In what can be best described as a perfect storm of changes to the book industry, there has never been a better time to be someone who travels the road and loves to get lost in an audiobook.
In fact, from an increasing number of available titles and more places to find them to technological advances that have become the norm, audiobooks are big business and you – the RV road traveler – can count yourself among those who stand to benefit the most from what has transformed from publishers’ side projects to big business.
Jennifer and I have been hooked on audiobooks since our very first RV trip, some 80,000 miles and three years ago. We love them. We've been known to reach our destination, like our son's house in Georgia, only to drive a few blocks away to finish a particularly exciting part of an audiobook.
We're obviously not alone.
Consider this: a survey by the Audio Publishers Association last year found that the publication rate of audiobooks doubled from 2012 to 2013 (most recent figures available), making the industry worth an estimated $1.3 billion.
The big reason, of course, is that the technology around the business has changed rapidly. Thanks to devices like the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 32GB, audiobook fans no longer are required to haul a suitcase’s worth of cassettes around to listen to their favorite book. Even the thick CD jewels cases holding a dozen or more CDs are becoming a thing of the past (ever discover CD no. seven of 12 is scratched and unplayable after listening to the first six? Not, not, NOT cool.). Of course, these formats are still available in many libraries and via eBay, but the most popular format is digital, with 70 percent of audiobooks being bought and sold via this format.
So popular is the format, that some books going straight to audiobook, bringing back what many describe as “that old-time radio feel,” complete with sound effects and slick production.
Of course, naysayers or those slow to come around to the format (like I was), argue that listening to an audiobook is “not the same” as holding a book in your hands, seeing the words, and sticking a bookmark in to see how much more reading you have to do before the end of the book. And what are you supposed to put on your bookshelves?
Forget all of that because science exists to prove you dead wrong: a recent Northwestern University study found that those who listened to audiobooks post-surgery significantly reduces pain.
The reason? When you are listening to an audiobook you are stimulating your brain in many of the same ways you do when “reading.” You are exercising your brain. Listening to a story activates the experiential and language parts of our brains way better than rural radio stations via scratchy radio signals (unless, of course, while RVing you happen to be in the market for eight bales of hay, fresh dill, and/or a large dog house).
In short: holding an actual book may be a more romantic view of media consumption, but it’s an old-fashioned one at that. I read a lot of ebooks, too, and, yes, I still enjoy the tactile experience of holding a real book. But I can take hundreds of ebooks and audiobooks and not have any storage issues in our RV.
So what do you need to know?
As mentioned, digital audiobooks have become the dominant format when it comes to audiobooks – a change that has happened relatively quick since cassettes ruled the audiobook roost as recent as 2002. Compact discs lead the market for a minute and then, digital.
“Digital audiobook” can sound a little intimidating. Don’t worry. It isn’t. All it means is that the audio recordings on those piles and piles of cassettes and CDs have been put into small audio clips you put on your smartphone, tablet, or computer. It’s the exact same thing that has been happening with music. In fact, digital audiobooks and music typically share the same .mp3 format.
To make audiobook .mp3 manageable, they are broken up into parts. For example, I just downloaded “Sycamore Row” by John Grisham (we've listened to almost all of his audiobooks). At 604 pages, it’s a sizable book. In digital format, it’s in three parts and only takes up a total of about 62MB of space. I got mine right from Audible books and put it on my iPhone, which plays right through the entertainment system of our Roadtrek CS Adventurous XL.
Audiobooks are available from many sources.
- Libraries: Many libraries allow you to “check out” books for a period and automatically “return” them after a certain period. The app OverDrive is one of the best and most widely used, available for use at more than 22,000 libraries. It’s available for any device that uses apps and allows you to search your library for audiobooks AND ebooks. But don’t forget, you ARE using a library and traditional library rules can keep you from getting what you want, when you want it (i.e. now). There can be limits on how long you get to keep a book and libraries don’t have an unlimited number of “copies” available. I just looked for the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson from my local library and there were 38 people ahead of me with the book on hold. If everyone kept it for the two-week period, I would only have to wait about 19 months.
- LibriVox: Get free digital audiobooks that are old enough to be in the public domain. Be aware, however, that ANYONE can record and submit their recordings of the audiobooks. If you are going to spend hours and hours finally listening to Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace,” there is a slight chance the production value will not be professional. Slight.
- Audiobook Apps: Barnes and Noble, for example, released one late last year for Nook. Amazon has one specific to Kindle. Google Play and Apple’s iTunes allow for purchase and play of audiobooks (expect to pay full-retail, though).
- Audible.com: Audible is far and away the best. They have a vast library You subscribe based on how much you think you will use it. If you’re thinking one book a month, there’s an option for that – and it’s less than the full-retail cost of a book. And hey, you can get a free book and try it out if you go to http://www.audibletrial.com/roadtreking – just in time for your first big trip of the year.
Do you get your audiobooks from another source or service? We would love to hear about it in the comments below!
– Thanks to Andrew Dietderich, who helps me as a producer and content developer, for all the research and help in getting this post produced.