Listening to audio books has become a popular alternative to reading books. Many people listen to audio books while driving, jogging or doing household work. The increasing popularity of audio books leads to a question: “Is it better to read a book or listen to an audio book?” While different people may have different preferences, I will approach this question from the viewpoint of efficiency of the reading process.
Which way is faster?
In case of printed texts, the average reading speed for an average person is about 200-250 words per minute. The listening speed of audio books is about 120-140 words per minute, which is almost two times slower. Furthermore, you can increase your reading speed by learning to speed read, which may able you to read at 500-700 words per minute.
The possibilities for increasing the listening speed are not so great. You can use special software for speeding them up, but it is difficult to listen to a very fast speech. For example, auctioneers speak at about 250 words per minute. You really cannot follow if the speaker is talking much faster than it.
Options for preview
In many cases you do not want to read the whole book, but you will search for a specific place in it or you want to make a quick preview of it. It is easy to look through ordinary books at rapid pace. You can scan them with your eyes and search for keyword, headlines, tables and figures. It is easy to read book selectively. It means that you will ready only some chapters or parts of chapters. It is much more difficult to listen selectively.
What about comprehension?
It is pretty clear that you can read printed books faster, if you are not a very slow reader. For comprehension the picture is not as clear as it depends on the type of memory you have. When you have visual type of memory then you comprehension will be higher for printed books. On the other hand, if you have auditive type of memory then you will comprehend better when you listen to audio books.
Comprehension is related to concentration. The better you focus, the more you will remember. In most cases it is easier to focus to reading as reading is more active process than listening. There can be some individual differences, for most people it more probable that their though are likely to wonder away when listening to audio books.
Options for multitasking
Audio books allow for multi tasking. When you are reading a printed text then it is not a good idea to deal with other tasks at the same time, such as cook dinner or watch TV. It will kill both your reading speed and comprehension. Listening is slower and less active process and you can listen to them while driving or cleaning your apartment and you comprehension will not suffer much from these activities.
I personally like to read ordinary books as it is much faster and I have visual type of memory. Nevertheless, I will not count out audio books as the due to the benefit of multi-tasking. For example, I listen to them while driving longer distances.