When I think of audiobooks, I think of my mother listening to Eat, Pray, Love while carting my sisters and me around to cheerleading practice and play rehearsals, in an attempt to finish Elizabeth Gilbert's tale of self-discovery before a book club meeting that night. Or me realizing that Hermione is pronounced like that while listening to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone on the way to a beach vacation. But in the digital age, audiobooks aren't just for multi-tasking moms or long car trips anymore. They're actually kind of cool.
Seriously, they are. Matthew Thornton of Audible, Amazon's audiobook publisher, told me in an email, "We're seeing heavy growth among younger listeners, people in and getting out of college who are part of the emerging app culture." That sentiment was seconded by a Wall Street Journal story today that described how sales of audiobooks have "jumped by double digits in recent years," and "shifts in digital technology have broadened the pool of potential listeners to include anyone with a smartphone." The New York Times noted in June that audiobook sales went up 22 percent from 2011 to 2012.
Huh. While I assumed my subway companions were just listening to Yeezus on their headphones, it seems a lot of them are enjoying The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.
And yes, right now, most audiobook listeners are commuters. According to the The Times, they make up 47 percent, while 25 percent listen as they're working around the house, and 23 percent listen while exercising. Random House is attempting to broaden audiobooks' reach with ad campaigns targeted at people with crafty hobbies like knitting (which doesn't sound cool, but it is. Cuz, you know, hipsters.) They're also targeting bros who lift, with ads on sites like MensHealth.com.
And, again according to The Times, audiobooks' swelling popularity has given a lot of underemployed New York actors regular jobs. Who could complain about that? You read, actors get paid. Everyone wins.
An unofficial poll of The Atlantic Wire newsroom shows that three staffers are big fans of audiobooks. Two like them for the commute. Wire staffer Rebecca Greenfield enjoys listening to audiobooks when the actual authors record them, like Tina Fey did for Bossypants. "It's like listening to comedy," she says.
If you're eager to jump on the bandwagon, you can find just about any book as an audio recording on Audible or iTunes. Even David Foster Wallace's post-modernist magnum opus Infinite Jest — all 56 hours of it.