/ Travel & Leisure

Do you prefer to listen to a good book?


We’re buying fewer books as a nation, yet according to new stats audiobook sales have doubled in the past five years. So what’s driving this – and do you prefer to read or listen to a good story?

I’m currently making my way through a chunky 700-page paperback (it’s Heartstone by C.J. Sansom, in case you’re interested, and I highly recommend it too).

Although I cart around my hefty paperback on train journeys to and from work, I also keep a bank of backups to listen to on my phone in case I forget it, have no space for it in my bag or simply fancy a change.


Despite owning a tablet, I’m one of those people who never fully adopted the ebook. I have, however, developed a habit of listening to a good audiobook.

There’s something quite nice about being read to, especially by a great voice. I couldn’t, for instance, pass up the opportunity to listen to Bruce Springsteen reading his Born to Run autobiography last year, or Steve Coogan as Alan Partridge reciting I, Partridge: we need to talk about Alan.

According to survey data released by Nielsen UK Books and Consumers, audiobook purchases now account for 5% of book spending overall, with sales up 12% on last year.

Booming audiobook sales have, in part, been attributed to changing habits in the way we want to consume books – suggesting we’ve become more accustomed to other long-form digital audio formats like podcasts.

Book preferences

With only commuting hours reserved for reading my books, it can take a while to get through one unless I’m on holiday.

I prefer to read a book, providing I have the time to do so, but audiobooks allow me to consume more books because I can listen to them while doing other tasks. But there are also, of course, a great many people whose abilities mean that they rely on audiobooks for a good ‘read’ – for those people, the continued growth and increasing availability of audiobooks can only be a good thing.

So what about you? Do you prefer books, or like me do you struggle to find the time to read them? Do you listen to audiobooks or podcasts? If so, would you listen to a Which? podcast – tell us in the poll below.

Would you tune in to a Which? podcast?

Maybe (38%, 345 Votes)

No (34%, 303 Votes)

Yes (28%, 251 Votes)

Total Voters: 899

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I have six bulging book cases and love to pick and choose from them when time permits. It obviously takes longer to read a book than to listen to one, and both have their place, since one is entirely sedentary while the other can accompany other activity, and a good reader makes for a good experience. From early childhood we enjoy being read to. Part of that enjoyment is having the person reading, present, and interactive. Though the physical person is missing from the C.D. experience, we, as adults, can compensate and enjoy the read. I often wonder if the reader gets embarrassed if there are sexual activities to recount. I don’t keep up to date with the latest reviews, nor do I find time to browse the diminishing amount of bookshops that are still open. I love a visit to Hay on Wye and other book emporia but until recently my time has not been my own. I know from experience that publishing is for the chosen few and I also know I have been missing out on some really good modern writing. Like you, I’m not an E.book fan and like the feel and shape of a book, plus the ability to flip back and forth at will. It is then part of my collection to glance at in the book case and recall the time spent with it. Perhaps recorded books make it easier to stick with something that is difficult to read and drama is often well done on disc especially the old, dated and melodramatic detective ones that were so much fun on the radio, long, long ago. Life is too short and complicated!

I have very much enjoyed the Radio 4 broadcasts where abridged books are read by the author or an actor. However the message has to be entertaining or serioudly interesting. The NPR in the US also produces good stuff. My wife downloads omnibus Archers editions for whiling away the time on long drives and on ferries.

I can read for pleasure nearly twice as fast as an actor speaks that is a drawback in time spent I am unwilling to pay normally. I can read at 300wpm for hours at a time which means most fiction can be finished within a day as that is roughly a page per minute. Fact based books require more thought and are slower reads but obviously do not lend themselves easily as podcasts particularly if diagrams, maps are involved.

What podcasts/audio books can do well is provide atmosphere and surprises that might be telegraphed to a reader.

Would I pay for an audiobook? No. Not whilst I have my own library and and the ability to buy books second-hand very cheaply, or even borrow. : )

For interesting information on reading and speaking speeds

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I had a friend who could only fall asleep if she was listening to Harry Potter. This was particularly annoying for her sister, who she shared a room with…

I personally don’t like to listen to audiobooks because I get distracted too easily. I find myself tidying or scrolling through social media to pass the time and before you know it, a whole chapter’s gone by and I’ve got no idea what’s happened!

I have read some fiction but I find fact more interesting and the books I value most are those on hobby interests and a few that belonged to my parents and grandparents, sadly a bit dogeared now.

I have few audiobooks and those are on compact cassette, but like Patrick T’s wife I have recorded programmes from the radio to listen to on long journeys in the car.

I used to enjoy the weekly Which? Technology podcast and have a couple of CDs with multiple MP3 files that I downloaded years ago. I’ve just been listening to podcast from 12 March 2014 when our Patrick Steen hosted a podcast focussing on the ‘sad news’ that Microsoft was cutting off support for Windows XP. In another, he reports being unimpressed by a new smart watch he had been testing. The Which? Technology podcasts ended in 2014. Yes I would listen to new Which? podcasts.

Although the Which? Technology podcasts have gone, the Which? Money podcasts from 2014 are still available. I wonder why both podcasts were discontinued.

@patrick is going to be happy you mentioned the podcasts (he’s very proud of them)! I’m not sure why the podcasts were stopped, it was a bit before my time.

Did you find them useful?

I enjoyed listening to them, Alex. Some featured staff who wrote and contributed to Convos, which added interest. I’m sure that Patrick will have kept the files but if not I can send a couple. One reason I’ve kept the podcasts is to look back on whether predictions about the success of new tech have proved to be successful.

Hello, I do miss doing the podcasts. I wasn’t terribly natural at the presenting, but loved jumping in to debate different issues. I remember being on the same podcast as Stephen Fry – that was fun.

The podcasts were discontinued for a number of reasons, mainly because of the resource required to produce them. However, your thoughts are helping us design what we might bring back!

Podcasts….you’ve given me an idea.

If books were in one of the Convos on “waste” we might suggest that. like magazines, newspapers, AGM minutes, they should all be provided electronically to save our life-giving trees. But…….I much prefer reading from a physical document than from a screen and have never tried a talking book; I’d choose music if I were looking for entertainment.

Lauren – not sure how you can listen to a book while working. I know about multi-tasking but……….

Most of my reading is, like wavechange, factual and that can involves photos, diagrams, and going back over text to review something I’m not clear about. Whether it’s engineering, gardening, woodwork…. they simply do not lend themselves to Audio. A favourite author is John le Carré; not books I can normally read at one sitting and then I often have to look back to remind myself of some of the characters. Maybe an age thing 🙁

I think much enjoyment from reading a novel is in the pictures you build up of the characters and settings; I don’t know whether that would happen with audio to the same degree. A mild shock comes when, having read a novel, you then see the film or tv version and the pictures are quite different from your own perception.

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I have no problem with reading electronic documents provided that they are in the form of simple pdfs. I often electronically highlight key sentences and paragraphs for future reference and save the modified pdf. I don’t like Issu and similar systems used by magazines, even though I have uploaded many files on behalf of charities.

Like Malcolm, images and other graphics are vital for me, and I’m not keen on novels or other books containing plain text. Photos or drawings of the main characters and other key features would be very helpful to me, probably because I don’t have a well developed sense of imagination.

I wonder why on earth the “thumbs down” fairy visited this comment? Perhaps they would explain.

Some kind person seems to have mended matters. It’s likely that someone took exception to me being happy with pdfs. Or maybe I should not have said something negative about Issu etc. Or perhaps it was opposition to me suggesting that novels could have pictures. We will never know. Or, since my comment about the demise of Which? podcasts has been marked down, it might be me that is the problem. Or all of the above.

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I mended matters – reason being I am on a touch-screen laptop on a train with pretty evil lateral dynamics, and I may well have been the “fairy” attempting to scroll the screen!

🙂 I offer my services for thumb repairs on request, until Patrick is able to carry out his system upgrade. I did attend a course with St John Ambulance recently. Any good books on how to keep an online discussion on topic?

For fiction, talking books are fine – no great difference from listening to, say, Dick Barton on the wireless (is that still running)? {just kidding}

However, for anything intricate, it has to be EITHER a real book that one can slip post-it notes into OR a multi-monitor set-up with the same “book” open in two or sometimes even three instances, allowing cross-referencing. Audio books would simly not sink in.

A book can tell another story than just the one contained within it. I recently bought a book in a charity shop with a post-it note in it with “return to Mr Turner, Appartment B” written on it. Well, Mr Turner’s still waiting for his book, and judging by the use of the word “apartment”, the book’s travelled quite a bit.

Are sales from charity shops included in the statistics?

Perhaps *the* book I would save from a fire, if I could only save one, is one my grandmother gave me when I was a kid, Les Enfants de Pompéi by Marcelle Lerme-Walter, a beautifully illustrated hard-back. Having that book means to me that my grandmother is still there somewhere. I don’t think I would feel the same about an audio-book.

That doesn’t mean to say that I don’t think that on principle audio-books and podcasts are fab, because I do, and they are.

I don’t personally listen to many books. I perhaps should, but like the commentator above, I tend to get distracted too easily. I blitz through podcasts on the way to work though. I might be interested if there was something which let me read a book on my kindle, then immediately switch to an audibook at that point when I get off the train etc…that would be interesting.

Wish I could enjoy audio books, podcasts or even the radio but being deaf has some serious disadvantages. My hearing deteriorated not long after “Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” having previously enjoyed Radio 4’s EarthSearch series and Asimov’s Foundation trilogy – both done with “surround sound”.
Hearing aids give me volume but no clarity.
At least on TV (with heavily amplified headphones) I get subtitles which make a huge difference – no subtitles with podcasts or radio 🙁
I read a bit on a Kindle from time to time.

Whilst I’m with you on multitasking, it’s podcasts that I listen to whilst doing stuff rather than books – DIY is definitely something that is improved with something on in the background. I’ve been tempted by audio books but then I like sharing what I’ve read with friends.

E-books can be great sometimes, and you can pick up some bargains in the 99p sale, but for the most part, I do enjoy the experience of reading a physical book. A couple of years ago I realised that I’d barely read any books in the previous year/18 months. So I set myself the challenge of reading at least 12 in a year, one a month. I ended up getting through 21, so my target for this year is minimum 22. I find the Goodreads App great for this and giving me ideas of what else I might want to pick up. You can use it for audiobooks too – doesn’t matter how you consumed it.

And for those looking for a bookbased podcast, I’d definitely recommend Bookshambles with Robin Ince and Josie Long. Each one is them having a conversation with their guest about their favourite books and then other themes and things come out.

Debbie G says:
12 April 2018

I devour books in any format! When driving or doing cooking/cleaning/gardening/decorating/walking, etc, an audiobook or podcast is perfect. BBC iplayer radio is also very good. Reading in bed needs a real book, though. For holidays, a device full of ebooks saves case space and weight. An excellent actor can really bring an audiobook alive – I struggled reading the book of Wolf Hall, but when I tried the audiobook, it was brilliant. Beware those read by the author, though – never a good idea. And the range of podcasts available is stunning – loads of fascinating/funny/thought-provoking material out there. I would be completely lost without all my audio content.

Of course! Driving while listening to an audiobook is a great idea. I mentioned above that I get distracted by tasks when listening to audiobooks, so maybe listening while driving could be just the trick for me. Do you think you remember the plot as well if you listen rather than read?

Hmmm…. Unlike music which the brain can interrupt at will when immediate road concentration is required and pick back up on the fly just as easily, I am not so sure about audio books. I’ve not risked it but I reckon – for me anyway – it would be as bad as a phone call for distraction.

I wonder if the Highway Code is published as an audio book? Might be handy while driving…… 🙂

I try to avoid phone calls at all cost, when driving. Even though they’re handsfree they can still distract you a lot! I don’t think an audiobook would necessarily distract me from driving but I do think driving would distract me from the audiobook.

@malcolm-r Ha! I hope that wasn’t a dig at my driving 😉 Although, if an audiobook could help with parking I would be downloading it immediately.

@awhittle, No dig Alex 🙂 It was just reminding me of comments made elsewhere about the lack of knowledge of the Highway Code. Perhaps a copy should be sent out each year with our VED renewal, either as a download for those who renew online or paper version for others.

They occasionally put flyers in emphasising particular rules

I still remember way back when I had my first company car, and the people in charge – against my very strong pleas – insisted on installing a hands-free phone kit.

A few weeks later I remember to this day the email I sent off to the person who insisted strongest…

Dear XXX

You will recall a few weeks ago, against my wishes, you insisted upon installing a hands-free telephone kit in my company car.

I have to admit that you were right and I was wrong. This morning on route to work I fielded a call from one of my charges phoning in sick and I was able to field it without putting down the Philishave”

Best regards

I think she thought I was joking….

Debbie G says:
12 April 2018

I’ll be honest, I do sometimes have to wind back a bit later (obviously when I’m properly stopped) and relisten when I realise I was concentrating on a particularly tricky junction. Or I just stop the book for a few minutes. But driving the same route to work every day is usually fine. I never do phone calls in the car at all – I would find them far too distracting.

There was a story going round of someone listening to a Sherlock Holmes mystery audio book in his car on the way to work and couldn’t work out why it made less sense than usual. Turned out he’d set the CD player to random track play 🙂
(Audio books split the book in up to 99 shorter sections – one per “music track”).

I used to record radio programmes and listen to them in the car, but have not done this for a few years. I suppose that having programmes available on iPlayer is the main reason, since I can listen at home.

My wife and I have been listening to audio books downloaded from our local library website for the past three years, plus another ten libraries all for free. If you want to try them join your local library and use the online facilities, they are excellent, then search other libraries and join them to get a greater choice. You can also access a good range of popular magazines online from your libraries.

There seems to be a large number here on a vast range.

has some podcasts aimed at university level brains

Adding my best wishes to these accolades Lauren.

God speed on your journey to pastures new in your journey through life.

Bonne chance in your new career Lauren! Partings are always tinged with an element of sweet sorrow but I have no doubt that someone else is about to gain from Which?’s loss.

I echo Beryl’s sentiment. I am sure that your decision to leave is founded on good logical reasons and I wish with the rest for you [and yours] to have happiness now and into the future.