Another ramble about accessibility in reading

While I’m on a kick of writing rambley posts, something else that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is accessibility. In my last post I talked about one of the reasons I haven’t been requesting eARCs. Another negative about requesting eARCs or even picking up books in the library is that visual reading has been really difficult for me lately. I’m slowly pushing myself to try reading more with my eyeballs, but nearly everything I’ve read lately has been through audiobooks. I’m not sure why it’s been such a struggle, but I think part of it is that I feel more productive while listening to audiobooks because I can also work on other projects. Now when I try to sit and read visually I have trouble staying focused. I feel guilty because I’m not working on other things and I don’t usually last long before I find myself turning on something to listen to and doing something else with my hands. It’s how my brain is currently working and while I hope to change that in the future I also have to acknowledge it’s where I am right now. So why don’t I go an audiobook-only route? 1) Audiobooks are really expensive. 2) I like the look of books on my shelf, which I can’t do with audiobooks. Yes, I’m vain. 3) Wait times for library audiobooks are pretty long. And the biggest reason of all, 4) Not every book has an audiobook and there are many audiobooks I can’t access.

I put together my November TBR based on books that have come out in the last year or two that I really want to read. Then I went through all my resources (Overdrive and Hoopla from the library, Scribd as a personal subscription, and Audible just to see if it exists). Of the 12 items on my TBR so far, 6 don’t have audiobooks. Something they have in common? 5 of the 6 offer some form of diverse representation.

Luckily this month I didn’t have any Audible Only books show up, but it’s a problem I’ve had in the past. Audiobooks like Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo, When the Moon was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore, Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera, Scythe by Neal Shusterman, and On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis can only be accessed through Audible. In the past I’ve splurged on an Audible subscription, usually because I really want to listen to one of these books. Again, all but one of these has a queer, alterabled, and/or no storyline. Let’s be fair, maybe I have trouble finding diverse books because that’s mostly what I read. Maybe I would run into this same problem even if I wasn’t really focused on reading books with queer, POC, and alterabled characters. Maybe, so take this with a grain of salt, but I’ve heard the same complaint from other readers.

So let’s talk about some of the ways this is a problem. Firstly, I’ve still got a lot of privilege. I am able to visually read even if it doesn’t go well. Some folks can’t. Maybe they can physically read in other ways and maybe not. Either way, a lack of audiobooks creates accessibility issues for lots of different people. I don’t know anything about this issue other than the way I experience it, though, so I’m going to focus on that. I’m sorry if this doesn’t reflect your accessibility issues.

I’ve already talked about how expensive audiobooks are in comparison to their visual counterparts. If there is actually a difference in audio accessibility between books with cis straight white able bodied main characters and other books then that’s obviously a huge problem. Library access is also more difficult for audiobooks. It has improved with the popularity of digital audiobooks; even though wait times can be a pain, the amount of titles available is an improvement at most libraries. However, it is still significantly more difficult to check out an audio version of a book than a physical version, especially if you don’t have digital access.

Let’s talk about how it affects the online book community. I’m not going to talk about individual arguments but I’ll summarize most of the feelings I have regarding the gatekeeping that happens: listening to audiobooks counts as reading and folks don’t have to specify if they listened to a book vs visually read it. You can use the verb ‘I read it’ when referring to audiobooks. It is a different experience but everyone experiences reading differently anyway, so let’s not make some folks feel like less because of how they read a book.

I’ve heard some folks who have good intentions saying things like “I think audiobooks count equally but when someone says they read a book in a day I find it less impressive when I found out they actually listened to it.” Even with good intentions, that’s a harmful thing to say, especially if the person reading it is impressed with themselves. Everyone runs at their own speed. Please don’t try to downplay accomplishments just because you don’t think it’s that great.

I also want to swing back to the beginning of this post. As far as I’m aware, there are no audio ARCs. Maybe I just haven’t looked hard enough for them and maybe I’m just not qualified to receive them. From my time in the online book community, though, they don’t seem to exist and I think that could be a problem. There are lots of reasons I don’t request ARCs much, including the issues I have writing reviews (for more of the reasons I’ve got, check out my last post). A large part of it, though, is that lately I’ve been having a lot of trouble reading visually. In August the only thing I read visually was an eARC and a graphic novel. Same with September. I’m currently trying to read an e-book of Summer of Salt by Katrina Leno because the audiobook doesn’t exist. I’m hoping that with the pressure of writing a review out of the way reading visually will be easier, but that isn’t necessarily proving to be the case.

Again, if you got to the end of this post all the applause. I feel like a lot of it was me whining. However, I think there are also some problems with accessibility in general and in the online book community specifically. I don’t know what to do about that other than accepting that audiobooks count as reading, full stop. Thank you for listening to my ramble. It’s been bouncing around it my head for a while and it felt good to let it all out.

Author: SeeOwlRead

They/She. I’m a queer reviewer and librarian.

4 thoughts on “Another ramble about accessibility in reading”

  1. I personally can’t do audiobooks but I’ve found Hoopla to have a huge LGBTQ audio collection. There are at least five titles I’m interested in that are only in my library system as a Hoopla audiobook! But I’ve learned that not every library offers access to the same Hoopla catalog (they can, for example, filter out everything above a specific price point).
    It sucks that there are so many barriers to access wrt reading, alternate formats, physical v digital, cost, etc. Another example that comes to mind: I can request books my library system doesn’t have through interlibrary loan (which I use frequently and almost always for LGBTQ titles) – but media, including audiobooks, aren’t eligible for ILL.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. There’s a lesbian audiobooks fb group where authors and narrators occasionally provide free codes for their new releases. My debut novel is in audiobook production as we speak, and if you’d like a free copy I’ll gladly provide it. It’s audible only though, due to being poor and only affording a narrator on royalty share. And that is probably why you find so few audiobooks in general, and few that aren’t on audible. Self published authors can’t afford hundreds or thousands for narration. But, I’m also going to make things as available as I can for people who just can’t make prices work, or don’t have an amazon KU store.

    That’s a bit rambling…but yeah, I am always looking for more accessibility with audio because I can’t afford all i want either. I’ve almost exhausted my hoopla’s options, as best i can tell. We also have libby which had a few more. There are a lot of ebooks on there, but not nearly enough audio. And even the audible romance package, which is a horrible deal for the authors, doesn’t have very many wlw. It’s literally 90% mlm in the lgbtq section.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so so much for all of this information. I’m so sorry it’s difficult for authors. That should have occurred to be because it’s similar in the academic publishing world with which I’m more familiar.
      One of the other big reasons I’m cutting back on ARCs is because of grad school and not being able to comfortably fit reviews into my schedule, but in a year or so I may reach out and see if we can work together. ^_^
      I’ll look into the Facebook group for sure! Thank you for letting me know about it.


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