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A Conversation with Eric P. Rhodes

Sounding Off on Audio: Interviews with Listeners About Their Love of Audiobooks

A Conversation with Eric P. Rhodes

This week marked a bittersweet end and an exciting new beginning, as we said goodbye to a beloved member of The Book Report Network family. Eric P. Rhodes was the Director of Web Design for our division for the past eight plus years, as well as an all-around great guy (with an all-around great beard). Not one to leave without getting a last word in, Eric was kind enough to share some of his audio insight with us --- including how addictive the instant gratification of downloads can be, and why it’s important to focus when listening…audiobooks can be just as informative as a college course. We already miss Eric; we're even considering finally taking his advice and listening to some self-help books.

Question: How long have you been listening to audiobooks?

Eric P. Rhodes: I’ve been listening to audiobooks for 14 years. Some weeks I don’t listen to any audiobooks (because I’m binging on podcasts like Debbie Millman’s “Design Matters”) and other weeks I listen to two or three (because now I have to play catch-up on my reading list), but it averages out over the year. 

Q: What made you start listening?

EPR: I picked up my audiobooks habit after reading THE POWER OF FOCUS by Jack Canfield --- a book I have referenced many, many times since buying it in 2000 at Waldenbooks (remember those?!). Anyway, I learned that one habit successful people have is listening regularly to audiobooks. I also learned that reading a biography or autobiography is a great way to glean nuggets of “secret” information from people I wouldn’t ordinarily have access to. So I thought listening to biographies and autobiographies would be an effective way to learn from people like Warren Buffet and the Dalai Lama. That’s how it all started.

Q: When and where do you listen?

EPR: I originally listened to audiobooks while walking my dog. However, these days audiobooks are a great way to optimize the time I spend commuting to work each day between North Jersey and Manhattan, which is at least an hour of reading time each weekday. I’ve tried it during workouts, but I prefer music that pumps me up when working out or running (and I don’t really work out as much these days, so there’s that). Side note: Did you know that if you listened to 30 minutes of audiobooks each weekday for a year, you could learn as much (if not more) relevant information as you would in a college course?

Q: What kinds of books do you like to listen to best?

EPR: I listen to nonfiction books, including biographies and autobiographies. I’m also interested in topics like design thinking, user experience, marketing, design, business and psychology. So I’ll listen to books around those topics as well.

Q: What do you use to listen to audiobooks?

EPR: I currently use my 64 GB iPhone 5 (lots of space!). It’s really the most efficient way to listen to audiobooks while commuting to work. Before that I’ve used Walkmans, CD players and an MP3 player.

Q: Are the books that you listen to different from the kinds of print and eBooks you read?

EPR: Sort of. I only read fiction books in print. But I will read nonfiction in print, audio and eBook formats. I prefer print for most topic-related nonfiction books, since I can speed-read them and add bits of marginalia. I also prefer biographies and autobiographies in audiobook formats. One time I even listened to the audiobook while reading the print copy. I did this with the unabridged version of THE SNOWBALL: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life by Alice Schroeder, which is read by Richard McGonagle. Over 47 hours of audio! And the book was 960 pages long! It was a great way to read such a comprehensive nonfiction book like that.

Q: Where do you buy/borrow audiobooks from?

EPR: These days I buy them from Audible. I don’t borrow enough from the library (I used to). I might try to do that more, but I’m so impatient when it comes to reading. If I’m interested in a book, I usually want to read it immediately. And I associate borrowing books from libraries with waiting lists. Since we live in an instant gratification culture/society, I can pretty much order the book and read it the same day. So I’ll pay for the convenience of being able read it almost immediately. As for audiobooks specifically, I find that Audible really offers the best pricing option and platform. 

Q: Do you share your audiobooks with anyone?

EPR: No. I never really thought about sharing the audiobook itself. But I’m always talking about the books I read, so I share them that way. 

Q: Do you listen with anyone else, or is it a solo experience?

EPR: It’s definitely a solo experience. I’m usually listening to audiobooks to learn something. So I prefer to be focused and uninterrupted. Having someone listening with me would be distracting. 

Q: What percentage of your reading is done via audiobooks?

EPR: Fifteen to 20 percent.

Q: Do you have favorite narrators? If so, tell us about them.

EPR: Well, actually, I prefer when the authors themselves read their own books. I like to hear the book being read in the voice in which it was written. For example, Lou Holtz and Seth Godin have very distinct voices (some might say annoying). Anyway, when the writer is also narrating I feel like I’m learning directly from the source. It makes for a more authentic listening experience. 

Q: What are some of the most memorable books that you’ve listened to and why?

EPR: The most memorable audiobook for me is the first one I listened to. I remember coming home from the library with five or six cassette tapes. Each night I would take my dog, Tipa, for an hour walk and listen to Michael Dell’s DIRECT FROM DELL: Strategies that Revolutionized an Industry. It’s the most memorable because it’s the one that started this 14-year journey.

Q: What is the last audiobook you listened to? Tell us about it.

EPR: I just listened again to THE THANK YOU ECONOMY by Gary Vaynerchuk on my seven-hour drive to Ohio yesterday. Another great way to optimize the time spent driving on Rt. 80.

Q: Is there anything about the format of audiobooks that you don’t like or would like to see changed or improved?

EPR: Gary Vaynerchuk goes “off script” quite a bit during the recording of THE THANK YOU ECONOMY, but he alerts you when he does. He added little bits of bonus content that’s not found in the print book, which makes the audiobook a unique item  that’s a little different from the print book itself. I would like to see more nonfiction authors add bonus “off script” material.