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My love/hate relationship with audiobooks

Allow me to be bipolar, as I attempt to wax poetic about my love/hate relationship with audiobooks. You will then find an idea for fixing my gripes after the break.

Audiobooks are great. I work (physically in the office) somewhere between 40 and 60 hours per normal week and more than likely an extra 10 to 20 hours from home during particularly busy weeks. This means that I am unable to read all that often and I am slowly accruing a list of unread books much the likes of the attendance list in hell. However, while I sit at my desk, coding, writing, researching, and between calls with customers, I am able to listen to the books on the aforementioned list. Most of the time, I also own the text version, which means I can still curl up with that when I have the time. But audiobooks take me away from the experience at times as well.

I hate audiobooks! I feel as though I can never truly get lost in plot lines, as I would while reading a text version since I consistently dislike the narrators. While attempting to get through the sometimes grueling Inheritance Trilogy by Christopher Paolini, I found that the man reading the book annoys the hell out of me. Not only is his rendition of Saphira the dragon not at all what I envision, but every time I hear his bull-frog like voice for her, I cringe and have half a mind to turn it off entirely. Besides this obviously subjective idea of mine, I have the more objective fact that audiobooks tend to cost about as much if not more than their text counterparts. Owning a book is still a reason for pride for me. I revel in my physical book collection daily. Music/audio just isn’t the same feeling. I have an iTunes library that would last me about three months if I were to start playing today and never stop it. In the world of digital downloads, ownership just doesn’t mean the same thing. Also, why on Earth would I buy a text and an audio version if it is going to land me a cool $60 to $70 lighter? I have however heard some books that have been thought through in their audio counterparts.

The best audiobooks I have heard are those of His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. These audiobooks had an entire cast, so as to differentiate characters and add a layer of complexity to the audiobook that is very easily lost in translation when there is one annoying man reading to you trying to change his voice for the innumerable characters that can come to life in a normal 800 page novel (especially one posing as an epic). Another cool idea that I found recently was a site called LibriVox. LibriVox is a goal-oriented, volunteer-read audiobook library. People around the world volunteer to record public domain books with the goal to have them all read. This is an interesting middle ground to my argument of audiobook character differentiation. If I don’t like a narrator or the voices he or she thrust upon a character, I only have to get through that chapter or section before someone else takes up the reigns.

This is where I name a possible fix.

I have been giving a lot of thought to e-books and e-book readers, novels and audiobooks, and how technology can bring them together and the fact that I would like to buy a nook has nothing to do with this post. What is a possibility in my mind is for Apple to rule this sector. If Apple was able to go that one step further to provide the value of an e-book/audiobook combination package, they would blow all current renditions out of the water. Firstly, you have the nook, which can be an e-book reader, mp3 player, etc, but is not enabled with the “text-to-speech” possibility. Secondly, you have the Amazon Kindle, which has the text-to-speech, but from what I hear sounds terrible. Here comes Apple, who already has the library of audiobooks to make it work, the iTunes Extras platform to make it customizable, and the possible Tablet offering in the new year; (you see where I am going with this?) I think I would pay $20 or $30 for an e-book if I could read when I got the chance and then switch to the audiobook (and a high quality one at that) when I was driving or otherwise, all with the push of a button. The other piece to it would be based on my personal mp3 versions of audiobooks. I could sync the text and audio by marking points in the text where each chapter begins and naming the two the same overall name, book vs album. All Apple needs is the ability to keep track of where the audio is based on the words currently being read and they have a dedicated e-book device killer on their hands!

What do you think?