Storytelling, it seems, has come full circle.
Stephen Lotinga, the Chief Executive of the Publishers Association, said:
“The fact that one in ten people are now listening to audiobooks is testament to the incredible flexibility of the format...it is also a great way of making books more accessible. As well as providing a wonderful opportunity for people with print-disabilities to enjoy published products, audiobooks are a great way of removing barriers to reading for those who might otherwise struggle.”
Another draw is books when driving. Most of us drive on autopilot relying on our subconscious brain and our eyes to take us safely where we need to be, freeing up our listening brain. Ideal for listening to a story. On most of my journeys I like to listen to music but on the long ones I need something else. I'll admit that I wasn't keen on the idea (but what if I don't like the accent of the voice? I may get distracted). But last year I had a lot of long-distance driving and I finally succumbed. The narrator's American, high-pitched drawl ended up being just right for this particular Stephen King book and it certainly took some of the tediousness out of the travelling.
It's not just driving, either. Although that is the top activity, any task can be made more palatable if you just pop in your earphones while you mow the lawn, do the dishes, go for a jog, attend a boring meeting...
And because audiobooks are becoming such big business, producers are upping their game. Narrators such as Colin Firth, Stephen Fry, Nicole Kidman, Jim Dale and Dustin Hoffman ensure that the listening experience is top-notch. We can become hypnotised by the reader and totally lose ourselves in the story. Just like being a child again.
My only fear is that books may become plays. Some audiobooks have music and a couple of different voices to tell the tale. John Cleese's audiobook has a sketch from Monty Python as well as a bit of ad-libbing - great in itself but not really what I expect from a novel. Or perhaps it is a sign of a real storyteller because don't we all listen to different voices in our head?
Will audiobooks replace reading? No. Audiobooks are no threat to writers, publishers or anyone else. They will provide a distinct service and can work with the traditional print book. There may come a time when we buy the full package - print, ebook and audiobook in one transaction so the story will always be accessible no matter what our mood. It's all good.