The right to read

It’s best to admit immediately, before clambering up on this soapbox, that I’m far from an expert on this subject. But I obviously support it wholeheartedly.

It’s very easy for all of us who can read normal print, to assume that not only are there not all that many people with sight problems (as if a low number would make it all right), but that their needs are being taken care of by the authorities. After all, there are audio books out there.

For every one hundred books published in Britain, less than three make it on to audio cassettes. And when they do, they are nearly always more expensive than the paper book. I’m guessing here, but I expect that those who are registered blind get their audio books free from the library. Always assuming the library has them. But just as “ordinary” library users sometimes want to own a book, so might readers with sight problems. Except they will have to pay so much they possibly can’t.

Take Pride and Prejudice. A new paperback might be six or seven pounds, or in one of these cheap classics ranges, possibly only a pound. Used from Oxfam maybe two pounds. The last time I looked, an audio book in MP3 format was as cheap as twenty something pounds, while the more accessible cassettes cost around seventy. You’re not going to own many books like that.

Jacqueline Wilson has joined the campaign for more large print books and audio books, and she’s setting a good example by demanding they are available at the same time as the book is published.

For Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows JK Rowling had also joined. Except for audio cassettes. Anyone who wants (or needs) those can wait another month or so, while the rest of the world joins in the reading frenzy.

This reminds me of the children’s television cartoon Arthur. Some years ago there was an episode featuring the much awaited publication of a thinly disguised Harry Potter. All the children got their copies, while the blind girl had to wait for her Braille version.

Years ago when one of my children needed audio books to access age appropriate books, but not on grounds of eyesight, I wrote a wish list to the local library of books they should buy so we could borrow them. I was pleasantly surprised to find enthusiasm and a new code on the library card giving entitlement to free audio books due to the “handicap”. But they never bought anything that I could see, and after a while they got irritated when I asked if they had anything we hadn’t already had.

So, we headed into the arms of Cover to Cover audio books, who were excellent, until they sold up to the BBC and things started to slide downhill. Plenty of titles, just not the right ones.

Any author reading this; if you haven’t already done so, could you add a clause to your contract asking publishers to produce books in all formats simultaneously? Please.

2 responses to “The right to read

  1. You’re right, purchasing audiobooks gets very costly! You may want to check out – the company I work for. We rent a selection of over 6,000 audiobooks via our website in CD, casette, and downloadable formats (which work with most MP3 players, but not iPods). We only ship CDs and cassettes in the States, but we have download customers located all over the globe. Jiggerbug’s home delivery and download systems are very convenient for our sight-impaired and homebound members. We’re currently redesigning the website, which we’ll relaunch in November. Enjoy!

  2. Thanks for the tip, Stephanie.

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