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eBooks versus Audiobooks: which is best?

eBooks versus Audiobooks: which is best?
(Image credit: ShutterStock)

As our lives become increasingly digital, we have the chance to experience books and stories in a variety of ways. 'eBooks versus audiobooks' is becoming a bigger debate every year, as the ways we interact with literature further entwines with our digital lives. But which is best for you? Should you be looking to invest in one of the best tablets to enjoy a more book-like experience? Or should you sign up to one of the best audiobook services, to have stories read aloud to you? 

Neither of these options is necessarily a substitute for traditional books, but just an alternative way of experiencing what books offer. To some, the idea of swapping their physical paperbacks and hard copies of books is abhorrent, whereas others will gladly have all their literature stored on a phone or tablet so they can use a single device for all their modern entertainment. The debate around eBooks vs audiobooks really comes down to your preferred method of interacting with media, your lifestyle, and the devices you like to use the most. We also have a feature about the pros and cons of audiobooks versus regular books.

eBooks vs Audiobooks: Cost

Generally speaking, eBooks are cheaper. While you can often buy an eBook for anywhere between $1-$20, most audiobooks start around the $10 point and can run upwards of $30 for something particularly weighty. However, there are a number of services dedicated to making audiobooks more affordable so, for example, Audible gives you a credit for a free audiobook every month, which essentially cuts the cost of listening down to around $15 per book. What's more, they often run sales that can get you audiobooks for around $5.

Interestingly, because Audible is part of the Amazon family, you can get huge savings on audiobooks if you purchase the eBook (Kindle version). It's another way to make everything more affordable. Based on pure cost, however, you can't beat an eBook when it comes to digital storytelling. Of course, used paperbacks are even cheaper...
Winner: eBooks

Audiobooks are great for people with poor eyesight

(Image credit: Getty)

eBooks vs Audiobooks: Ease of use

We think audiobooks takes this one because, essentially, you just press play on your device and listen. Audiobook apps are simple to use and essentially act as music players, so it's as easy as pressing play. They all remember where you stopped reading too, so there's no need to find your place or select chapters. Having said that, eBooks aren't exactly complex to use. Switching on a device and selecting your current read is all it takes to pick up where you left off in an eBook. 

We'd rate eBooks and audiobooks on a par when it comes to finding specific parts of a book. Tablets and eReaders require a bit of scrolling to find specific sections, while audiobooks have chapter selects and then simple tracking to the time you need to find. Neither requires a huge amount of effort. But, because audiobooks are a little easier, that's our winner in this category.
Winner: Audiobooks 

eBooks vs Audiobooks: Features

This is where it gets interesting, and really comes down to what you need from your reading. Audiobook apps have features designed to help books adapt to your lifestyle: stuff like sleep timers to allow you to drift off while listening, multiple speeds for when you're in a hurry, and the ability to listen via smart speakers like Alexa for when you're wanting to experience a story with friends, family, or kids.

eBooks tailor things more towards the simulation of reading and physical books. You can highlight passages and even make notes, making eBooks ideal for when you need to pay attention and learn from a text. Studies have shown that reading is a more active experience, and focuses your attention, so it's natural that eBooks are better for anyone looking to really engage with a story or text. However, because they can fit in so well around most peoples' busy lives, we're going to give this one to audiobooks too.
Winner: Audiobooks

Kindle Oasis

(Image credit: Amazon)

eBooks vs Audiobooks: Storage

If you're going digital with your library, then storage becomes a factor. There are only so many files you can store on whatever device you happen to have. Here, there is a clear winner: eBooks are far smaller than audiobooks. Your average audiobook is about 200-250MB via a service like Audible, and if you download a full library of them, your phone or tablet fills up very fast.

By comparison, eBook files on a device like Kindle are about 3MB on average, making them significantly smaller. It's no surprise really - even feature-heavy text files are always going to be smaller than audio files. Kindle Paperwhites have 8GB of storage in the newer models, which means... well, you won't run out of space any time soon. You'll get about 2500 eBooks on there before even thinking about deleting any.
Winner: eBooks

eBooks vs Audiobooks: Range of books

This one is closer than you might think. The clear winner is eBooks, because not only do you get the vast majority of new releases and classics on eBook, but you also have a near-infinite range of fan fiction and self-published eBook content to choose from. The selection is vast. If volume and discovery is your thing, then you can't beat eBooks.

However, audiobooks are catching up fast. Audible boasts the largest library with over 250,000 audiobooks and growing. You'll also find a substantial number of classic books via sites like Librivox, who host a broad range of them for free. And don't forget podcasts - most audiobook services offer a massive range of exclusive podcasts to discuss books and tell other stories. Combine all this and the gap in choice becomes not necessarily a matter of volume, but one of taste and preference.
Winner: eBooks (kinda)

eBooks vs Audiobooks: Verdict

In the battle between eBooks versus audiobooks the winner is... you. Huh? Well, both methods of accessing stories, literature, learning, self-help and everything else that can be contained in book format are designed to suit modern life and, ultimately, the winner is whatever suits your situation. The TTR team, for example, is split pretty evenly between audiobooks and eBooks, and we all love to read physical books as well. 

If expense is an issue, you should opt for eBooks, but if time and fitting your books around a busy life is more a concern, we'd recommend audiobooks. eBooks are great for saving space on your devices, audiobooks are good if your eye-sight is poor and you still want to experience literature. However, the choice is ultimately yours.

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Andy was the previous Editor-in-Chief of Top Ten Reviews. With over 18 years experience in both online and print journalism, Andy has worked for a host of world-leading tech and gaming brands, including PC Gamer and GamesRadar. He specializes in photography, technology and smart home, and has provided expert comment for sites like The Guardian. In his spare time Andy is an amateur photographer, and teaches at the National Film and TV School.