.

Roger Sutton said...

At Pam Varley's suggestion, I'm just trying Audible's New Yorker edition, unabridged articles, four or five from each issue. I just listened to the Ken Auletta piece on the NYT and Judy Miller while on the subway; very clear exposition of the case, I thought.

My preference in audiobook fiction is for a consistent narration (either first or third person) that keeps to one trajectory--multiple narrators or jumps around in time and space confuse me in a way they don't on the printed page. And NEVER abridged!

Kelly said...

Never abridged. Never. An abridged book is a crime. Even in audio format.

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