Whispersync – not compatible with audiobooks or paper books

Here’s a poser for you. What’s the quickest way to read a book – as an audiobook or a physical (paper) book? Well of course it depends.

I usually have both kinds of book on the go. I have a physical book which I read last thing at night; currently it’s the second book in the late Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, The Girl who Played with Fire. I don’t normally get through very much of it. I get sleepy quickly and have to stop reading.

But it does take me far less time to read and absorb a page of a physical book than it takes to have the same text read out to you by the narrator of an audiobook. Until very recently, my audiobook was A Crown of Swords by Robert Jordan. Forty three hours worth that was. But I get more time to listen to an audiobook than I do to read a physical book. I can listen in the car, while out with the dog or even if doing chores around the house assuming no-one else is around. The upshot is that I get through my audiobooks a lot quicker than my paper books, even if the instantaneous word throughput is far lower.

The odd thing is that I am now listening to the same book via both formats. After A Crown of Swords, I could just have gone straight on to the next Wheel of Time book, but I was enjoying the Stieg Larsson and I did already have it as an audiobook. I had originally downloaded it for my wife so she could listen in her car but in the end she just wanted the paper version. So I’d bought it for her – and she has long since finished it. My paper copy is the same one she had read. But as the audiobook was already on my Android phone I started switching between paper book at night and audiobook during the day.

This has been a great way of getting some momentum into my enjoyment of the book. I’m no longer reading in snippets and having to keep bringing the plot strands back to mind. The downside is the synchronisation problem. Picking up the paper book and finding the place you’d got to in the audiobook is surprisingly easy. It is very natural to flip pages, recognise short chunks of text and rapidly converge on the right page. The real difficulty is going the other way and it’s down to how fiddly scrubbing is on the Android Audible app.

Audible have done a wonderful job with their Android app. It looks gorgeous and is very enjoyable to use. If you are listening to an audiobook all the way through it does the job to a tee. It keeps your place perfectly, shows you how far through you are and allows you to go back 30 seconds at a time at the touch of a button, in case you didn’t quite catch something. It does not though offer buttons to go forward in controlled small time intervals. In normal use there is no need. Unfortunately, when you want to wind forward to catch up with where you got to in the paper book, you have to use the scrubbing facility which is just too insensitive. When you think that the width of the time-bar corresponds to typically 6 or 7 hours of listening time, just a few pixels one way or the other with the cursor can move you many minutes along the book. Zeroing in on the precise spot is very hard. Note that you have to listen to a few seconds of narration to determine where you are in the book, unlike searching a paper book where a split second glance takes in a whole paragraph. So if you have to keep listening to snippets repeatedly, the search time starts to mount up. I usually give up when I am something like 5 minutes of listening time behind where I was in the paper book. I just listen through what I have already read. It’s safer than trying to get closer and maybe ending up far further out the other way.

If only I could use technology to keep my place. The Kindle and the corresponding iPhone and Android apps have a neat feature called Whispersync. You can switch from reading a book on one device to another and the Kindle technology in the cloud will keep your place, accurate to the page. Sadly, this technological miracle does not extend to audiobooks or physical paperbacks. Maybe when we finally ditch paper, we can have some form of synchronisation between audiobooks and ebooks. I’m not holding my breath though.

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