Audio Books - Late To The Party

We were driving up the coast of Italy from Rome to Genoa listening to music being bluetoothed from my phone to the car’s audio system and the Gotham Gal said, “let’s listen to some audio books on this trip.” I was dubious but she was adamant. “I tried it on a drive from NYC to Long Island this summer and it is really great”, she said. So I replied “sure.” Later that night in our hotel, using their wifi, I downloaded the Audible app and a few books onto my phone.

We started with Peter Mayle’s A Year In Provence. That was awesome. Listening to a book about a place like Provence while driving around Provence is a fantastic experience. That sold me hook line and sinker on this audio book in the car thing.

Then we went for Daniel James Brown’s The Boys In The Boat. We failed to check how long the audio book was before selecting it. This particular audio book is 14 hours 25 minutes. Good thing we were taken with the story. We stuck it out and finished it yesterday. We cheered as the author ended the story. That was a marathon. All that said, it is a great story about the boys from the University of Washington who won the Olympic Gold Medal in the Berlin Olympics of 1936 in the eight category.

The strange thing about audio books is the play time of the book and the page length of the book are not directly correlated. Boys In The Boat took 14 hours 25 minutes to listen to and it is 416 pages. A Year In Provence took 2 hours and 52 minutes to listen to and the book is 224 pages. I think it may have to do with the fact that the audio book version of A Year In Provence we listened to is abridged.

In any case, we found that three hours is a great length for an audio book. Fourteen and a half hours felt a bit long, maybe even more than a bit long.

We are now listening to Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. Given that we are now in Paris having recently been in Barcelona, Pamplona, and San Sebastian, it seemed like the right time to revisit that novel.

The Gotham Gal’s pitch on audio books is that it makes long drives fly by. I am not sure they “fly by”, but I would agree that listening to a great narrator read an interesting story does make long drives a lot more enjoyable.

It looks like we’ve got a new pastime. And I’m happy about that.


Comments (Archived):

  1. ErikSchwartz

    I love audio books while driving.EH only has one “m” in his name.

    1. fredwilson

      Oh. Thanks for the copy edit!!!

  2. kirklove

    You need something to fill in the “silence” πŸ˜‰

    1. fredwilson

      the spoon record will only get us so far πŸ™‚

    2. LE

      The other good thing about audio books I would imagine is that as opposed to the radio you can pause the audio and fork on a discussion of something. So you are no longer “the dining dead” (a real term that an employee who was a waitress told me once).When my wife and I go to certain places to eat it’s not uncommon for us to each bring a newspaper and read. Then we inevitably end up disusing something that we are reading in the paper.A few days ago she brought a journal article to our date night and started out by saying “this study confirms your theory that you told me about people who exercise to much being worse off than people who do it in moderation”. (A little Dale Carnegie going on there but no problem!)

      1. kirklove

        yeah, you definitely need to keep the source material fresh!

  3. Joshua Baer

    I’ve been doing this for a year or two and really enjoy it. They say comprehension is much higher with audiobooks. Right now I’m listening to Benjamin Franklin’s biography by Walter Isaacson on my way into work.

    1. fredwilson

      i love biographies. absolutely eat them up. gotham gal, not so much. but i’m going to try to get one into our library and sneak it in at some point.

      1. Vasudev Ram

        I like biographies too, and have read some, but don’t know enough names of people whose biographies I should read. How about making a blog post – maybe while you’re on this vacation – about some of the biographies you’ve read and liked?

      2. Vasudev Ram

        Some of the biographies I’ve read include ones about Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln and Lee Kuan Yew.

    2. Drew Meyers

      I think i need to try out some biography/autobiography audio books.Are there any good audio autobiographies where the actual person narrates it themself?

      1. Fernando Gutierrez

        It is a mix of autobiography and business book, but I enjoyed Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh, read by himself.

        1. Drew Meyers

          cool – thanks

      2. Fernando Gutierrez

        Also On Writing by Stephen King is amazing. Not exactly an autobiography either, but almost. If you like writing this one is a must.

    3. Anne Libby

      I’m wondering about comprehension. What’s your experience with books with complicated family trees and webs of relationships?(My book club is reading *100 Years of Solitude*, and I’m trying to decide what format to “read” it in. Thanks!)

      1. Fernando Gutierrez

        I’ve listened to a couple books by Neil Stephenson, that are usually quite rich in details and full of different characters I didn’t have problems with them (I’m not saying they compare to 100 Years, btw!)

        1. Anne Libby

          Good comparison, in my view. Thank you!100 Years is sure to challenge me either way…

      2. awaldstein

        One of the best books of all times.

        1. Anne Libby

          One of the many great books I haven’t read yet. I’d better make a choice and get going, or I’ll fail Book Club!

    4. Fernando Gutierrez

      I think the comprehension thing depends on the person. I’m more visual and comprehend better what I read than what I listen. To improve that I got into audiobooks and I think I’ve improved a lot in that front.

      1. LE

        I’m more visual and comprehend better what I read than what I listen.Same here.

  4. Daniel Clough

    I’ve tried to listen to audiobooks a few times and just can’t get into them. I seem to lose concentration easily.Books are different. I get engrossed and it’s easier for me to digest.Guess some people just find it easier to consume and digest different formats.I also find that most audiobooks are narrated by some professional voice person and it sounds so corny. I wish more people would narrate their own stuff. The time vs. end result quality seems such a sensible win.

    1. Daniel Clough

      although I find short podcasts / interviews easy to consume, especially when driving. Tim Ferris’s and a16z are my fav’s!

    2. BillMcNeely

      michael j fox did a good job with his back in 2002!

    3. Fernando Gutierrez

      I agree that some sound terrible, but there are some amazing acting there also. I listened to Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut read by Ethan Hawke and it was fantastic.

  5. BillMcNeely

    When I was crossing the country between military bases by myself in the early 2000s I loved audio books. I think you are right the narrator is key to the experience.

  6. Anne Libby

    I love audio books. I find that some books are less effective in audio format, though I can’t say why. I’ve seen a few of your vacation photos, and a couple reminded me of the visuals that came up for me when I listened to *Beautiful Ruins* by Jess Walter…Enjoy!

  7. iggyfanlo

    Been using Audible App for a couple years, now you can link to Kindle and switch back and forth between lsitening and reading.. very cool

    1. fredwilson

      Ooooh. I may need to do that to finish Sun Also Rises

    2. Donna Brewington White

      I use this to help my 14 y.o. who is a reluctant reader get through some of his required fiction. But I’ve never thought of doing this myself. May need to try this. I don’t spend enough time sitting unoccupied to warrant listening to an entire book.

      1. Fernando Gutierrez

        Good thing about audiobooks is that you don’t need to be unoccupied as you need with a book. You can listen while doing other things that don’t require your full attention. Aside of commutes or travels, they are great while you exercise, walk the dog, do home chores… For most books I would prefer to just sit down and read, but that is not always possible. I save some of the special books in my wishlist for traditional reading, but for many others I just listen to them. This has made possible to get through many more books than if I just read.

  8. William Mougayar

    Interesting that Audible is an Amazon company. I haven’t tried audio books since I used rent them in cassettes many years ago. I liked the executive summaries versions of business books, like this one

  9. Rohan

    Yesssssssssssss. Audio books are awesome. And, wait till you deal with Audible’s customer support – they provide best-in-class service

    1. Anne Libby

      Interesting. I had the opposite experience with their customer service. (Perhaps the acquisition has helped.)

      1. Rohan

        Ah. That’s interesting. I’ve been using Audible heavily for the past 6 years and I’ve had excellent experiences every time!

    2. Fernando Gutierrez

      I got into audiobooks after reading your comments about them and your book reviews in your website. Thanks for that!!

      1. Rohan

        Glad to hear, Fernando! :))

  10. LE

    The Gotham Gal’s pitch on audio books is that it makes long drives fly by. I am not sure they β€œfly by”, but I would agree that listening to a great narrator read an interesting story does make long drives a lot more enjoyable.I don’t take many long drives (live close to where the office is don’t even turn the radio on) but when I do have to take a long ride I find it’s the best time to call my mother or anyone else that might require a long conversation. That makes the time fly for sure. And I’ve got much more patience to deal with what is called “bubba mynsas” [1] Even if the person isn’t particularly engaging or interesting it’s usually better than doing nothing (if you don’t feel like listening to music). Music for example is annoying in certain states of mind. Listening (such as you are describing) or even a conversation is more calming in general. Talking to the ex wife is almost always done in the car would be totally frustrating anywhere else.One thing I always noticed is that there are things you will listen to in the car that you would never sit in the chair at home and do nothing but listen to (not talking about music in general).For example, back in the day (haven’t listened to him in years) Howard Stern was really funny on some shows (hated his rock star interviews..) And he was great on a long drive into work when stuck in traffic. But there wouldn’t ever be a case where I would turn on the radio at 8pm at night (if he were on at that time) and just sit in a chair and listen to Howard Stern. [2] Imagine this was one of the reasons that his TV show failed. Or that he only made one movie. He’s a side dish not a main dish. Likewise audio books are a side dish, not a main dish of entertainment. They are meant to be consumed only when you have literally nothing better to do.[1] Translates to “grandma stories” stupid things that don’t matter.[2] Must have something to do with the ratio of funny things vs. time spent listening.

  11. Andy K.

    I listen to audiobooks everyday while exercising. For me, it is like going to the movies. Knowing I get to listen to the next 45 minutes of a book gets me on the treadmill, even on an “off” day. Been an AudibleListener for 15 years. Full disclosure: I’m a former CFO of Audible, from the pre-Amazon days. Some of my favorites: anything by Bill Bryson or Simon Winchester. Also, books read by the author are sometimes very special…..Malcom Gladwell, Bill Clinton, George Bush, Jack Welch, Tina Fey, Elton John, Coach K.

    1. fredwilson

      Thanks for the suggestions

    2. Fernando Gutierrez

      I listen to them while walking the dog. I love my dog, but sometimes I’m tired or the weather is bad and walking him is not very appealing. Audiobooks make we want to go out.

  12. Matt Zagaja

    Some audio books are much more engaging than the written versions, especially by comedians like Stephen Colbert. I also enjoyed Gary Vaynerchuk’s audiobook version of crush it more than the book.

  13. David Semeria

    If had a long drive with just my wife, I’d go for War and Peace.

  14. Brandon Burns

    I had a similar experience this summer. I absolutely hate being in a car for more than an hour, two max. An audio book will extend that a good 2 or 3 hours, provided leg room for my 6’3″ frame.

    1. LE

      Such a burden it is to be tall, eh?

      1. Brandon Burns

        People think its so great. Its really not, or its at least a burden once you’re over a certain height.

        1. LE

          This guy (a basketball player no doubt) [1] was in the Starbucks in Cherry Hill so might play for the Sixers. Drove away in a 120k Porsche. Leon Rose lives in the area and my guess is that if he didn’t play for the sixers he was one of his clients [2] That’s tall and that’s a burden. Not to minimize your burden of course.The other side of it is that being 6″3 definitely opens up more possibilities with women, jobs, business and all sorts of things.[1] Anyone know who this is?Here are Rose’s clients:…[2] I deal with Rose’s brother who is a realtor and know him pretty well. I didn’t even know what his brother did until a few months ago maybe because I know so little about sports and he never talks about it or has ever mentioned him.

        2. pointsnfigures

          Depends. I’d rather be taller than average. Shorter works in gymnastics, wrestling and ball turret gunners.

  15. Ricardo

    I’ve got to try that, thanks for sharing.

  16. Evan Frank

    Totally agree on the power of the audiobook (and think that Amazon’s Whispersync is a killer product if you want to alternate between reading and listening on your phone) – in fact, wrote a blog post about this a few months ago….http://motorwaystramlines.c

  17. Isaak

    I’ve been listening to books since 1989 :), when I started commuting by car to NJ and it took about 1.5 hours each way. At that point it was Books-on-Tape. It eventually became Audible (I think through an acquisition). I now probably have close to a thousand books in my Audible library. I listen to books any time I am on the go, walking, driving on subways. A Bluetooth in-ear headset is in my pocket next to the iPhone where I normally load the books I buy on Audible. BTW they have a great money saving subscription if you buy 24 books at a time.I think it’s not for everyone, you need to have a “listening ear”. I remember enjoying listening to stories on radio when I was a child, so it’s probably from that time that I got used to it. But it’s a great way to use productively any spare moment when reading is logistically impossible. And now days almost any newly published book gets produced on audio almost at the same time. Works great for me.

    1. fredwilson

      Hi Isaak. Its nice to hear from you.

  18. kgutteridge

    Completely agree, it wasn’t until we were involved as the developers of a UK startup called that I really discovered how good an audiobook can be and how much of a difference the narrators really make, Bardowl has an interesting take in that are charging a flat monthly rate like Spotify rather than per book

  19. Fernando Gutierrez

    Regarding length, try to listen to them at higher speed. Some narrators speak too slowly! the Audible app lets do it and it’s great. I usually switch between 1.5x and 2x

  20. Alex Murphy

    The situational book is a great experience. I read Inferno last summer as we went through Switzerland and Italy. It made Florence just that much more epic.Audio Books are the #1 best way to reduce frustration while driving through bad traffic! Stay in one lane, listen to the book, and read two books a week!Have you tried turning up the speed of the book? You can go up to 3x. Its like speed reading.You can also sync it with your kindle, so if you own the ebook version and the audio, they will sync so you can listen, read, listen.

  21. LIAD

    Audiobooks and podcasts are great for journeys. Learning passively whilst in the car/on the subway is a great use of time.Especially enjoy audiobooks where the author is the narrator.Longest one I’ve heard is The Snowball – official biography of Warren Buffet written/read by Alice Schroeder. 37 hours long.Enjoyed every minute of it.

  22. Cookie Marenco

    Sounds like you’re having a fantastic trip. I’m enjoying every minute of it! (you’re trip) πŸ˜‰

    1. fredwilson

      We are too!

      1. Cookie Marenco

        πŸ™‚ I suspect Gotham Gal already knows about David Lebovitz, an American chef living in Paris… a great blog loaded with unique restaurant/food tips and trips.… I’m living vicariously through him as well! enjoy

  23. Salt Shaker

    Daniel James Brown was interviewed at an event last week at the Seattle Public Library by the Seattle Times’ book editor, Mary Ann Gwinn. I wanted to attend but thought it would spoil my experience reading his book, “The Boys in the Boat,” which I had not yet purchased.Low and behold, my girlfriend gave me a copy this morning in my stash of b-day presents. “The Boys in the Boat” is a must read in her family, which consists of several generations of UDub alum, including her mom who was the school’s 1st homecoming queen.

    1. fredwilson

      You will love it. We did and we have no association with Crew, U of Wash, or Seattle

      1. someone

        I just read BotB on Prince Edward Island in August. my son rows for his high school, so I enjoyed learning about the dynamics inside the shell. amazing narrative

    2. someone

      greatest line of the book: “TEN STROKES FOR ULBRICKSON!”

      1. fredwilson

        yeah, that was great

  24. schultzmj

    Big fan of the audio books while driving. We drive from Atlanta to Upper Michigan 1-2 times per year and I cant imagine now doing that without several new books waiting for me

  25. Daniel Ripoll

    Nice post. Good to hear that someone else appreciates a good audiobook as much as I do. Audio books are the best. I’ve never listened to a novel or biography. Mostly self help books like Blue Ocean Strategy or Think and Grow rich.A Stanford pal of mine turned me onto them back in 2007-2008 and I’ve been a huge fan of audio books ever since.I also find that getting in shape is much easier when you pair a fitbit with some good audiobooks and go on a lot of long walks.

  26. jason wright

    not sure they work for me. my eyes start to wander away from the voice. when i read my ears don’t do that.

  27. Mark Gavagan

    While not an audio book, a terrific listen while you travel option worth considering is Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast (….Individual episodes often run 3+ hours, but he’s so knowledgeable and enthusiastic, zooming in and out to convey the big picture and then tiny fascinating details, it’s well worth the many hours (and donation dollars) I’ve invested.P.S. I have no connection to Dan Carlin, other than as a listener.

  28. kenberger

    The brain can process stories much faster than spoken, or written, language tends to be delivered. There’s an i/o limitation issue via eyes/ears/keyboards, etcI’m waiting for (looking for) technology that transcends this, accelerates speeds, relieves fatigue. I have a Stanford professor friend who talks of a day when something like reading/hearing a book skips having to deal with your eyes or ears.Probably not stuff that works while driving, though!

    1. Max Yoder

      These gents are working on that: http://www.spritzinc.comI don’t know them from Adam, but I appreciate what they are up to.

  29. chhhris

    Agree that a manageable length is key! My wife and I had started The Goldfinch as an audio book, but then I had to buy the eBook in order to finish it πŸ™‚

    1. fredwilson

      i read it on this trip. the old fashioned way. that was a longgggg book.

  30. Lee Blaylock

    Continuos learning > music all the time/regurgitated news. love me some books. Harvard Business Review and NPR tech blogs are what I listen to on drives from one city to another. a good time to think about what you’re listening too on the road as well when you’re on the highway.

  31. awaldstein

    Never made the leap to use them.Odd as coming out of my pirate radio days I ran the Wash State Regional Library for the Blind and did community sourced audio books for the sight impaired people throughout the state.I used to send our sightless reporters with their seeing eye dogs, out to shop and come back and talk about their experiences on the air with me. Almost every week, their seeing eye dogs would curl up under the table, and chew through the cables in the control room and shut us down. Week after week for a almost a year πŸ˜‰

  32. Pete Griffiths

    Longtime audiobook fanatic.It started with audio cassettes for my kids in the car when they were little and we ended up with literally hundreds of tapes. I attribute their huge vocabulary to listening to classic literature from an early age. Tip to parents – audio books for the drive to school!Currently listening to ‘A la recherche du temps perdu’ which is LONG. πŸ™‚

  33. dan_malven

    With 5 kids ages 4-12 the only vacations that work are ones we can drive to, so we can schlep all the stuff we need and have the minivan with car seats when we get there, etc. And the only way to stay sane while driving long distances (e.g. Chicago to Colorado, Florida or Maine, all 20+ hours) with 5 young children is to drive straight through (no hotel stops). We’ve done it at least a dozen times in the last several years. Audio books (with earphones) and Red Bull are the only way it’s possible! I find the thriller page-turners work best for long car trips. When pulling the midnight to 5am shift you’re not looking for a literary experience! The Harry potter series, Grisham books and the like are best for putting myself in an alert but non-critical thinking state.

    1. BillMcNeely

      Dan you are the Man! I like frequent/hotel stops so I guess thats why I only have 1 child. You have my respect!

    2. fredwilson

      that was my childhood Dan. we’d sleep in the back area of the station wagon.

      1. PhilipSugar

        Same exact memory.

  34. Emily Merkle

    kudos. I cannot do anything for 14 hours except what I do. I find audio not as immersive; plus what about tone of narrator?

  35. Peter Gasca

    I had a similar story, a good friend convinced me to listen to a book during what was my hour long commute to and from work. I was apprehensive at first, especially since the book was the first Harry Potter, but I gave in and tried. It was great, and since then, I have been hooked on books as well as podcasts. I should add that narrators are incredibly important, as I was probably more sold on Jim Dale’s narration of Harry Potter than the book itself. Regardless, it’s great for passing time!

  36. Emily Merkle


  37. panterosa,

    We have an awesome collection of kids audio books including Roald Dahl, Wrinkle in Time by M L’Engel herself.The voice makes a big difference in how you hear it.And we now have a voice over talent in the family – my English mother. Her demo came out last week and is AMAZING. The voice I grew up with, which read me stories, and even I am stunned by how fun it is. With no coaching, Audible is ready for her.

  38. daryn

    Audible is interesting – they had the first digital audio player way back in the 90s, and Don Katz had quite a history as a writer and journalist before starting the company. I did some interviewing for them when I was at amazon, and while I never went to their office, sounds like they’re really trying to do something there in Newark.My favorite audiobook: “Me talk pretty one day” by David Sedaris – nearly had to pull over a couple of times on that road trip, I was cracking up so much. Hearing the stories in his own voice was actually better than reading the words myself.

    1. Kirsten Lambertsen

      Great reco.

  39. Nelson Bostrom

    I can’t wait for an app that you can have read articles, blogs and research papers to you. πŸ™‚

  40. John Revay

    and the Gotham Gal said, β€œlet’s listen to some audio books on this trip.”Nice way to mix it up…I often spend time commuting in my car and I love very much listening to books along the drive.

  41. Ciaran

    I’m training for a 50k bike ride at the moment. Because I am no lover of the type of music that makes up most gym playlists I was struggling to find things to keep me entertained on the exercise bike. And then I decided to start watching documentaries on my phone.So far I’ve done The Fog of War (fascinating insights from the man who essentially ran the Vietnam War and now thinks it was a mistake), Sugar Man (a detective story of sorts about the hunt for a lost 70s musician) and am about to start on a series about classic albums, starting with this one.…If you aren’t training for a time, merely endurance, I’d suggest this as a great way to exercise your mind and body.

  42. Austin Clements

    Last year as a weekend project I helped develop a site that has book recommendations based on your destination. Nothing fancy, but its gotten a lot of traffic because people found it very useful. Check it out for your next stop:

  43. David Aferiat

    Would you share your San Sebastien itin? Traveling there soon and respect GG.

  44. Jason Keramidas

    In my experience, the narrator makes all the difference. A great story may not make a great listen if the reader is not very engaging. I highly recommend listening to samples before you get started. There are some narrators I swear by (Simon Vance is a personal favorite), knowing that I will have a great experience, in some cases even elevating a story beyond what you might experience just from reading. Full discolsure, I’m a former Audible employee

  45. Carl Rahn Griffith

    Spoken word is greatly underrated – I only blogged about the joys of it last week……Ps, Jerome K Jerome Three Men in a Boat read by Michael Palin is a joy as is Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy read by Stephen Fry.

  46. Ken Greenwood

    Glad to hear you are continuing to have a great time and seeing so much. I have been listening to podcasts and Audible books for two years now on my daily commute. This has made the commute much more tolerable. I think the one audiobook that made the time fly by most quickly was The Martian by Andy Weir. Tech enthusiasts of all sorts will probably enjoy.

  47. Andrew K Kirk

    Podcast are my go to for getting through long travels (planes, trains, and auto). I’m particularly fond of Radiolab, This American Life, and Freakeconomics. I think I’ll give the audiobook format a try.

  48. Chimpwithcans

    My cousin is an actor and now a pretty successful audio book narrator – I have been meaning to give the format a try to hear her work – this has pushed me to download the app and try. Sounds like fun.

  49. Vadim Burlacu


  50. Kirsten Lambertsen

    Steve Martin’s most recent is a great listen, because, of course, he reads it.Before audiobooks, I used to read to my husband while he drove on long road trips. “The Fifties” is good one for very long trips.

  51. David Parker

    Try listening to anything in “A Song of Ice and Fire” (Game of Thrones)… those are about ~45+ hours each! (And totally worth it).

  52. B12N

    @fredwilson:disqus wondering if you’re using a foreign SIM in your phone when travelling (I’m guessing not since you mentioned using hotel wifi), but also curious your thoughts on roaming/switching SIM’s when travelling. I find it to be an annoyance, especially when their are multiple countries involved in one trip.

    1. fredwilson

      i used to do that. now i rent these pocket wifis and get unlimited internet on them. use my US SIM for voice and texting (which i do very little of)

  53. Nick Ambrose

    For some reason I just cannot focus on them. Gave it a try when on a long drive up to Canada a couple of years back and ended up having to continually skip backward to re-listen to parts of the story we had missed.

  54. paulmg

    Surprised nobody’s mentioned, just as the name implies it’s Project Gutenberg for audiobooks. Good website, great app (at least for Android) A tremendous resource though the narrators can be mixed as they are volunteers. Plus you’re not locked into a company’s system/subscription etc.

  55. Michelle

    Many public libraries (including the New York Public Library and the Brooklyn Public Library) have a great selection of audiobooks to borrow for free – the Overdrive app makes it easy to access them and download to your phone.

  56. pointsnfigures

    Love those books. One I would have recommended to you when you were in Italy is Saving Italy by Robert Edsel. He also wrote Monuments Men which is a great one for Paris.

  57. Peter Iliev

    I love listening to audio books while running. It really makes an hour long run feel like minutes, plus it’s a solution for people like me who don’t have enough free time to sit down and just read.

  58. JBalloonist

    I’m just about finished with “The Second World War” by Antony Beevor. 40 hours long! It’s taken me almost 8 months to get through it…