Written Word vs. Audio - Eyes vs. Ears

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Or does it really matter… it seems storytelling will remain a powerful tool regardless?

In the last week we’ve celebrated no less than 3 national literary days. National Read a Book Day, Roald Dahl Day and National Literacy Day…with more book celebrations coming up too. A quick straw poll of the office to see what people are currently reading, took an interesting twist.

Being a bunch of keen readers, the majority had a ‘book’ they were currently enjoying but the room was divided into two camps – those who were holding a book, either a paperback, hardback or eBook, versus those who were listening to stories and creative ‘how-to’ guides via audiobooks.

It started us thinking about the changing landscape of book consumption. The pros and cons of both and what this might mean for our own sources of inspiration for storytelling. Is one really better than the other?

The joy (or perils) of multi-tasking

Audiobook sales soared by 43% in 2018, with hard copy falling by 5%. Whilst some think this is an indirect result of the rise in popularity of podcasts, others attribute the increase to a time poor, ‘always on’ society. Who hasn’t started watching the latest Netflix boxset only to start scrolling through their twitter feed and popping the kettle on all at the same time? In this digital era, we as humans are adapting to multi-tasking, and audio books accommodate that rather nicely. You can consume the latest Margaret Attwood or Robert Harris, whilst cooking dinner, driving to work or pottering around in the garden.

Win win. Or is it? Well it depends if your audiobook is a fiction or non-fiction title. Studies show that there is very little difference in comprehension between a fiction audiobook and printed book, however, if you’re listening in order to learn or it’s a non-fiction title, you are less likely to recall as much through listening alone compared to reading.

Reading is an act of engagement

We’ve provided a pretty strong argument for the benefits of audiobooks, in that you can indulge whilst getting on with other things in your daily life. And that’s because listening is something that can simply happen whilst other things occur. Reading a physical book  or holding an eReader involves a devotion of time. To call it an event is going too far but it requires you switching off from everything else and indulging in either escapism (be it fiction) or headspace (for non-fiction). Reading with your eyes is an act of engagement. One of the Editors here at Bottle admitted they went to re-download the same audiobook they’d listened to only a short while before because they didn’t recall the title or the synopsis.

Brands have been noticing this need for escapism for years, particularly now when today’s society is exposed to an abundance of bad news, political woes (yes, we’ll refrain from mentioning the ‘B’ word), and environmental issues. Look at the successes of aspirational photo-app, Instagram. Offering the audience the chance immerse themselves in a dreamscape can be a very engaging tactic. Nike are a brand who focus on storytelling and constantly develop a narrative to engage their consumers across all mediums.

People love stories

So how important is storytelling and long-form narrative to the society and individual?

The irony of storytelling is that this began with spoken word. And, the fact that people are going out of their way to still consume the written word - whether it be audio, physical, a mixture of both, and how we are so frequently celebrating literacy in all its forms - just shows how culturally important passing on our stories really is.

Stories have been with us for, well forever. It’s how we are aware of historical moments, how we can look back at pivotal eras, it’s how we are able to learn and innovate, it’s how we become inspired and create new memorable moments.

Good storytelling sparks a reaction. And that’s why storytelling is so important to brands. It’s about connecting and engaging the audience so that they feel part of the narrative, a topic they relate to, By becoming a ‘friend’ of your consumer, it is enough to encourage them to purchase and enough to secure loyalty.

A good story makes you feel something and is universal. They want to grasp your values and your commitment to excellence; be inspired and intrigued. Storytelling is the most powerful way to convey these ideas.” ~Mark Truby, Vice President of Communications, Ford Motor Company

One size fits all, right?

If you’re an audiobook person you stick to audiobooks and if you like your good old paperback that’s you sorted. Wrong. The joy of having choice is just that. You may prefer one over the other, but it doesn’t mean you have to rule one medium out. 

Which is why when brands are telling their stories they don’t stick to just one channel. Their narrative is told through the different mediums to engage all the senses.

So, whichever national literary day you’re celebrating, as long as storytelling is the hero it really doesn’t matter how you consume your ‘book’, just enjoy it, learn from it and be inspired.

Katrina Bishop