Over the course of the year, we asked some of our favorite authors which they prefer: ebooks or audiobooks. Spoiler alert: More than half of the authors prefer audiobooks. This reflects a growing trend, as audiobook popularity is on the rise. Here, we’ve put together a roundup of the authors’ picks and what drives their preferences.
Preference for audiobooks (58%)
Like these authors, Scribd users are very much on trend: As we reported in July, the average user spent 42 hours listening to audiobooks in 2021, a 32% increase over 2020.
Authors pointed to the ability to multitask as a big value-add of audiobooks. Listening lets you get stuff done while also enjoying a good book. For example, Joseph Cassara (The House of the Impossible Beauties) says, “I prefer audiobooks because I can listen to them while I’m driving or working out.”
Cassara also brings up a subject that inevitably sparks heated debate among audiobook aficionados. People feel strongly about what speed makes for optimal listening and will passionately go to bat for what they think is best. Opinions vary widely, from savoring every word at 1x to crushing your reading goal by whipping through books at 2x or going full chipmunk mode at even higher speeds. Next time you’re looking to get a lively conversation going with your book club, ask the group what speed’s the best for listening.
Two authors called out how much they appreciate a good narrator. Kate White (The Second Husband) says “I’m thrilled that so many of my readers like listening to my books, and I really appreciate it when they write to compliment the actress who did the narration.” We have plenty of suggestions for audiobooks narrated by talented voice actors. Check out our list of the most popular audiobook narrators and celebrity-narrated audiobooks worth a listen. Diana Clarke (The Hop) especially likes it when an author narrates their own audiobook. “I love hearing a story the way the writer intended for it to be heard.” For insight into how an author goes about recording their audiobook, read our post from Celeste Headlee on her audiobook recording ritual.
Authors pointed out that another advantage to listening is that the audiobook format is accessible for readers with certain disabilities and various learning styles. Jessamine Chan (The School for Good Mothers) says she prefers audiobooks because “I have terrible vision,” and Dean Atta (Black Flamingo) shares, “I prefer audiobooks because I’m dyslexic and it takes me a long time to read a book. I prefer having a story read to me.”
Preference for ebooks (17%)
The ability to highlight made ebooks the clear winner for authors who like to revisit phrases and passages that resonate with them as they read. Deborah Liu (Take Back Your Power) loves how those features also foster social connection with other readers. “The written word is a powerful thing, and seeing what others have noted can give you a glimpse into what they think. That’s why I love features like ‘most highlighted’ — you can’t do that with an audiobook.”
It depends (25%)
A quarter of the authors can’t choose a favorite because they love both ebooks and audiobooks. Whether they pick up their tablet or put on a pair of headphones depends on the circumstances. There’s a time and a place for both, as Sonali Dev (The Emma Project) memorably illustrates:
“Audiobooks kept books in my life when my life was too frantic to set aside time to read and I had a long commute for work. Ebooks saved my marriage because my husband wasn’t constantly asking me to turn off the light when I read late into the night. So, really, how could I ever choose?”
N.E. Davenport’s (The Blood Trials) can’t choose either, so instead she’s living the dream a lot of us have. “I’ve gotten into the habit of buying a book in ebook, audiobook, and hardcopy formats,” says Davenport. Why pick one when you can have them all?
Summing up the ebook versus audiobook dilemma perfectly, Justina Ireland says her choice depends on the material. “Honestly,” she says, “people should learn to keep more of an open mind, because both can be equally great or frustrating. Either way, it's all reading.”
We couldn’t agree more. It doesn’t matter whether you choose ebooks or audiobooks — the right choice is reading.
Hear from the authors in their own words about whether they prefer ebooks or audiobooks:
I prefer audiobooks because I’m dyslexic and it takes me a long time to read a book. I prefer having a story read to me. I find it so comforting, and it’s easier for me to enjoy the story when I’m not misreading words or losing my place in a book. The main exceptions to this preference are poetry and novels in verse, when it’s particularly important to see how the words are laid out. As a poet myself, I take so much care to consider every line break and every stanza. So I’d love people to get to see and appreciate that work. That said, I do believe poetry is ultimately meant to be read out loud, and to that end I do pay a lot of attention to my characters’ voices, vocabularies and dialects. Therefore, I think my books can be enjoyed and appreciated as audiobooks and ebooks for different reasons.
I prefer audiobooks because I can listen to them while I’m driving or working out. I usually set the playback speed to 2x, which horrifies some of my friends, but most audiobook narrators read too slowly for my taste. I know they need to enunciate, but when a story gets good and some dramatic stuff happens, I’m like, “Hurry up! Tell me what’s about to go down!” David Sedaris is the one exception. I listen to him at regular speed because his sense of comic timing is impeccable.
Honestly, both. I’ve gotten into the habit of buying a book in ebook, audiobook, and hardcopy formats. I find it’s easier to immerse myself in a story and carve out the time to get through it in between work and family life. If I had my way, whenever I find a good book, I’d stalk into a cave, devour it, and not emerge to the land of the living until it’s read. I never have the time to actually do that a whole lot but owning a book in all three formats helps me achieve something delightfully similar.
Audiobooks kept books in my life when my life was too frantic to set aside time to read and I had a long commute for work. Ebooks saved my marriage because my husband wasn’t constantly asking me to turn off the light when I read late into the night. So, really, how could I ever choose?
Either? Neither? Both? It really depends on the material. I generally dislike when I end up speaking in absolutes because there’s always an exception to the rule. For example, I had trouble getting into Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer as a book but I loved listening to it. And there have been audiobooks, like The Deep by Alma Katsu, where I have put them to the side because I knew I wanted to have more time to mull over the prose. Honestly, people should learn to keep more of an open mind, because both can be equally great or frustrating. Either way, it's all reading.
Ebook, by far. I love rereading sections and highlighting and bookmarking interesting things to share. I was always the person who dog-eared my paperback books so I could revisit the passages I loved. The written word is a powerful thing, and seeing what others have noted can give you a glimpse into what they think. That’s why I love features like “most highlighted” — you can’t do that with an audiobook.
Ebooks. Because I live in New York City a good part of the year, I rarely drive (“Taxi!”), so I don’t have blocks of time in my schedule suited for listening to audiobooks (when I exercise, I like to do online courses). But I’m thrilled that so many of my readers like listening to my books, and I really appreciate it when they write to compliment the actress who did the narration.
As for ebooks, I couldn’t live without them. Don’t get me wrong, I still sometimes love having a print book in my hands, but mostly I read on my iPad. My husband and I live in Uruguay in the winter and my tablet has saved me from having to lug a ton of books to South America each year!
About the Author: Katie Winters
Katie is the Senior Editorial Associate at Scribd who digs bikes, beers, baseball, and — surprise, surprise — books! She loves putting her librarian training to work connecting readers with fantastic books.
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About the Author: Sarah Sung
Sarah is the Editorial Director at Scribd who obsesses over content strategy and brand building, and has written lifestyle content for AFAR, San Francisco Chronicle, and Under Armour. In her spare time she teaches indoor cycling and consumes podcasts, audiobooks, and ebooks at all times of the day and night. Traveling and dining out are always high on her to-do list