Music Monday: Audiobook Accessibility

The last post for #AudiobookAugust, on my blog at least! Feel free to share your posts or videos in the comments or tag me!

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Today’s topic is one of the most important I wanted to hit on in this series. Accessibility is an important concern that is gaining more notice recently, in very large part thanks to people with disabilities who have been leading these conversations for many, many years.

Special thanks to several in the community who have posted about how to make blogs (and other platforms) more accessible for readers: see Kit’s post on accessible blogging, Vicky on accessibility tips across various platforms, and Theresa at Accessible Influence with a dedicated blog for tools and advice on doing this work. I’ve been putting their tips in place on my blog and social media, and I’m looking forward to finding more ways to make this space accessible to all.

Audiobooks are often touted as being an inclusive format, for good reason! There are 2 main areas I want to focus on today in regards to accessibility, which I’ll broadly label ableism and distribution. It was tricky to figure out what to call them but you’ll see what I mean in a minute! And like with my last posts, much of what I’m sharing here are facts and opinions I’ve gathered from various sources (see below for a list) so feel free to add your own thoughts as I’m certainly not an expert!


Ableism

Inclusive format: For people with visible impairments, reading disabilities (ex. dyslexia), or physical disabilities (being unable to hold a book), audiobooks allow these groups to be a part of the wonder of reading. Kendra put it best in her Book Riot article, “audiobooks are a matter of accessibility, and books should be available to us all.”

Eline over at Lovely Audiobooks has a great post on the importance of audiobooks and lays out a detailed timeline of how the format came to be, from their creation specifically for those readers with disabilities. A couple years ago, I got the chance to tour the CNIB Foundation, a charitable organization that assists those with visible impairments. They have a really impressive audiobook production unit, with volunteer technicians and narrators and partnerships with libraries to help with distribution. People with disabilities (whether, visual, reading, or physical) can sign up for these services to receive audiobooks of popular and classic titles.

If you want to get really into the accessibility of audiobooks, BookNet Canada has a video about the standards involved in making an audiobook truly accessible (because there’s a lot more involved then just recording narration!).

Video of a panel of publishers and audiobook producers talking about accessibility in audiobooks. Source: BookNet Canada YouTube

Ableism in superiority: One of the things I wrote in my first Audiobook August post was that audiobooks count as reading. There are an awful lot of arguments about whether listening counts as reading, with some readers worrying about whether to include those books in their yearly stats and some who outright claim the superiority of print or that listeners are “lazy”.

However, as we’ve just discussed the inclusiveness of audiobooks and purpose of the format for readers with disabilities, these comments are ableist and on top of that, proven untrue. Reading vs listening comprehension have been found to be very similar, which is to say that older kids and adults find reading a book as easy as listening to it. There are no lazy readers, whatever format works for you is a good one!

Who gets priority: With the recent rise of popularity of audiobooks, many more readers are getting into them! Which is great! But one of the downsides to that is that publishers are not prioritizing those who depend on audiobooks when giving out ARCs. Of course, those who are able to read print are welcome to read audiobooks as well, but consider your privilege when receiving or requesting ARCs from publishers and perhaps suggest a reviewer who solely listens to audiobooks instead.


Distribution

This other area of accessibility wasn’t one I was so familiar with as it relates to audiobooks until reading a blog post by Libro.fm. Here, access is in terms of distribution: where you can get your audiobooks from (and price associated with those sources).

Amazon control: In case you hadn’t heard, Amazon isn’t great (understatement of the year), but here’s another reason why that Libro.fm recently detailed! Audible, the audiobook platform owned by Amazon, has a special category for some titles called “Audible Exclusives”. What this means is that Audible is the only place you can get this particular title; anyone not associated with Amazon (bookstores, schools, libraries) can’t sell or distribute these books. Small bookstores face loss of sales when everyone goes to Amazon, and those who can’t afford to purchase audiobooks are out of luck since their libraries don’t have any copies!

On top of that, Audible sometimes pays publishers to delay the release of audiobooks so that initially they’re the only place to get new titles.

“To reiterate: there are audiobooks being published that bookstores cannot sell, and libraries cannot lend.” – Mark Pearson

Cost of digital content: In a similar vein, libraries struggle to get access to audiobooks. The price of ebooks and audiobooks is extraordinarily high compared to physical books and libraries just can’t afford them. As well, libraries are harmed by Amazon’s exclusives above and publishers not making titles available to them. The Canadian Urban Libraries Council has created a hashtag #eContentForLibraries that they’re hoping to use to promote the issue and work with publishers to find a more equitable model.

Source: Canadian Urban Libraries Council

Libraries are intended to be a place accessible to all, a no-cost community space that grants you access to all the books and media you’d like. So when they’re left out by publishers and big tech giants, many readers are also left out. Accessibility issues are everywhere!

Audible alternatives: The good news is there are alternatives to Audible that you can support instead, and hopefully as more people realize the issues with Amazon’s services they’ll face more pushback. Some of those alternatives are Libro.fm (they partner with indie bookstores so you can choose to support your fave with each purchase!), Scribd, Downpour, and AudiobooksNow.


Thanks all for joining me for this series! I hope you learned something, found something interesting, or just had fun reading!

What’s your favourite place to get audiobooks?
And what else would you love to know about audiobooks?


Sources:

BookNet Canada. (2020, June 15). Audiobook accessibility [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=3030&v=eeXCQ8BeU4Y&feature=emb_logo

Canadian Urban Libraries Council. (n.d.). Stronger #eContentForLibraries. https://econtentforlibraries.org/

Eline. (2019, June 28). Why audiobooks matter: The definitive answer if listening is cheating. Lovely Audiobooks. https://lovelyaudiobooks.info/why-audiobooks-matter/

Pearson, M. (2020, July 27). The harmful impact of Audible Exclusive audiobooks. https://blog.libro.fm/the-harmful-impact-of-audible-exclusive-audiobooks/

Tate Hill, J. (2019, May 1). Audiobooks are not lesser values of reading and are not only for “successful people.” Literary Hub. https://lithub.com/audiobooks-are-not-lesser-versions-of-reading-and-are-not-only-for-successful-people/

Winchester, K. (2020, April 14). More than a trend: Audiobooks make reading accessible. Book Riot. https://bookriot.com/audiobooks-make-reading-accessible/

2 thoughts on “Music Monday: Audiobook Accessibility

  1. This is a great post! Thank you for mentioning my post on accessibility. I’ve already clicked the others to check those out as well so I can learn more. Also thank you for mentioning the issues of publishers not prioritizing those who needs audiobooks for accessibility. That was a big concern of mine when NG starting giving audio review copies, but unfortunately I think publishers still don’t take certain things into consideration that they ought to. I mostly get my audiobooks from the library/Hoopla, luckily mine has a great selection!

    Liked by 1 person

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