Talking books in libraries

eAudiobooks are immensely popular with both commuters and the housebound

Whilst I am always keen to speak up for ebooks in libraries, I often overlook eaudiobooks.  I guess this is probably down to not being much of a user of audiobooks in the past, at least not since I was a child.  However, audiobooks have been immensely important for a section of society that are unable to do what many of us take for granted.  It is not a surprise to learn that this section of society also rely quite heavily on their local library service.  With audiobooks selling for anything between £10-30, being able to borrow them from the library is a lifeline for many.  And given this government’s willingness to turn their back on those that rely on this service, one wonders where they will turn.

Anyway, the emergence of MP3s has provided the opportunity to deliver audiobooks in a new way.  By providing audiobooks remotely via the library website, people are now able to download them directly onto their computer.  A fantastic advantage for the housebound who, other than the excellent housebound services offered in some authorities, are practically excluded from the library service otherwise.  No longer to they have to rely on volunteers to collect items for them from their local library, now they can just choose what they want and download it onto their PC (provided they have one of course, let’s not pretend that everyone has a computer and an internet connection).

But it is not just the most vulnerable and excluded in society that benefit from this service.  With large numbers of people commuting or working in offices, there is a large audience out there for eaudiobooks.  No longer reliant on the library building being open when they finish work, they can download eaudiobooks onto their smartphone, or mp3 player, and listen to them on their way to work or whilst at the office.  And given some commutes I would much rather listen to a book than try to read one.

But why should libraries bother with eaudiobooks anyway, surely they’re not that popular?  Aren’t they, like ebooks, some trendy fad that are ‘not for libraries’?  Actually, they are more popular than ever and the evidence is clear that they should be available in all libraries right now.  Don’t believe me?  How about this story published recently in The Independent:

They started as an aid for battle casualties and elderly people with failing eyesight. Now talking books are a publishing sensation, enjoyed by millions as an alternative to the printed word.

According to the most recent sales figures from the Publishers Association, downloads of audio books grew by 72 per cent between 2008 and 2009. Sales of talking books on CD, cassette and DVD also grew to an annual £22.4m, according to the sales monitoring company Nielsen BookScan.

AudioGO, which took over BBC Audiobooks last year, is one of the UK’s largest producers of recorded books, and passed a landmark millionth download last year. Its publishing director Jan Paterson said: “The market is growing all the time. The portability of MP3 players has made more people interested in listening to books. The perception of the audio book as something for older people has changed because people listen to them while doing other things.”

Talking audiobooks are more popular than ever thanks to the advent of MP3s. They are growing in popularity at a phenomenal rate, making the case for them in public libraries unquestionable.  Not only are they popular (72% in one year is not to be sniffed at), but eaudiobooks have the advantage of being cheaper for the library service than traditional CD and cassette audiobooks.  Quite often libraries have to replace scratched, broken or lost CDs and cassettes, something that is obviously not an issue for their eaudio equivalents.  And that is before we even consider the cost of the physical versions in the first place.

Not so long ago I said that ebooks should be in libraries right now. Well, the same applies for eaudiobooks.  So, what are you waiting for library authorities?  It’s not just about books you know……..

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