An audiobook is a book or text that has been recorded to be read aloud; it can also be the result of the use of speech synthesis.
The relationship to “reading” is modified by the use of hearing, rather than sight, traditionally attached to print books and e-books. Technological progress (particularly in terms of recording and sound reproduction), the desire for new products and many other qualities (saving time, mobility and physical storage space, community reading, pleasure of listening , uninhibited relationship to text for learners …) contribute to the considerable development of the audiobooks in recent years.
Easy to use, the audiobook appeals to different age and socio-professional categories, for often different or even opposing reasons: unique means for certain categories of disabled people (visually impaired for example), reading comfort for the elderly, mobility and new relationship to reading for the youngest, time saving for the active (use in transport and during household chores), pleasure of listening and conviviality …
In many countries (United States, Great Britain, Australia), the audiobook has grown rapidly in recent years, and has already won over a large audience. In 2018, the global audiobook market was valued at approximately $3.5 billion.
Because of the importance of print, it is easy to forget that originally reading was done aloud, as early as antiquity. It was not until the industrialization of book production, and especially the rise in literacy of the population, that the printed book took the place that we know today. But the oral tradition has survived, especially thanks to the children.
Listening to a book reading was a very common practice in the 19th century, which saw writers and soap operas read their works.
(“The phonograph at home reading out a novel.” From Daily Graphic (New York), 2 April 1878. Less than a year after the invention of the phonograph, this drawing offered a future vision. Novels however would remain impractical for phonographs until the 1930s.)
The first recordings of music and spoken language were made possible thanks to the invention of the phonograph in 1877 by Thomas Edison who imagined as an application to his invention “phonographic books” intended for blind people.
The audio book was first created in the 20th century for young people (stories for children, language methods for extracurriculars) and for visually impaired audiences. In addition, during the 20th century, a good number of plays and texts were read and recorded on the radio. The development of audiobooks was carried out until the 1960s which marked a certain decline probably because of the cassette format, with the exception of audio books of poetry, historical recordings or for children. Since the 1980s, the audiobook has developed again with the practice of entertainment on the go.
For decades, audiobooks have been produced exclusively by recording the human voice. Advances in speech synthesis now make it possible to produce books using this technique. Text-to-speech cannot match the human voice in expressing particular emotions or tones, but using text-to-speech results in an audiobook much faster.
The audiobook, adaptation of a book to audio medium, should not be confused with the MP3 saga, intended solely for audio medium.