Does it count as reading if it’s an audiobook?


So, I recently did a post about whether or not it counts as reading with graphic novels but what about audiobooks?

Like with graphic novels, in their wrap-ups many people on BookTube say they have read a certain number of books that month but when it gets down to it a bunch of the books are audiobooks, so do they really count? Or rather is it really fair to say they read them?

I’m not against audiobooks being included in wrap-ups, but I think something along the lines of “I read 5 books this month, and listened to 2 audiobooks” for example, is a more fair representation compared to saying “I read 7 books this month”. From what I have seen on BookTube it’s only the introduction where they give their overall number without distinguishing what form the book came in and that’s fine, it’s not even disappointing the way the graphic novel issue is when you hear a high number. What I really care about is the story, and whether or not I would enjoy it, not whether someone looked at or listened to the words. In the real world though, when someone asks if you have read a book and you have only listened to the audiobook what should/do you say?

Some people read along in the book while listening to the audiobook so I don’t think anyone would argue that that doesn’t count as reading because, well, that would be weird. For those that just listen to the audio though, personally I don’t think you can claim to have read the book. Yes you know the story but that’s not the same thing. If you hear something on the radio you know the information but you don’t claim to have read it so why should audiobooks be any different? If someone asks if you have read a book, you can just say “I listened to the audiobook”, why try and mislead?

I’m not bashing audiobooks, I think they are a great idea if you have a long drive or have other things to do and still want a story. If you don’t see the words of the story though I really don’t see how it could be considered reading.

What do you guys think?


19 thoughts on “Does it count as reading if it’s an audiobook?

  1. It’s a matter of definition. If “to read” means “processing information through visual input of books” then audio doesn’t count and neither does Braille. If reading is about absorbing a story or any kind of content from a book, then audio counts, Braille counts, but, say, magazine or blog posts don’t count — just consider how many people process volumes of online articles but rarely read a book. There’s a big difference between rushing through news and magazines and emails, and sitting through a whole, largeish piece of writing that has sense as a whole. In fact, I’d argue the difference between reading a book and listening to an audio book is possibly as large as reading a book and reading fragmented chunks of unrelated information. So it all depends! (There are many other ways to restrict or expand the definition …)


    • Hmm. I think I count reading as something active, so actually reading a book in a traditional sense, and braille would count, audio wouldn’t. I don’t know how you could argue that reading magazines etc doesn’t count as reading, it’s reading in the traditional sense. It doesn’t have to be a book for you to read it, in the same way that you can sit on something that isn’t a chair, it doesn’t mean that you aren’t sitting if you are sitting on the floor.

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      • Let’s see … I still maintain it all depends.

        The book vs magazine was an example of how you could restrict the definition further. But let’s see where reading is at “traditionally”.

        Would you say that reading the processing of words visually? Any words at all?

        For example something experimental, or highly symbolic like modern poetry, or, in the extreme, a randomly generated collection of words. What about signs on shops, signs on the street, what about when somebody mouths a word and you’re reading their lips. There’s the parent reading aloud but there’s also the kid half-listening half-reading (is that reading?). What about when you’re learning a language and only understand about half the symbol clusters (words).

        You say reading is something “active”. Does that mean the flipping of pages/scrolling, eye movement, or does that mean actively understanding?

        People skim-read and at the extreme there are instances where someone “read” something and has absolutely no idea what because the mind went for a wander … does that count?

        Listening to audiobooks, namely, to words spoken in an uninterrupted, previously thought out sequence, can be active: you are actively engaged with a different brain region (the auditory one), and on top of that you’re processing and understanding the story/material in much the same way you would if reading. It can also be passive, that you’re letting the tide of words lap over you without getting anything from it, the same way a reader flips pages or scrolls without picking up any meaning. In both cases, the respective senses are there, exposed to the words, but the understanding isn’t keeping pace.

        Oh, wait, and you said Braille counts! That’s not visual, in which case why would reading with your fingers be any different than reading with your ears? To be honest, audio arguments are sometimes harder to process because with written word, if you didn’t understand something, you just backtrack. With audio it’s harder to rewind precisely.

        To me reading is a stretchy concept that has evolved and will continue to evolve with cultural changes and technological advances. (Will it be called reading, if words are directly transmitted into your brain? Will we even still have words then or will we be reading some form of complex pictogram?) But however *you* define reading today, it’s fine — to each their own!

        Thanks for prompting me to write down my thoughts 🙂

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      • Active vs passive listening is a bit hippy for me! To me, if something has words and you look at them, it’s reading. I count braille because it’s active. Saying you felt a book sounds more like you molested the cover, so how else would you define reading a braille book? Most of your argument for audiobooks applies to the radio and tv and you wouldn’t say you read those!

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  2. I think listening to an audio book is exactly that: listening to it but not reading it. To me reading is seen with the eyes. Not to say that listening to an audio book is not as effective as reading it and that you don’t understand the story. It’s just a different medium and I think it’s a different verb then as well.

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  3. I cannot get on with audio books. I find they become background noise. For me reading is something you do with your eyes (or fingers for Braille readers). For visually impaired I would make an exception and would make the case that they are unable to physically read a book. But I think this could be one of those cans of worms that should remain closed. As there are a lot of audio listeners that consider an audiobook the same as reading a book. I think is an each to there own thing. We all process words in our own way, some process visually some via audio.


  4. Yeah, I agree with you – as I said on your previous post. It’s definitely not the same amount of work or the same experience if you actually sit down and read 10 books in a month versus if you listen to 10 books in a month. Because if I listened to books at work (I’d get distracted) then my monthly count would be way higher because I can do other work while listening. When so many people count what they read each month, it does make a difference. Like you said, simply mention that some of the books were audiobooks instead.

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  5. Interesting thoughts! For the most part, I find in everyday conversation, it’s just easier to say I read it. Like if someone asks me if I’ve read Harry Potter, I say yes. I don’t stop to say, “Well, I read them in grade school, and for the first four my dad and I took turns reading them out loud to each other. Then for books five through seven, we listened to the audiobooks.” What a mouthful!

    Or I’ll say, “Yes, I read The Beauty of Darkness,” when in reality I read the first 40% and listened to the last 60% on audio.

    I don’t think the whole TV/radio thing is necessarily a valid comparison. If I watch a movie in a language I don’t know and have to read subtitles, I wouldn’t say I read the movie. I would still just say I watched it even though I did a lot of reading to understand it.

    Another thought… Audiobooks add maybe one or two more books to my reading a month. Maybe other people get through them faster, but I tend to save audiobooks for books that I want to read but think will be too boring. They’ve helped me enjoy many a book I don’t think I would have liked if I’d read it traditionally.

    In the end, I think reading is about words and stories. If you know what happens, if you know the story, if you consume the words… Why does it matter whether it was an audiobook or if you read it with your eyes?

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    • Saying you read half a book and listened to the other half is a mouthful but I don’t see why it would be a problem saying you listened to a book rather than read it, I mention the whole subtitles thing in my graphic novel post!

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