Listen Closely: Audio Books Will Beat eBooks

This past Friday, I suggested that Microsoft had “missed the boat” because it was planning to sell paperless books through its Microsoft Reader, rather than downloadable audio books like those being touted by Wayne, New Jersey-based Audible.

By contrast, companies such as Philips Electronics NV, Sanyo Electric Co., Toshiba Corp., and Panasonic decided to ship Audible software bundled with soon-to-be released players that can download music and audio content from the Internet.

However, by Friday afternoon, when Microsoft announced at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada that it would also integrate Audible playback capabilities into its Reader, it became apparent that the software giant had not missed the opportunity after all.

Offering Best of Both Worlds

In fact, if anything, it appears that Microsoft is offering its customers the best of both worlds.

The company said it plans to offer its users more than 20,000 hours of educational, news and other audio content from Audible’s Web site in addition to online paperless books that can be read on handheld devices.

Reading Versus Listening

Still, the issue of which format will eventually appeal to the masses is unresolved.

I believe that if online buyers develop the same appetite for downloadable audio books that many consumers currently have for books on tape, it could prove to be a monster business — one that will far exceed the growth of eBooks.

Readers Disagree

Nonetheless, I have heard from readers of the E-Commerce Times who vehemently feel that the popularity of audio books will exceed that of eBooks.

“It is probably true that Generation Xers enjoy listening to a novel or self-help book in down mode,” one reader wrote. “Such reflective reading may go much more audio; however, reading for information will remain a visual experience.”

Another reader made this case: “From a business perspective, selling eBooks to students holds a lot of potential. Instead of lugging a mass of textbooks, students could download their texts onto their eBooks. If they need to print a page, they sync up with a PC and printer. Think of the money and trees that would be saved by using eBooks. Students and professors will not want to listen to the whole text.”

Finally, some readers think both formats offer solutions that can co-exist.

Fewer Readers, More Listeners

I never made the case that eBooks would not be bought by students or people who still liked to read. I simply stated that I foresaw the audio book format growing at a much faster pace.

All one has to do is look up the latest circulation figures of local and national newspapers to see that fewer people are reading them. This shrinking readership has also wreaked havoc on the book publishing industry, where whole genres have either shriveled up or died all together.

Think about it. How many people do you know who still say they “read the book,” rather than “saw the movie?”

Therefore, I will stick to my guns and say once again that downloadable audio books — not eBooks — will capture the imagination and pocketbooks of the masses.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.


  • Eventually, what will happen is the same thing that is happening to small electronic devices — they are becoming all-in-one devices. Audible books will become "enhanced audio" books, which means that you can listen to them, or if you have an appropriate pda or computer, you will be able to read the text or read the text as it scrolls along with the audio reading, or view illustrations or video that is designed to go with the text.

  • I’m looking for Audio books online for purchase/free to introduce to my department at my school. These would be initially for staff, then for students.
    Any suggestions?

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