Term Paper - Are Digital Audiobooks Truly Ear-resistible?


Published on

  • Be the first to comment

  • Be the first to like this

No Downloads
Total views
On SlideShare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

Term Paper - Are Digital Audiobooks Truly Ear-resistible?

  1. 1. ARE DIGITAL AUDIOBOOKS TRULY EAR-RESISTIBLE? by Jennifer Post (jenpost@eden.rutgers.edu) A term project submitted to the Graduate School – New Brunswick Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey in partial fulfillment of the requirements for Information Technologies and Information Analysis (17:610:550). Prepared under the direction of Professor J. Sanchez. New Brunswick, New Jersey December 17, 2009
  2. 2. Table of Contents Table of Contents ii Abstract iii Introduction 1 Description of Digital Audio Book Technology from OverDrive 4 Current Studies & Opinions 6 Conclusions 10 References 11 Appendix A 13 Appendix B 14 Appendix C 15 Appendix D 16 Appendix E 17 Appendix F 18 ii
  3. 3. Abstract Digital audiobooks (DABs) are a growing industry. Roughly 28% of U.S. citizens have listened to an audiobook in the last year, and the total size of the audiobook industry, based on the dollars spent annually by consumers and libraries, is close to $1 billion (APA, 2009). Because libraries are public-service-oriented organizations, they must pay attention to the needs and trends of their patrons, and DABS are clearly important to patrons. This paper explores the history of audiobooks leading up to DABs and seeks to explain why DABs have suddenly become valued commodities. After giving an overview of the different DAB services available, the author provides an in-depth look at OverDrive, one of the main DAB commercial content providers to libraries, including a miniature case study of its utility. The paper reviews the literature on DABs and summarizes the major arguments for and against the technology, including its fit in today’s society, its convenience, its effects on intelligence and comprehension as compared with reading, its potential to increase antisocial tendencies, the size of its potential user group, the lack of standardized formatting, and digital rights management. The paper concludes with an endorsement for DABs, finding them a worthwhile investment for libraries. iii
  4. 4. Post 1 Are Digital Audiobooks Truly Ear-resistible? Introduction According to a 2009 report by the Audio Publishers Association (APA), the total size of the audiobook industry, based on the dollars spent annually by consumers and libraries, is close to $1 billion. While Compact Disc (CD) sales still represent 72% of the audio market, direct downloads from the Internet have grown to comprise 21% of the market, and Egidi & Furini (2005) see the downloadable format as being the most promising format for digital files. Furthermore, more than 1 in 4 U.S. citizens (28%) reported having listened to an audiobook in the last year, and, as measured by publisher revenue, libraries are the 2nd largest channel in the audio industry at 32% (APA, 2009). Clearly audiobooks are important to both libraries and their patrons, but just what is a digital audiobook (DAB), and why is it suddenly becoming a hot new technology? The history of audiobooks can be traced back to the late 1870s when Thomas Edison introduced Victorians to sound technologies on wax cylinders with his phonograph. Fifty years later, literature was first recorded for phonographs on vinyl records in the 1920s for soldiers who had been injured during World War I (Rubery, 2008). The U.S. Library of Congress got involved in the audio business in 1934 when it began providing recorded books for the blind, going through a progression from 33 ⅓ rpm records, to 16 ⅔ rpm records in the 1960s, to 8 ⅓ rpm records, to magnetic tape (analog cassette tapes), to CDs, and finally to digital files (Taylor, 2004). Indeed, audiobooks have historically been seen as a means of helping print-impaired individuals – the blind, the visually impaired, the physically handicapped, and the learning disabled (e.g. dyslexics). Returning to the question of why a service that has existed for about 85 years has suddenly been called ‘new media,’ Rubery’s (2008) answer is that digital technology has expanded the audiobook market from print-impaired individuals to readers of
  5. 5. Post 2 every kind. In the early days when audiobook users had to struggle with toting and swapping 45-50 cassettes or CDs into a cumbersome player to hear War and Peace without being able to jump to specific pages or to find desired sections using a Table of Contents, those who could use other formats, did. However, the convenience of new digital formats makes them appealing to a much wider mainstream audience (multi-taskers, commuters, gym rats and mall-walkers, auditory learners and reluctant readers, those learning other languages, and more), and DABs can be found on the websites of popular vendors such as Audible and the Apple iTunes Store. Although “digital audiobook” seems relatively straightforward, “the audio representation of a written book” in the words of Egidi & Furini (2005, p.2), another new craze in the digital book world, the textual e-book of the variety seen on Kindles and Nooks, has made distinguishing between the two formats increasingly difficult. The terms “a-books” and “e- audio” are occasionally used to distinguish the former from the latter; however, “digital talking book” (DTB) is often used for both formats because the natural partnership of audio and visual material has encouraged many digital book publishers to merge the two to create a multimedia experience designed to appeal to a wide range of users. The official definition of a digital talking book according to the ANSI/NISO Z39.86 2002 Standard is a collection of electronic files arranged to present information to the target population via alternative media, namely, human or synthetic speech, refreshable Braille, or visual display…The content of DTBs will range from audio alone, through a combination of audio, text, and images, to text alone. (Section 2) Indeed, the Digital Accessible Information SYstem (DAISY), which helped develop the Standard, includes full audio, audio and text, and full text option under the rubric of DTBs. Freitas & Kouroupetroglou (2008) makes the distinction that DTBs use only Text-to-Speech synthesizers for their audio files where DABs use pre-recorded digitally-compressed human speech, but this distinction was not made elsewhere in the literature (Peters, 2007).
  6. 6. Post 3 The major commercial DAB services available to libraries provide content by several different means. Audible, OverDrive, and NetLibrary (from OCLC) allow users to directly download audio files; Playaway offers preloaded, self-contained portable playback devices; and TumbleTalkingBooks provides streaming content over the Internet. There are also free sources online such as LibriVox, Podiobooks.com, Project Gutenberg’s Audio Book Project, and the Spoken Alexandria Project, but the downsides to these audiobook sources is that they are comprised largely of the Classics and other public-domain works, often read by volunteers lacking the same levels of vocal training as professional readers, and may have restrictions on the quantities downloadable per day. While there are many benefits to combining digital audio and textual sources, this paper focuses strictly on digital audiobooks obtainable by libraries from commercial content providers. When using my home library’s catalog several months ago, I noticed that it offered “e-books.” Thinking this referred to the textual versions, I was disappointed to learn that the library was mis-using this descriptor for DABs and that true e-books were not available. Having already piqued my interest about the terminology, I was reminded of the subject when I began commuting to school by car and found that I had lots of time to listen, yet none to read. I knew that my library offered the Playaway technology, but, not wanting to use it while driving, I desired to learn whether the library’s “e-books” (audiobooks) could be downloaded and played through the car sound system. Finally, because I had not heard much about audiobooks recently, I wondered whether they were being replaced entirely by textual e-books, as suggested by Damian Horner’s questions, Are we all looking the wrong way? While everyone gets obsessed with e-books, is the future of mass market books somewhere else entirely? Is the biggest impact of digital technology actually going to be the rebirth of something that has been around for years – the humble and much-maligned audiobook? (cited in Rubery, 2008, p.64) Description of Digital Audio Book Technology from OverDrive
  7. 7. Post 4 Because my library only provided DABs from OverDrive through ListenNJ, OverDrive’s products are the focus of my case study. Founded in 1986, OverDrive is based in Cleveland, OH. In 2000 they launched Content Reserve, their online digital warehouse, then extended their services to libraries in 2002 with Digital Library Reserve and began providing content tailored to school libraries (K-12) in 2006 with School Download Library. They also have the College Download Library for colleges and universities, and, as of June 2009, OverDrive has over 9,000 lending institutions around the globe and provides 200,000 downloadable digital titles in 42 languages, covering a wide variety of genres – anything from business to sci-fi – from many well-known publishers (See Appendix A). Indeed, OverDrive claims to have the largest collection of iPod-compatible DABs for libraries, and the company was named to EContent magazine’s 100 List of companies that matter most in the digital content industry (OverDrive, 2009a, b). OverDrive offers a website that is customized to match a library’s own website and ILS with no extra hardware or software hosting requirements. Optional MARC records may be provided, and libraries are free to set their own lending periods. Libraries can choose their content or select a Download Standing Order Plan and Holds Manager to automate collection development, upload and share local digital content (e.g. historical documents or local bands’ audio files), and staff can both view and create customized circulation data reports. OverDrive even provides staff training and help with promotion. In terms of fees, OverDrive charges both a purchase price for each copy (book prices range from $1.96 to $240) and a monthly platform maintenance fee (Peters, 2007). The free OverDrive Media Console needed to play OverDrive titles works with and offers support for Macs and PCs, and, although not every library carries every format, OverDrive offers both MP3 and WMA file formats that can be downloaded, burned to CD (if
  8. 8. Post 5 allowed by the publisher), and transferred to many devices including PDAs, iPods, iPhones, Zunes, and Sony Readers (OverDrive, 2009b). To facilitate quick and easy downloads, OverDrive titles are divided into parts of no more than 40MB each, and, while an entire book may take a while to download, each part can be listened to immediately upon downloading. The Transfer Wizard allows users to decide which parts to transfer, notifies users when there is not enough storage space on the device and allows users to address the problem without having to continuously restart the whole process, and gives instructions on how to restore iTunes settings that need adjusting. Files are divided into logical sections (e.g. chapters) which are marked by MediaMarkers, and, similar to DVD chapters, these markers allow users to jump directly to the desired section. The OverDrive Media Console allows users to skip back 15 seconds, advance to the furthest point played, choose from a variety of playspeed options, and even add bookmarks (OverDrive, 2009a). For my case study, I visited the New Brunswick Public Library’s website, clicked on ListenNJ, and downloaded the free OverDrive Media Console following the instructions (see Appendices A, B, & C). Using OverDrive’s Amazon-like shopping features to browse by genre and author, I added a desired book - Terry Pratchett’s Monstrous Regiment - to my shopping cart and then followed standard online shopping procedures to checkout – the difference being that the I only needed to provide my library card number and PIN (see Appendices D & E). The 16- part book I selected downloaded in about 1 hour, after which I used the OverDrive Transfer Wizard to transfer it to my iPod (see Appendix F). It was very simple! As advertised, the Wizard handled everything - asking me the parts I wanted to download, prompting me to free up space on my iPod, and instructing me to adjustment my iTunes import settings to improve the transfer of the DAB files. Because the book was in WMA format, the Wizard automatically
  9. 9. Post 6 used iTunes to convert the files to MP3s, and, in 90 minutes, all 16 parts had been transferred (about 5 min. per part). Current Studies & Opinions By and large, audiobooks have been ignored by the academic community, making audiobook-specific studies few and far between (Irwin, 2009). As Rubery (2008) notes, however, The growing popularity of audiobooks over the last decade means that literary critics may no longer be able to turn a blind eye – or a deaf ear, in this case – to the ways in which oral delivery influences the reception of literature. Digital audio may compel those of us accustomed to silent reading to heed recent calls to refine our skills in ‘close listening’(p.59). What, then, are the pros and cons of digital audiobooks? One of the benefits of the medium, according to Peters (2007), is that it fits in well with today’s lifestyle in a way that silent reading does not, an argument with which I completely agree. Not only are DABs convenient, easy, and relatively quick to download from home, 24/7 and without requiring a library visit, they allow literary works to be absorbed in the middle of a hectic schedule – no light source or page-turning or cassette-changing abilities required! Their narrated performances and ease of use - the push of a button – enables listeners to be drawn quickly into the story for the short 10 minute time segments between errands. Furthermore, placing DABs on light, compact, portable devices makes them easy to transport anywhere, and they allow listeners privacy and confidentiality because no one knows whether the listener is enjoying music, a timeless classic, or a trashy beach novel. These perceived benefits, however, touch upon audiophobics’ core argument that listening to books instead of reading them is fundamentally detrimental; not only does it increase antisocial tendencies, but it fails to engage the brain in the same way as reading, ultimately causing a decline in intellectual development. As Irwin (2009) noted, “The natural presumption
  10. 10. Post 7 seems to be that listening is easier than reading, and what is harder is better” (p.360). However, Irwin continues, if listeners engage their mental faculties by listening closely (the aural equivalent of close reading), they may actually be in a better position to comprehend, appreciate, and critique literature because less energy is being expended. Furthermore, close listening has been found to be much more complicated than is commonly imagined, and Rose & Dalton (2007) give a comprehensible overview of the studies done with modern neuroscience proving that skillful listening is complex and actually involves “the same executive functions in the prefrontal cortex that are engaged during active, strategic reading” (p.17). Listening to books and poetry is also a way to discover details that would otherwise be missed, especially with Victorian literature (e.g. Dickens) that was often written to be read both silently and aloud at popular book readings. Quoting Rubery’s (2008) excellent article on the subject, the earbuds typically used with DABs allow listeners to “attend to minute sonic details that might otherwise go unheard” (p.72). While it is true that the narrator-based performance of an audiobook does require listeners to relinquish some interpretive control to the narrator, who selects the characters’ vocal cadences and tones, listeners must still vizualize the setting. Close listeners may also use characters’ words to judge whether a narrator’s characterizations match their own interpretations. Ironically, in the time of Plato, it was believed that reading and writing would reduce memory and attentive listening – exactly the opposite of what is being argued by audiophobics today (Rose & Dalton, 2007)! The fear that DABs promote isolationist tendencies, creating “a form of pseudo-intimacy used to lull consumers into a manufactured sense of companionship” (Rubery, 2008, p.70), is a legitimate concern. While earbuds might pipe the words directly into one’s ears, they do limit one’s social engagement by distracting the listener’s attention from the real world. Rubery (2008) comments that the “sensation of listening to someone else’s voice whispered directly into
  11. 11. Post 8 my ear can be far more intimate than any number of public readings could ever hope to be” (p.71), and this perceived intimacy may entice some listeners to turn to DABs for their interactions instead of live individuals. On the other hand, the APA found that 9% of adults said that listening to audiobooks was a great way for them to interact with their children. For example, if a family listens to an audiobook together, the book can serve as a point of discussion and bonding in much the same way as a book group, disabusing the notion that DABs are an intrinsically antisocial medium. Contributing to the negative reaction about DABs are two National Endowment for the Arts studies To Read or Not to Read: A Question of National Consequence (2007) and Reading At Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America (2004). Their findings showed an alarming downward trend in American’s reading habits, correlating with lower levels of academic achievement, reading and writing ability, and even levels of civic involvement. The 2004 study concluded that “electronic media such as television, recordings, and radio make fewer demands on their audiences, and often require no more than passive participation” (Preface). However, DABs were not specifically addressed, and other studies have found that interest in reading actually increases with audiobook listening, encouraging readers to get physical copies of books that are unavailable as audio files and to listen to more audiobooks (Rubery, 2008; Rose & Dalton, 2007; Lo, 2009). One library patron even said, “I couldn’t be bothered to read when cassettes were the only option, but now that we have this system [DAISY] I am interested in reading again” (McGrory et al, 2007, p.978). These positive comments do not mean that DABs are uniformly helpful, however, and another negative reaction is that portable players are not designed for everyone (Peters, 2007; Irwin, 2009). Seniors with arthritis and poor vision cannot operate playback devices, and some players are non-user-friendly. A study of elementary school students in Hong Kong by Lo
  12. 12. Post 9 (2009) found that several students preferred reading over listening to DABs because they found audiobooks boring, inconvenient, and either too fast or too slow compared with reading. Lo also found that, although many students found DABs enjoyable and helpful, DAB use was not associated with any significant differences in the students’ reading motivation. However, DABs are intended as just one of many formats used to reach out to libraries’ communities, and those who are not well-served by DABs can continue to use print resources. Two related issues associated with DABs are non-interchangeable proprietary formats and digital rights management (DRM). Coyle (2001) makes a good argument for the necessity of standards for audiobooks and gives a list of current proprietary e-book formats that, although partial, is a whopping 23 names long (p.317). Although there is still tension between companies over standards, three standard formats have emerged, MP3, AAC, and WMA, which coincide with the popular music industry (Egidi & Furini, 2005). Indeed, the DAB industry appears to take many of their cues from the music industry’s empirically-tested model, which offers solutions to the many digital content hurdles. For example, as of 2008, large book publishers – Random House and Penguin Group – planned to strip away the anticopying software on DAB downloads, allowing for sharing between devices. According to Stone (2008), the publishers hope the move will renew growth in the audiobook industry and allow Apple products (which only play Audible’s format or unprotected MP3 formats) to play all files. They take the attitude expressed by Bruce Coville, author and owner of Full Cast Audio production company, that, “if a person wants to bypass DRM, he will” (Harris, 2007, p.24). Conclusions Peters (2007) raises several issues that speak specifically to libraries. He comments that, although libraries can aid people in avoiding costs by providing free DABs, he does not see how libraries can add to the “direct-to-consumer” experience when commercial websites already have
  13. 13. Post 10 low download prices. When libraries have to supply technical training, troubleshooting support, money to buy and maintain DAB services (including cleaning the earwax off players loaned out by the library), are these services for their patrons really worth the cost? My answer to this question is, “Yes.” Libraries are inherently service-oriented, and DABs serve the print-impaired as well as many other groups within the community – from Prensky’s (2001) young “digital natives” to squinting seniors. As McGrory et al (2007) writes, “From a services perspective, ‘digital’ clients now have far greater choice of information resources, reading materials, and formats, more timely access, and the opportunity to manage their library service independently” (p.991). Indeed, all the articles I read related the many positives of DABs, so, as Peters’ question suggests, the only real problems are the logistics for libraries, which can be managed by pooling resources and creative thinking. In short, for libraries and their patrons, digital audiobooks are both irresistible and “ear-resistible.” References (APA format) ANSI/NISO. (2005). ANSI/NISO Z39.86 - Specifications for the Digital Talking Book. National Information Standards Organization. http://www.niso.org/standards/z39-86-2005/ APA (Audio Publishers Association). (2008, September 15). More Americans are all ears to audiobooks. http://www.audiopub.org/pdfs/2008%20sales%20consumer%20final.pdf APA (Audio Publishers Association). (2009, June 23). Audio industry holds ground in 2008. http://www.audiopub.org/2009SalesSurveyRelease.pdf Coyle, K. (2001). Stakeholders and standards in the e-book ecology: or, it’s the economics, stupid!. Library Hi Tech, 19(4), 314-324. Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY) website. (2009). http://www.daisy.org
  14. 14. Post 11 Egidi, L. & Furini, M. (2005, September 12-14). The Digital Restyling of Audiobook. Paper presented at the Proceedings of the Communication Systems and Networks (CSN2005), Benidorm, Spain. http://cdm.unimo.it/home/dsscq/furini.marco/2005-csn.pdf Freitas, D. & Kouroupetroglou, G. (2008). Speech technologies for blind and low vision persons. Technology and Disability, 20, 135-156. Harris, C. (2007). Popular author’s next book isn’t a book. School Library Journal, 53(10), 24. Irwin, W. (2009). Reading audio books. Philosophy and Literature, 33, 358-368. Lo, P. (2009, August). Effects of online audio-book resources on library usage and reading preferences and practices of young learners in an elementary school library setting in Hong Kong. Paper presented at the World Library and Information Congress: 75th IFLA General Conference and Council, Milan, Italy. http://www.ifla.org/annual- conference/ifla75.index.htm McGrory, M., Williams, M., Taylor, K. & Freeze, B. (2007). The impact of the integrated digital library system on the CNIB Library. Library Trends, 55(4), 973-993. National Endowment for the Arts. (2004). Reading at risk: A survey of literary reading in America. (Research Division Report #46). Retrieved from http://www.nea.gov/pub/ReadingAtRisk.pdf National Endowment for the Arts. (2007). To read or not to read: A question of national importance. Retrieved from http://www.arts.gov/research/ToRead.pdf News-focused library. (2009). American Libraries, 40(12), 31. OverDrive, Inc. (2009). Download Services for Public Libraries. (2009). http://www.overdrive.com/files/DLR.pdf OverDrive website. (2009). www.overdrive.com (accessed December 10, 2009). Peters, T.A. (2007). Digital audiobook services through libraries. Library Technology Reports, 43(1).
  15. 15. Post 12 Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5), 1-6. Rose, D. & Dalton, B. (2007). Plato revisited: Learning through listening in the digital world. Paper prepared for Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic, Princeton, NJ. www.learningthroughlistening.org/92/ Rubery, M. (2008). Play it again, Sam Weller: New digital audiobooks and old ways of reading. Journal of Victorian Culture, 13(1), 58-79. doi:10.1353/jvc.0.0019 Stone, B. (2008, March 3). Publishers phase out piracy protection on audio books. The New York Times. http://www.audiopub.org/Articles/NewYorkTimes3308.pdf Taylor, J.M. (2004). Serving blind readers in a digital age. American Libraries, 35(11), 49-51.
  16. 16. Post 13 Appendix A a) OverDrive’s top suppliers (OverDrive, 2009b) b) How to use OverDrive’s ‘Virtual Branch’ library system (OverDrive, 2009b)
  17. 17. Post 14 Appendix B a) Screenshot of New Brunswick Public Library’s website b) Screenshot of ListenNJ’s website
  18. 18. Post 15 Appendix C a) Screenshot of how to download OverDrive Media Console b) Screenshot of OverDrive Media Console before downloading audiobooks. “Welcome to OverDrive Media Console” is pre-loaded. Appendix D
  19. 19. Post 16 a) Screenshot of the variety of titles provided by ListenNJ as well as the different device options available. b) Screenshot of ListenNJ’s book options. For each book, the system shows an image of the front cover, user ratings, a brief synopsis of the book, the type of file, and the devices on which the file will play. Appendix E
  20. 20. Post 17 a) Screenshot of the book I downloaded. b) Screenshot of the 16-part book downloading to OverDrive Media Console. Appendix F
  21. 21. Post 18 a) Screenshot of the book’s license, including transfer information. b) Screenshot of the book’s transfer to my iPod using the OverDrive Transfer Wizard.