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I'm listening to this audiobook by Matthew Rubery "The Untold Story of the Talking Book". I bought the audiobook because last week there was no Kindle version, just a hardback and the Audible version and CD. I don't like hardbacks so I'm listening. The Audible version when I bought it was considerably less than the CD version, although it isn't now. It seems there is a Kindle version now but it's very expensive. Here's a link:

Anyway, this book is full of surprises that are germane to the never-ending discussion of whether ebooks are inferior to "real" books, etc. as well as the ongoing discussion about audiobooks vs paper books.

It seems that when Edison invented the phonograph he envisioned it as a device for dictation primarily and possibly for music when the quality improved. But others, reading about it, even before it was in production, saw it as a replacement for books. The New York Times published a lengthy speculative article about how this will replace books and be far superior to them. Edison liked that idea and set up a company to take it in that direction. Book critics, English professors and teachers all over the USA jumped into what seems to have been a long and protracted discussion of the advantages of talking books over printed books. There were naysayers but not so many of them.

It was also assumed that this would encourage people to read who never read paper books. Some lamented that but most thought it a very good thing.

The one thing everyone seemed convinced of, at least according to Rubery, (I haven't done any reading elsewhere on this), was that when the technology improved enough that they could put full length reading of books on recordings, paper books were dead. That was almost universally believed, it seems. And this made me think of the way pretty much everyone believed that about ebooks.

If I hadn't seen that happen with ebooks I probably would have been suspicious of Rubery's history. He is a Harvard PHD but so was Ted Kaczynski, the Unibomber. :)

After the huge early success of the Kindle the world was pretty much expecting to see the demise of paper books. It was all over TV, newspapers and in magazine articles and on the internet. I remember disagreeing a little bit, saying that paper books will probably stick around for special situations and for collectors. But I mostly bought into that "paper books are dead" thing, too. They were history. Now that isn't the trend anymore but I'm still not convinced it won't be true in the long run. I guess I'm not convinced either way.

Anyway it seems that pretty much the same thing happened with the invention of the phonograph and that discussion lasted until it became obvious that records just wouldn't be long enough to be practical for recording complete books. Dickins, by the way, was the author usually used as an example in this discussion. The phonograph was invented during his lifetime and he was who everyone, everywhere was reading. Also, British copyrights weren't recognized in the USA so Edison planned to make Dickens books a way to introduce his talking books. They'd sell like crazy and no royalties. Did Edison invent piracy? :)

This is really fascinating stuff. The book's narrator is a bit dry but not bad. It's the first audiobook I've listened to since I got my first Kindle in 2009. I'm listening slowly in short bursts and I'm enjoying it.

One of the surprising things is that it was anticipated that talking books would be superior to reading because when we read we hear our own voice in our heads and not the voice of an elocutionist. Actually that's a fairly convincing argument if you can ignore your prejudices. Personally I think I'll stick with my prejudices. I like audiobooks. I prefer reading myself.

I think what matters in a book is the content; the story; the communication from the author to the reader. It's format is something that probably does effect the reader but there's no way to know how much or whether it matters. That's all speculation. My preference is ebooks but when I had cataracts I listened to audiobooks and thoroughly enjoyed them. I spent most of my life reading paperbacks. I've always disliked hardbacks. But these are personal preferences; they don't really matter to my view of reading in the world. Books matter; their form doesn't.

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