Round up #145: sight-reading vs. listening, B&N CEO O-U-T

Round up #145: sight-reading vs. listening, B&N CEO O-U-T

The ILMK Round ups are short pieces which may or may not be expanded later.

One Murder More reportedly wins three Silver Falchion awards!

I’m waiting for

Killer Nashville

to post the official results before I do a full post (and celebration), but I thought some of you would be curious: my sibling’s first novel, One Murder More (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*), won three Silver Falchion awards this past weekend! That’s amazing, and puts Kris in good company, including Anne Perry, John Sandford, Dean Koontz, and Sue Grafton.

More to come…

Barnes & Noble loses CEO

In this

press release

Barnes & Nobles announced the “departure” of its Chief Executive Officer, Ronald D. Boire (after not quite a year in the post).

This is being reported both as Boire being fired, and as Boire “stepping down”…but regardless, this is a negative for the Big 5 traditional publishers (who are still reliant on brick and mortar bookstores…I’m a former manager of one). Nobody who is already established in business likes uncertainty, and this is B&N’s third CEO recently.

The press release says that the Board determined Boire wasn’t “a good fit”…and that’s the Board’s fault.

One of my proudest things after I became the training manager at a franchise (where I think we had five owners in seven years…something like that) was that I lengthened the average longevity of my team significantly. When I was hired there, I was told there was a ninety-day “ramp up” period. I asked how many people didn’t get through that period, and I was told two out of three! Sure enough, I was hired with two other people, and I was the only person still there after three months.

That’s just…inefficient hiring, in my opinion.

I’ve hired a lot of people over the years, and I think I’m pretty good at it.

After I was the Training Manager for a year, the average longevity went from under three months to over a years, as I recall…basically, nobody left. Yes, I hired people during that year, but not that many because turnover was low. If I hired them, they stayed.

If the Board hired somebody who wasn’t a good fit, that’s likely to be mostly their fault.

This is odd timing, because we are heading into the most important time of the year…the last three months of the year, in a retail business like this, can easily be 90% of the year’s sales.

Maybe if Boire had made it a full year, the departure would have cost them more?

Replacing the CEO at the end of August is a little bit like replacing your pilot while your plane is at the gate readying for takeoff. 😉

However, Leonard Riggio, who was going to retire in a few weeks (Riggio has been a driving force at B&N since buying the company forty-five years ago) is going to take the helm for now.

The publishers may see that as a good thing…they understand Riggio, even if the leadership is only temporary and therefore limited in determining the strategic direction.

I thought this

RetailDive post by Corinne Ruff

had intelligent insight.

B&N has had some good signs recently…none of them said “Books for Sale in Our Stores”, though. 😉 The strategy has been to move the stores more into other things (especially the cafes), cut back on the NOOK even more, and try to remake the online presence. Those strategies aren’t likely to change.

MarketWatch: physical bookstores rebounding

In this

MarketWatch article by Trey Williams

they report a clear rebound for brick-and-mortar bookstores in the USA, continuing last year’s reversal of a downward trend which had been in place since 2009. I’m not sure I agree with Whitney Hu of

The Strand Bookstore in New York

a marvelous institution. Hu says in part:

“The recent growth in sales is a result of the waning novelty of e-readers, such as Inc.’s Kindle…”

On the other hand, Hu is more likely to be right than another authority they quote…Ronald D. Boire, the aforementioned outgoing CEO of Barnes & Noble. 😉

Are audiobooks cheating?

Regular readers know I listen to text-to-speech (software which reads books out loud to you) a lot. It’s typically hours a week in the car. I sight read every day, too…on my now discontinued Kindle Fire HDX (that’s what does the text-to-speech in the car for me), on a

All-New Kindle Paperwhite, 6″ High-Resolution Display (300 ppi) with Built-in Light, Wi-Fi – Includes Special Offers (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

and a

Kindle Voyage (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

depending on where I am in the house (I also read different books in different parts of the house…I’ve always done that).

I will admit, though,  that there has been a slight, nagging thought: is listening to the book somehow “inferior” to sight-reading it?

Turns out, I wasn’t the only one with that thought. 🙂


CNN post by Melissa Dahl

resonated with me…it was the same question.

Fortunately, Dahl was referencing this

blog post by Daniel Willingham

The bio states that Willingham is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia.

Willingham addresses the idea of whether or not listening to an audiobook is “cheating”.

I was actually hoping for an fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) study showing that what the brain was doing was similar during sight-reading and listening, but the post isn’t that.

It’s talking more about the process, and how it will “mostly” be the same (although there may be an advantage when reading more complex material to sight-reading it, an adult reading a typical novel should be pretty much the same).

It was interesting to me that the article was at least partly what I would consider to be philosophical…questioning the value of defining reading as “work”, something to be more rewarded when you put something more into it.

I do think some “literati” have that attitude: if a book was harder to read, it was better for you and more worthwhile.

I don’t buy that myself.

I think there is value in reading a “popcorn book”, one which reads with little effort. People used to (and some still do) call them “page turners”, although “button masher” became the digital equivalent for a short time (when was they last time you used buttons to “turn the page” on an e-book reader?).

In fact, and maybe I am a bit of a lazy reader in this regard, I tend not to like very “dense” epics…I describe them as when the sentence is better than the paragraph, the paragraph is better than the page, the page is better than the chapter, and the chapter is better than the book. 😉

You know the type…I would put The Worm Ouroborus by E.R. Eddison into that category.

Still, it’s nice to know that a professor of psychology has the opinion that listening to an audiobook isn’t cheating. 🙂 I intend to comment on the blog post (if the requirements to do so are not overly restrictive) to ask about text-to-speech versus audiobooks…I suspect that the TTS cognitive processing is much more similar to sight-reading than audiobooks are. I’d be interested to hear what the professor thinks about that…and about the fact that I generally don’t experience prosody (hearing voices when you read). 🙂

What do you think? Have you thought of listening to books as “cheating”? Will Barnes & Noble continue to have physical bookselling in dedicated brick-and-mortar stores as a major component of their business? If they don’t, what does that mean for tradpubs? Why do you think brick-and-mortar bookstores have been rebounding? Is it because of a decline in e-book use…or maybe it’s coloring books? 😉 Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

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* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things.

8 Responses to “Round up #145: sight-reading vs. listening, B&N CEO O-U-T”

  1. Lady Galaxy Says:

    Every person has his or her own best learning style. Some learn best by seeing. Some learn best of hearing. Some learn best by doing. I learn best by seeing unless the task requires motion, and then I learn best by doing. I am a very poor auditory learner. Things literally go in one ear and out the other. Tell me to go to the store and come home with three items, and I’ll probably remember to go to the store. I might even remember one of the three items. I will not remember all three. Give me a shopping list to read, and even if I lose the list on the way to the store, I’ll most likely remember most of the items on it.

    I’ve tried audio books, and they do not hold my attention. I sometimes use text to speech when my eyes are too tired to focus, but I generally do not last long. When I was a student, I hated it when the teacher would have the class take turns reading stories aloud. I can read so much faster than anyone can talk. But when I became a teacher, I quickly discovered that most of the younger kids, and even a large portion of the older kids, preferred to have stories read aloud. It’s not about cheating. It’s about learning styles.

    However, watching the movie instead of reading the book? Now that’s cheating!

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Lady!

      As a trainer, I’m familiar with that concept of those three learning styles…although rather than hearing, I tend to hear that referred to as “verbal”. I learn best by reading, for example, which is the verbal version. As with most things, I think most people are a mix of the three, although there are certainly more dominant strains for most people.

      I had an interesting discussion about that once. I wanted to have a training session on a workflow first (or read up on it), and then go into the field to see it actually happening. The other person couldn’t imagine anyone not wanting to see it first, and then have it explained. 🙂 I pointed out that different people might benefit from doing it different ways, so we should give them a choice…that was a difficult concept for that person…

      Movies are very abridged almost always (although some series of movies are not as much)…it’s definitely a very different experience.

  2. Zebras Says:


    Your use of audio is really a tool to make the most of your time. You use it when your eyes and hands are busy doing something else, but your ears and brain are available. This is a good thing.

    I personally don’t retain the material very well when I listen to a book. I often enjoy listening to one I’ve already sight read. Good for when you are doing tasks and when you get interrupted, if you miss some, you already know what’s going on, etc. Also good for when I’m bogged down in a book that I want to finish, then it makes a difference to listen.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Zebras!

      I’ve seen it suggested that imperfections in a ph ysical book (wrinkles, smudges) actually improve retention. They break up the routine…and when reading becomes too routine, it may tend to blend together. Text-to-speech was pretty monotonous sounding when the Kindles first got it with the Kindle 2…it’s changed a great deal since then.

  3. Tom Semple Says:

    There are many ways to ‘read’, many different motivations, many types of reading material, and perhaps more importantly, many types of readers, each of whom brings different experiences, knowledge and skills to bear.

    Listening to audiobooks are not cheating. Reading E-books is not cheating. Braille is not cheating. RSVP or speed reading is not cheating. TTS is not cheating. Being read to is not cheating. Or if they are, then reading a physical book is cheating, too (Socrates apparently worried about this). It is all ‘cheating’ in the sense that we’re able to experience and learn things that would otherwise be unavailable to us within our own life experience.

    Readers generally use the mode most comfortable or expedient for them. I came to audiobooks out of a motivation to use time spent driving, working out, episodes of insomnia, and doing yard work for reading. At first I tended to zone out, and fail to follow the thread as it were. But over time, as I’ve experienced different narrators and types of material, I’m a much more skilled listener. I still like to have text, and I can sight read significantly faster with that, but I don’t worry as much about ‘retention’, and it requires specific visual attention that is not always available.

    Similarly some people are put off by TTS. It is not ‘natural’, at least not to date. But again, it is a skill that takes time to develop before one can take it in (just as different English inflections can be difficult to assimilate without specific practice and time listening).

    As for fMRI, I’ll look forward to research. But it is unlikely to conclude that any given way of reading is ineffectual. Perhaps it can inform us about how to become ‘better’ readers, regardless of which form it takes.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Tom!

      I love the philosophy of your comment! Absolutely, listening to TTS is an acquired skill…it takes some practice. It’s similar to listening to someone with an accent which is new to you…at first, it can be hard to understand, but then it will generally “click” and become clear.

  4. Edward Boyhan Says:

    I’m no expert on bookstore health, but I wonder how much the recent spate of “bookstores aren’t in decline” stories aren’t just examples of those with a dog in the hunt “whistling past the graveyard” (:grin).

    As I look around locally at the state of brick & mortar retail in general, I’m not encouraged — I routinely see 20-25% vacancy rates, and I can’t imagine what kinds of stores might fill those empty spaces — I think the B&M retail story is only going to get worse.

    I don’t listen to audio books, and I tend to avoid videos embedded in emails or on web pages. I much prefer reading text as I feel I have control as to how I skim (or not); jump around; start/stop, etc. With video or audio you’re kind of on a clock — you more less take it from the beginning to the end. (you can move around some, but it depends on the source, and IMO is not as convenient as text).

    That said, when I worked for Microsoft, they would give us audio CD’s containing information on products, technical architectures, future directions, etc. These were very handy/useful to listen to while driving around to various sites (unless I was listening in on some conference call or other. I don’t drive around like that any more — so what I listen to in the car is mostly sat radio, or music on my smartphone (roller disco oohrah!) .😀

  5. hsextant Says:

    Cheating? Cheating who? What ever floats your boat and is best for you is the way to do it. Is a parent cheating when they read their child a story? There are people who are convinced reading an e-book is in some sense of cheating or at least depriving yourself the rich experience of the physical book, the weight, the pages, the smell, and in the case of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, the carpel tunnel. If it doesn’t seem like reading if your not heaving 2 pounds of dead tree and not smelling adhesives and ink then by all means buy the hardback. But let’s enjoy our books in what ever form that we enjoy them and not pat our selves on the back because our method is superior. Life is too short and all that.

    I like Tom Semple’s thoughts on the fact that it is all cheating. One moment we can be experiencing excruciating torture at the hands of a Nazi sadist and the next moment be eating a pleasant dinner with our spouse. The purpose of literature is to allow you to experience these things at no cost, other than the price of the book. and the time to read it. It is a fabulous form of cheating!

    All that said, I do have preferred methods. Good well written non-fiction, science, or history for instance, I prefer to sight read and not even do the immersion reading. Light fiction I can do any method. The classics, I prefer immersion reading…it keeps me from bogging down. I do not prefer just Audible for any form. I do buy Audible books on the Daily Deal and just listen to them, but I often find that if I really like the book I end up getting the Kindle version as well.

    About the only form of reading I refuse to do any longer is dead tree books. I like having them around, but I sure don’t want bothered reading one.

    I would like to see comparative fMRI research as well.

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