America’s unhealthy obsession with productivity is driving its biggest new reading trend

“I probably started reading ultra hardcore about seven or eight years ago,” says Tom Bilyeu, an entrepreneur based in Los Angeles. “Ultra hardcore” means that Bilyeu reads everywhere: While he brushes his teeth, while he gets dressed, in the 30 seconds it takes to cross rooms in his house, he’s reading.

“My big secret is,” says Bilyeu, “I read in all those little transitional moments.” Plus, for the last eight years, he’s optimized his intellectual consumption by listening to audiobooks at three times the normal speed.

Audiobooks are the latest trend in book publishing. They’re part of the podcast boom, and they’re helping US publishers keep losses down as ebook sales from big-name companies continue to slump. What’s been around since the 1980s has a sleek new face, and today who’s listening, where, and why, offers a glimpse into a new reading trend sweeping the US.

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