Becoming an Active Bookworm

You are either a reader, an audio-booker, or neither. But the newest format of audiobooks may just be the in-between you have been looking for. Aural guides are publishers’ newest inventions. These so-called active audiobooks accompany listeners through activities such as cooking, gardening, and meditating, all in real-time. A more interactive space, to say the least, active listening makes audiobooks that much more engaging, as the voice guides you through the motions as you do them. Just as readers plunge themselves into a good book, or as movie junkies immerse themselves into a fascinating film, active audiobooks strive to engage their listeners by being a part of their adventure, whatever it may be.

Take “Seeds From Scratch” as an example. This aural guide features gardener and novelist Alice Vincent as she leads novice gardeners through the course of growing their first plants. Each chapter guides listeners through the different stages of the process. The guide is designed to be listened to all the way through as participants complete the motions in real-time. This format tends to be shorter than traditional audiobooks; “Seeds From Scratch” runs just shy of 90 minutes.

A British publishing house, Hodder & Stoughton, launched their new imprint, Hodder Studio, with the aim of reimagining storytelling. “Seeds From Scratch” was commissioned by the new imprint last April, following the U.K. COVID-19 lockdown.

As people began adopting new housebound hobbies to keep busy during these isolated times, the editorial director at Hodder Studio, Harriet Polan, said to The Wall Street Journal, that within a month the manuscript turned into published audio, “because we didn’t know how long the lockdown would last.”

But it’s true when they say timing is everything; as audiobook listening grows in popularity, this extension to the traditional format could not have come at a better time. While print and eBooks remain most popular, audiobooks are the only format to have increased in popularity over the past year, with one in five Americans listening to audiobooks, according to a new Pew Research report. And it's not only in the U.S.: a Publishers Association survey in the UK found that the main barrier to reading is a lack of time, “with audiobooks cited as a popular solution to the problem.”

Podcasts and audiobooks are indeed on a “bull run in the content market, whereas blogs, print books and eBooks continue their bearish tendencies,” writes Richard MacManus in a Cybercultural piece, where he takes a deep dive into the latest audiobook trends.

The new rise in popularity of audiobooks can be attributed to a few key factors. For one, they are a convenient mode of information consumption. Whether you are commuting a long-distance or getting in your 10,000 steps, listening to a book makes “wasted time” more productive and bearable. Amanda ‘Acierno, president and publisher at Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group, shared with the WSJ another reason why the demand for audiobooks has increased. She stated: “The time people use to multitask and listen to audiobooks is pretty stable, but the time that people use audio to relax is growing.” As people begin shifting how they spend their time, the active audiobook could be a trend that persists into the future.

And the opportunities are endless. Be it a calming meditation, an audio crash-course in fermented bread, or aural riddles for listeners to solve mid-story, an engaging guide that demands listener participation could welcome a whole slew of possibilities for publishers.

While we remain in lockdown and continue living life at a distance, this invention may just help curb loneliness, prevent you from putting off “that thing you’ve been meaning to get to”, and keep you entertained while trying something new.