Pros and Cons of Audio Books

After a positive experience with a few audio books that a friend gave me, I decided to sign up for Amazon-owned Audible and see if it would help me get focused on my reading goals for the year. Reading is incredibly important to me – I think it’s a vital mechanism for broadening my mind and adding to my base of knowledge – and the more I can read, the better. I started with Seth Godin’s Linchpin, a book I’ve been eyeing for a month or two, and the experience was not disappointing.

I love that the color-rich cover is so plainly displayed when the book is playing on my iPhone

I found that there are quite a few things I really like about audio books, and conversely, quite a few detractors.


  • Audio books are highly portable and great for on the go. It was easy to plug in my headphones and listen while on the way to work, walking around San Francisco, or passing time in a long car drive.
  • You can multitask easily while listening. I could listen to the book while cleaning the kitchen, or going through loose papers, or doing any other mind-numbing task that doesn’t require mental processing.
  • There’s something visceral about hearing the author speak the words. I’d never heard Seth Godin speak before, and I felt like he was talking directly to me. There was something about that emotional connection that further engaged me with the content.


  • It’s hard to take notes unless you’re sitting down with notepad and pen at-the-ready. I have numerous scribbles on various papers scattered around my apartment. Because I was often in transit or working on something else while listening, I grabbed whatever scrap of parchment I could find to write down favorite quotes, which was highly inefficient.
  • It’s easy to miss bits and pieces of the book if you get distracted by something or zone out. The worst is when someone asks you a question. It takes a few moments to stop the audio book, then after you deal with whatever the person wanted to ask you, you have to go backward and remember where you were.
  • It’s significantly slower than actually reading the book, because you read far faster visually than when you read the words aloud. The average speed of an audio book is 150–160 words per minute, while a fast visual reader can clock between 400 and 800 words per minute. If my goal is speed and volume, audio books aren’t the best way to reach my goals.

I’ve decided that audio books are great for fiction or for books that I want to revisit often for concept reinforcement. Getting Things Done by David Allen or The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey are two examples of books I regularly return to and reference to keep the principles fresh and top-of-mind. I have the abridged audio versions since I only need the high-level concepts.

Do you listen to audio books? I’m interested to hear if others have had the same experience.

3 Comments on Pros and Cons of Audio Books

  1. suki
    April 13, 2010 at 4:14 pm (14 years ago)

    I haven't delved into the audio book realm. I think with such books that reinforce habits and talk about productivity and such, it might be easier to grasp concepts if they are spoken to you versus reading them on your own.

    • Marie
      April 13, 2010 at 8:59 am (14 years ago)

      I agree. I really believe audio books are best for a certain type of book. When I was a kid my mom bought historical stories on tape, and I loved it. It’s fun to hear things reenacted verbally versus reading about them in a dry text. Definitely not for everything though. πŸ™‚

  2. AllenH
    April 15, 2010 at 5:52 am (14 years ago)

    Audio books have saved many a family and couple's road trip. Three day's drive somewhere? No problem- try Lord Of The Rings Unabridged!! LOL πŸ™‚


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