The debate over whether audiobooks are cheating has been percolating since before I started in the audiobook industry, 16 years ago.
Earlier arguments against the format were tied to the misconception that audiobooks are for people who don’t like to read, or that allowing kids to process stories through listening was somehow a disservice to them. But over the years studies have shown that 1) the more voracious listeners are also voracious readers, and that 2) 85% of what we learn is learned by listening and 27% of students are auditory learners—indicating just how important listening skills are in today’s media saturated world.
You may have noticed some recent articles addressing this debate. New York Magazine’s “As Far As Your Brain Is Concerned, Audiobooks Are Not ‘Cheating’” argues that “there really isn’t much difference between reading and listening to a book.” And, in The Washington Post’s “Is listening to a book ‘cheating?’” cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham says “comparing audio books to cheating is like meeting a friend at Disneyland and saying: ‘You took a bus here? I drove myself, you big cheater.’” If literacy and/or comprehension is the goal then the answer is clear: Audiobooks are not cheating. And these recent features share the science to back it up.
While presenting last fall at the NCTE convention with author Jon Scieszka and Dr. Rose Brock [read more about their initiative Guys Listen], a school librarian in the audience was eager to share her story of how she loves audio and her teachers support the use of audio in the classroom, but they were encountering challenges from some parents. If this is a familiar argument, we encourage you to read the articles below and become well-versed in the benefits of listening here.
As the growth explosion of the audiobook industry continues—for the second year in a row there’s been more than a 20% increase in both dollars and titles published—I imagine the “cheating” debate will rage on. And, I say bring it on! While kids today won’t have the same experience I did of listening to books on a toy record player and a Walkman, they are poised to have much better accessibility with the ease of downloadable audio and the ability to listen on multiple platforms.