Forget e-books, try audiobooks

Ignore the recent hype about e-books, Kindles and Kobos. Anyone with mild technological abilities can get into electronic books - and thousands have - without buying expensive new devices.

Audiobooks are for booklovers who sometimes enjoy listening to books - while driving, gardening, exercising or doing their chores.

They used to be seen as useful only for the visually impaired and those learning a foreign language. But today it is a billion dollar industry in the US alone with celebrity's like Stephen Fry and Donald Sutherland queuing up to lend their dulcet tones to blockbusting books like the Harry Potter series or classics like Ernest Hemmingway's The Old Man and the Sea.

As well as the traditional cassette tape or CD format, the internet has opened up new ways to listen to audiobooks with sites such as Audible.com (a division of Amazon.com) providing downloads from a vast catalogue of titles in a variety of formats.

And since October, the Christchurch City Libraries have gotten in on the act with their OverDrive service. .

"OverDrive offers book content which can be downloaded by customers to their computer, iPod or MP3 player 24/7," says Christchurch City Council Libraries and Information manager Carolyn Robertson. "It gives customers the option to use the library in a traditional way without having to physically visit a branch and uses an easy-to- understand interface linked from our website (christchurchcitylibraries.com).

"We've had positive responses from people who have no time to come to the library and people who love new technology, to people who have suffered strokes who have relatives load these books for them to listen to.

"There have been some problems with older computers or slow download connections, but we try to answer any downloading queries customers have and OverDrive itself also supports us to do this.

"Customers would like to see more New Zealand content but many titles are not licensed in Australasia to be used in this manner. As these systems become more popular the range . . . will increase," she says.

The library currently offers more than 500 audiobooks through OverDrive with about 15 to 20 new titles added each month.

Between October and late May, the library issued 5722 OverDrive items. In 2009, 118,000 audiobooks were issued, about 2 per cent of total issues by Christchurch Libraries. Audiobooks generally mirror what is popular in the print format, says Robertson.

This includes the hottest new titles. At the moment, there is a big demand for Stieg Larsson's Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and titles by Lee Child. Sagas like Harry Potter and Twilight are always popular as are authors such as Josephine Cox, Charlotte Bingham and Maeve Binchy. Terry Pratchett is constantly popular with both Stephen Briggs and The Young Ones' Nigel Planer bringing the Discworld to life. Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Tolkein, and Daphne DuMaurier also have a significant following.

Robertson believes audiobooks are popular because they offer a different experience. "Customers can listen to someone telling a story. They offer our customers choice, especially now they are available as MP3s or in other portable formats."

Personal trainer and multisport athlete Bevan James Eyles is a huge audiobook fan. He says he loves reading but finds he either doesn't get enough time to do it or falls asleep as soon as he gets his head in a book.

"Audiobooks are great because you can be listening them when you are doing mindless things. For example, riding my bike, cleaning the house and when I'm in a car. By listening at these times I'm able to consume a book every two weeks, there's no way I could do that by reading."

Rather than novels, which he prefers to read in print form, Eyles listens to books on business, marketing, social behaviours, personal growth and fitness.

He says he got into audiobooks by listening to a podcast called TWIT. "It's a technology podcast that had audible.com as a sponsor so I thought I would give it a try. I was instantly hooked."

The Press