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Audiobooks vs. Podcasts: A Dilemma

Rebecca Hussey


Rebecca holds a PhD in English and is a professor at Norwalk Community College in Connecticut. She teaches courses in composition, literature, and the arts. When she’s not reading or grading papers, she’s hanging out with her husband and son and/or riding her bike and/or buying books. She can't get enough of reading and writing about books, so she writes the bookish newsletter "Reading Indie," focusing on small press books and translations. Newsletter: Reading Indie Twitter: @ofbooksandbikes

I love podcasts. I love audiobooks. My time is limited, but I want to listen to lots of both. What am I supposed to do?

This is a problem of abundance, of course, which means it’s not really a problem. I’m lucky to have as much material as my ears and brain can possibly handle. But I frequently find myself unable to decide what to listen to. I wonder when I’m listening to an audiobook whether I might find a podcast more relaxing, or if I’m listening to a podcast, if I wouldn’t rather get closer to finishing another book.

Audiobooks are where I started. They are my first love. But this was before podcasts existed, when audiobooks came on CD, or sometimes even on cassette tape. I made a horribly long commute much more bearable by getting through one or two books on CD a week. I listened to the complete works of Jane Austen. I kept up with new releases. It was glorious.

When podcasts came along, I fell in love with those, and started to split my listening time. I began with podcast versions of radio shows and branched out from there. Now I subscribe to more podcasts than I have enough hours in the day to listen to. Recently I went through a period when I spent all my time with podcasts, but once again I’m trying to split my time more evenly between the two.

This means that nearly every day I have to make a choice. Here are the factors that go into the decision:


  • They allow me to get through more books each year. In the past I didn’t count audiobooks in my yearly tally, as though listening to an audiobook isn’t really reading. But that’s silly, and now I add them in.
  • They make it easier for me to try new kinds of books I might not otherwise try. I get many of my audiobooks through the library, so they are free and I feel no pressure to finish them. I read a greater variety of books this way, or at least I give a greater variety a chance to win me over.
  • They make me laugh at, cry over, feel happy about, and generally have a stronger emotional response to books than print versions do. For me, reading print is a more cerebral experience, while audiobooks touch my heart.
  • They add another layer to the reading experience with the presence of the narrator. Audiobook narrators become almost like another character, and the good ones make me want to spend more time in their company.


  • They are more relaxing than audiobooks. When I’m listening to an audiobook, I want to focus enough so I don’t miss anything important. With podcasts, it’s less crucial to hear every word. Since I’m often listening after work or while doing the dishes at the end of a long day, I like being able to zone out every now and then without feeling as though I’ve lost a plot thread.
  • They allow me to learn about more books. Most of the podcasts I listen to are bookish ones, including all the Book Riot ones, of course, and they have become an invaluable source of reading recommendations. I don’t want to miss out.
  • They allow me to keep up with my favorite podcasters. Once I’ve listened to a podcaster long enough, he or she starts to feel like a companion. They aren’t friends, of course, because I don’t actually know these people, but over time I come to like the company of the people talking into my ears.
  • They are free and available whenever I want them. Audiobooks are much trickier to find for free: yes, they are available at the library, but not always the ones I want to listen to and not always right away. If I want to listen to a particular audiobook at a particular time, it’s likely I’m going to have to pay in one way or another. Podcasts are much easier to come by.

Again, an abundance of listening material is a good problem to have. But I frequently find myself wishing I had more listening hours in the day. Fellow audiobook and podcast listeners, how do you solve the dilemma of what to put in your ears?