Do audiobooks count as reading? Is listening to books just a lazy form of reading? Is it cheating? Is it even the same as physically reading a print book?
Today, once and for all, we find out!
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Technically do audiobooks count as reading?
Let’s start with the technical stuff because I know that’s where your mind is right now.
If we want to be technical about it (which is a bit boring, I’m honest), listening to a book isn’t the same cognitive experience as reading with your eyes.
How your brain handles audiobooks
When reading a book with your eyes, you’re decoding the letters on the page and interpreting them as words and sentences. You’re also interpreting these in tone, pace, emphasis, and the characters’ voices and dialogue. While you’re reading, your brain does all this work.
However, when you’re listening to a book, the narrator does all of this. So even though you’re getting the story, someone else is deciding how it’s delivered.
Your brain still does a lot of work either way though. It still imagines the characters and their environments – nobody decides that for you. It still interprets most of the words within the book, regardless of whether you or someone else is reading it.
For example, if two characters are having a conversation – in an audiobook, the narrator gives you the tone of voice, pace, etc. But they don’t interpret the character’s expressions, or how they look for you – your brain still does that.
Differences in the reading experience
Then there are very small differences in the reading experience. With an audiobook, it’s much harder to skim or jump back and reread something, so you have to pay attention.
And when reading print, you might know how to spell certain names or places, but pronouncing them is up in the air.
It’s the opposite in an audiobook. You know how to pronounce things but not necessarily how to spell them.
An audiobook can be just as good an experience as a physical book, but it’s a different cognitive experience. Not necessarily better or worse, just different.
Do audiobooks count as reading from an experience point of view?
Okay, so now we’ve set the technical stuff aside, let’s talk about why audiobooks count as reading books, not in a technical sense, but as an experience – just in case you need more convincing.
Let’s get the reading snobbery out of the way because it doesn’t matter if you’re visually reading or listening. You’re still experiencing the same story.
The question is, do you, as a reader, place less value on a person’s audio experience of a book than the one you’ve read with your eyes?
The books are the same, same stories and ideas. It’s just the way you’re accessing them that’s different.
Nothing changes here, especially if it’s a good book. The story doesn’t use different words – it’s the same story. The only thing that changes is how you consume it.
Let me put it another way, does reading the Illiad on paper count as reading? Because I mean, honestly, it was originally sung to music.
So if audiobooks don’t count, then you best go through your Goodreads list and double-check which books didn’t start as written media and remove them.
Audiobooks and accessibility
Okay, with snobbery out of the way – let’s move on to something incredibly important, and that’s accessibility.
Because audiobooks have created a way for so many people to enjoy reading when they may not have before.
For those who are blind, visually impaired, or simply don’t have the ability to read with their eyes, audiobooks are a fantastic alternative that makes reading actually accessible. Aside from braille of course.
Audiobooks also open the pathway for people with ADHD, ADD, Dyslexia, and more to still enjoy reading.
Audiobooks allow readers to do things with their hands, such as drawing, crafting, DIY, and more, while allowing their minds to focus on the story. Audiobooks also improve retention and prolonged interest while multitasking where physical books might not.
For dyslexic readers, being able to listen to the formation of words rather than reading them with their eyes can be extremely helpful with story immersion.
So it’s not only that audiobooks allow more people to read, but to have a better experience doing it.
The difficulty of reading
Then let’s talk about how difficult reading can be.
Listening to the audio version of a book can provide additional clues about what’s happening in the book through tone of voice and pace.
While physically reading, some readers may struggle with this, so reading an audiobook is a great solution to help reading comprehension.
Some readers even physically read and listen to an audiobook at the same time to help with this.
Lack of time
Then there’s the lack of time many former readers experience. Whether this is with a time-consuming job, family commitments, or otherwise.
Listening to audiobooks allows them to still read and enjoy books while traveling, commuting, doing routine work, and so much more.
Do audiobooks count as reading? The final answer
So if we’re looking for a resounding answer to if audiobooks count as reading – the answer is both yes and no.
- No, because the cognitive experience of reading instead of listening to a book is different than reading a traditional book.
- But yes, because since most of the books you’re listening to were composed through written word, you’re still engaged with writing.
You still experience the same story, just in a minutely different way – and I mean small!
If I’m talking to you about a book, it doesn’t matter what medium I absorbed it through.
I couldn’t tell you if you asked me how to spell a character’s name. But I can tell you whether or not I enjoyed it or recommend it, and that’s what matters most.
So if you listen to audiobooks, please keep doing so, and if someone brings up a book and you’ve listened to it, rather than read it with your eyes, it’s perfectly acceptable to say: “Yeah, I just read that too!”