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The Coming Storm by Michael Lewis and Audible Studios

Published on Jul 31, 2018.

What to make of the latest creation from Michael Lewis? Is it a book? A program? An example of long-form journalism? A artifact of digital content?

Whatever it is, you can only read it by listening. And you can only listen to it if have have an account (owned by Amazon). As I’m an Audible Platinum subscriber ($229.50 up-front for 24 books, or $9.56 an audiobook), I was able to download The Coming Storm for free. If you are not Audible subscriber, the book will cost you $5.21.

If we are worried about college students not reading enough books, perhaps we are giving them the wrong books to read. At 2 hours and 27 minutes, The Coming Storm is wonderfully concise. The book, or program or whatever, is also wonderfully good.

The genius of The Coming Storm is that it will make you even more worried and upset about the Trump administration than you are now. I bet you didn’t think that was possible.

Lewis uses the lens of weather, and the Department of Commerce’s National Weather Service, to explain why the federal government matters to all of us. The incuriosity, venality, and incompetence of Trump appointees to government agencies has real costs in terms of public safety.

While listening to The Coming Storm, I kept fantasizing about Lewis turning his gaze on the Department of Education. What might Lewis make of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and her efforts to roll back regulations governing for-profit education

This audiobook is timely, well-research, and beautifully written. Everything that one would expect from Michael Lewis.

Still, I’m conflicted about The Coming Storm. As an audiobook evangelist you’d think that I’d be happy about an audio-only release. I’m not.

Lewis, who has sold over 10 million books, signed a deal with Audible to release his next 4 short books only as audiobooks, and only on Audible.  A NYTimes article on Lewis and other audio-only books commented:

"Mr. Lewis is part of a growing group of A-list authors bypassing print and releasing audiobook originals, hoping to take advantage of the exploding audiobook market. It’s the latest sign that audiobooks are no longer an appendage of print, but a creative medium in their own right...After years of stagnation in the industry, audiobooks have become a rare bright spot for publishers. While e-book sales have fallen and print has remained anemic, publishers’ revenue for downloaded audio has nearly tripled in the last five years..”

For Lewis, his reason to go exclusively audio with Audible is to grow his audience while improving his craft.  In the NYTimes article, Lewis is quoted as saying:

“I’ve always liked the test of having to tell a story,” he said. “One of the reasons I’m doing it is I think it’s going to make me a better writer.”

What could be wrong?

Isn’t it a good thing if exclusive audiobook deals serve to bring more people to audiobooks?

The answer, I think, is that it is a mistake to attempt to grow the use of any medium by shutting down access to other platforms. Reading should never be a zero sum game. Yes, I want an audiobook option for my books. But that does not mean that I don’t want there to be print and e-book options as well.

My wife is not an audiobook fan. Her brain operates on a faster frequency than any audiobook narration. Audiobooks move too slowly for her. They don’t fully capture her attention. She feels that her retention of audiobooks is limited compared to reading with her eyes. My wife might love The Coming Storm. But she will not read this book. The audiobook only format is shutting her out.

You might be in the same boat. Audiobooks just might not work well for you. Where does that leave you for The Coming Storm?

I keep thinking that higher ed people should be playing a role in pushing for a diverse information ecosystem. I’m greatly worried about the monopoly position that I see Amazon creating in digital books.

Having a book as good as The Coming Storm only in audiobook format, and only on Amazon’s Audible, does nothing to promote information ecosystem diversity.

What are you reading?

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