Celebrating audiobooks as a rising literary innovation

They allow for multitasking and passive listening on transit

In Summary

• It is popular with Gen Zs, who've grown up with smartphones and streaming services

Depiction of the digitisation of print books
Depiction of the digitisation of print books

This is the month where bibliophiles celebrate the nexus between digital technology and modern book production. In the United States, where President William Ruto recently made a successful state visit, they have embarked on Audiobook Appreciation Month, which runs from June 1-30 every year. The goal of this celebration is to increase awareness of and engagement in this format.

Originally started by the American Publishers Association, this idea is one of the leaves that Kenyans can borrow from their American counterparts. What is good for the goose is good for the gander, and such is the wisdom that cross-cultural and international cooperation relies on in matters of reading habits.

Audiobooks are spoken word recordings of books, allowing listeners to consume written content through audio. They can be narrated by the author or professional voice actors, and often include elements like music, sound effects or multiple narrators to enhance the listening experience.

These versatile formats cater to a wide range of interests and preferences, making them a popular medium for literature and information today. One notable genre within audiobooks is podcasts. 

Audiobooks originated in the 1930s as a means to provide access to literature for the visually impaired, with the American Library of Congress establishing the Talking Books programme. Technological advancements, such as cassette tapes in the 1960s and CDs in the 1980s, expanded their accessibility.

The digital revolution in the early 2000s, with the advent of MP3 players and smartphones, further propelled their popularity. The primary motivation for their emergence was to offer an alternative way to access books, initially for those with visual impairments, and later for anyone seeking a convenient way to consume literature.

Composing an audiobook involves several key steps and elements to ensure a high-quality and engaging final product. The process begins with selecting the text, obtaining the necessary rights, and preparing the script for narration. A professional narrator or voice actor is then chosen, and rehearsals are conducted to maintain consistency in tone and pacing.

Recording takes place in a soundproof environment with professional-grade equipment. The recordings are then edited to remove mistakes and background noise, with additional sound design elements like music and sound effects added if needed.

Post-production includes proof listening, formatting the audio files and adding metadata before uploading to distribution platforms like Audible, iTunes and Google Play. Marketing efforts are then employed to promote the audiobook to potential listeners.

The necessary elements for creating an audiobook include a well-written text, skilled narration, high-quality recording equipment, a soundproof recording environment and professional editing software. While the ease of creating an audiobook varies, it can be straightforward for those with the right resources and experience. These are some of the new-age competencies we need in the teaching of literature at tertiary levels of education today.

The market for audiobooks has seen significant growth in recent years, driven by advancements in technology and the increasing popularity of digital content consumption. Audiobooks appeal to a wide range of listeners, including busy professionals, commuters and multitaskers who prefer to listen rather than read. This format also attracts individuals with visual impairments or reading difficulties, offering an accessible way to enjoy literature.

It is popular with urban Gen Z populations in Kenya. These youth, who have grown up with smartphones and streaming services, appreciate the convenience of listening to books while multitasking or during their commutes.

Audiobooks and print books differ significantly in their mode of consumption, narration and accessibility. Audiobooks are listened to, allowing for multitasking and use during activities like commuting or exercising, while print books require focused visual attention and a dedicated reading environment.

Additionally, audiobooks feature narrators who can add emotional depth and dramatisation, enhancing the storytelling experience, whereas print books rely on the reader’s interpretation for imagining voices, tones and emotions.

These differences can be advantageous in promoting a reading culture. Audiobooks increase accessibility, ensuring that students with visual impairments, dyslexia or other reading challenges can engage with literature, fostering inclusivity. The skilled narration in audiobooks can also enhance engagement by bringing stories to life, capturing students’ attention and potentially increasing their interest in literature.

However, one of the main disadvantages of audiobooks is the potential loss of control over the pace of reading and comprehension. Unlike print books where readers can control their reading speed and easily backtrack to re-read passages, audiobooks progress at a set pace determined by the narrator.

This can pose challenges for some listeners, especially those who prefer to read at their own pace or who may need to revisit sections for better understanding. Additionally, distractions in the environment or the narrator’s pacing can affect comprehension, potentially leading to missed details or a less immersive reading experience compared to print books.

In Kenya, the audiobook industry is gradually gaining traction, reflecting a global trend towards digital content consumption. While physical bookstores remain prevalent, online platforms like Jumia and Storytel are offering a growing selection of audiobooks to cater to diverse tastes and preferences.

Mystery Publishers Limited also contributes to this landscape, providing professional publishing services for authors seeking to transform their written works into audiobooks. As the demand for this format rises, so do the earning opportunities for narrators, voice actors and authors.

By leveraging platforms like Mystery Publishers Limited and Storytel, individuals can publish and monetise their audiobooks, reaching audiences both locally and internationally. This burgeoning market presents a promising avenue for literary professionals to showcase their talents and generate income in the evolving landscape of digital publishing in Kenya. Let us adopt this good American habit: Happy Audiobooks Appreciation Month, fellow Kenyans.

WATCH: The latest videos from the Star