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Audiobook History, or: Why Audiobooks Matter!

A look at the audiobook history is the perfect way to counter questions like “are audiobooks reading?”, “is listening to audiobooks cheating?”, or “is listening to audiobooks as good as reading?”

The thing is, there’s a big problem with these questions. They dismiss everyone who can only read audiobooks! Disabled people are being marginalized too often already. There’s simply no excuse for being an elitist about accessible literature. So, let’s take a look at the history of audiobooks and why they are such an important book format!

Did you know that…

… audiobooks were invented for blind and disabled people?

… the standard size for Braille books is 11 x 11.5 in (28 x 29.21 cm), making them very big and inconvenient to hold?

… some diseases like MS can make it difficult to hold a book or an e-reader?

… brain injuries and brain fog can make it difficult to read?

… audiobooks help dyslexic people become better readers and turn reading into a positive experience?

A timeline of the audiobook history

Audiobook History: A Brief Overview

1930s to 1980s

In 1931, the American Foundation for the Blind and the Library of Congress Book for the Blind Project cooperated on the “Talking Book Program” which developed the audiobook. At this time, the number of books that were recorded was limited. And the distribution was difficult. The Bible, the constitution, and only a few fiction pieces were available through postal service.

In 1948, Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic was formed. “Learning Ally” started to provide textbooks for blinded WWll veterans to support their college education. LP records were invented in the same year.

In 1952, Caedmon was the first publisher to bring out an LP recording of poems and a story. The author read them himself. The LP became unexpectedly popular and turned the publisher into a household name.  

The invention of the cassette in 1963 was a game-changer. Before, only a small number of libraries offered recordings. But this quickly changed and in the 1970s all libraries were carrying audiobooks.

Thanks to cassette tapes, audiobooks became more and more popular. In 1985, 21 publishers offered audiobooks. Recorded books were now more easily available and an accepted form of entertainment.

1990’s to now

In the 1990s, audiobooks quickly grew into an industry of their own. The Audie Awards were presented for the first time and AudioFile Magazine was launched.

In 1997, Audible presented the first digital audio player.

In 2003, Audible made audiobooks available on Apple’s iTunes. CD’s replaced cassette tapes as the most popular format. This changed again in 2008 when digital downloads became the most common way to obtain and listen to audiobooks.

The programs that first distributed audiobooks to disabled people are still active. Learning Ally is now the largest provider of audio textbooks.

(Sources: A History of Audiobooks, Wikipedia)

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Why Audiobooks Matter…

There are a lot of articles out there that talk about the convenience and benefits of audiobooks. But only a few mention the importance of audiobooks for disabled people. Sadly, as it is so often, people with disabilities remain mostly invisible.

Of course, many avid audiobook fans like to listen to books during their commutes or while doing chores (neither of which indicates laziness). But many others are not able to hold or read print or ebooks due to disabilities or cognitive impairments.

And the audiobook history proves that, first and foremost, audiobooks were invented to make books accessible to disabled people. And they are still used this way!

There is a big number of avid readers among blind and disabled people. And, as readers, we are all well aware: Books transport emotions that let us experience things we couldn’t experience in reality.

I went through some bad flares with my chronic condition. And sometimes, I couldn’t hold a book. It was ugly and scary and a time during which I really needed escapism and stories that would captivate me.

Ashley and Alisha also shared their experiences with audiobooks. Please read their articles to understand why it hurts people so much when someone is dismissive of audiobooks.

Now, imagine my surprise when I was told that audiobooks aren’t reading and they exist for people too lazy to read an actual book. I would like to note that this person wasn’t aware of my struggles. That being said, it hit me hard.

https://themighty.com/2018/01/ableism-and-reading/

Many community members rely on non-traditional formats in order to enjoy the same stories, discover the same worlds, and experience the same characters, friendships, loves, heartbreaks, and adventures as the next reader.

https://jenniely.com/the-day-audiobooks-forever-changed-my-life/

Just like you don’t joke about someone being lazy for using a mobility aid, you shouldn’t claim it’s lazy or cheating to listen to audiobooks. Many disabilities and diseases are invisible. Never make assumptions about the struggles someone might have to deal with! And you never know how important audiobooks can be for someone who might otherwise feel isolated and depressed.

This post on the audiobook history and their importance for people with disabilities is also part of my web story on why audiobooks are awesome!

All about Audiobooks

22 thoughts on “Audiobook History, or: Why Audiobooks Matter!”

  1. Thanks for this interesting article. I always get annoyed when people debate audiobook vs ebook vs printed book. I think it all comes down to personal preference – what works best for you. I’m just glad we have all these different options.

  2. Lots of good info here on the basics. I especially like the timeline you put together. Did you find any info on US prisoners narrating audiobooks? Iā€™ve only seen 1 or 2 articles on this and find it really interesting.

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