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Are Audiobooks Becoming More Popular?

Are Audiobooks Becoming More Popular?

February 19, 2024 0 Comments

Are audiobooks becoming more popular?


Audiobooks have come a long way since their humble beginnings in the 1930s. Despite facing skepticism and the stigma of not being a “true reading experience”, audiobooks are now rapidly increasing in popularity. At Listening Books, we know that audiobooks have countless benefits: from relieving stress and anxiety to enhancing literacy skills for people who cannot access print books, audiobooks can truly make the world of difference. Join us as we look at the history of audiobooks and the reasons behind their growth in popularity over time!


The first audiobooks were recorded in the 1930s for people with visual disabilities. In the nine decades that have passed, you can imagine the changes that have been made! We can now carry thousands of audiobooks around with us in our pocket using Libby, for example, which would have been unimaginable to the pioneers first recording them to help others experience the joy of books.


Originally, audiobook recordings were made on ‘long playing records’, which lasted 25 minutes. This means the average novel was formed on 10 records, which would mean having to change sides about 20 times over the course of an average novel! [1] Just imagine trying to listen to the Game of Thrones series in the 1930s! While audiobooks were a great advancement in accessing books, unfortunately, they did not make the easiest or most accessible listening experience!


Two decades later, in the 1950s, companies started recording audiobooks for the public. Audiobooks slowly began to become more popular, which grew again in the 1960s, as cassette tapes made the listening experience more accessible. The development of CD discs in the ‘80s was another amazing development for audiobook listeners, and much easier than changing 10 different records on a record player! The game-changing introduction of the Sony Walkman provided a great option for commuters to listen to audiobooks (and still do!).[2]


However, it wasn’t quite smooth sailing for the industry. first launched in 1997 but didn’t start making a profit until 2004! We all know about the stigma against audiobooks, with some people believing “they aren’t real books” or “it isn’t reading”. But audiobooks open up the extraordinary world of literature to people who otherwise might be unable to enjoy the benefits. Audiobooks allow everyone to escape into different worlds, relieve stress and anxiety, and provide a companion for loneliness. They have also been proven to be just as effective for comprehension as written books![3]


With an increased understanding of disabilities, mental illness and learning difficulties, in addition to the advances in technology, we are finally seeing a hugely increased popularity in audiobooks! The audiobook industry in the UK has seen an astronomical growth in revenue, particularly after the COVID-19 pandemic. With bookshops off-limits and more people experiencing lockdown-induced loneliness and mental health issues, audiobooks emerged as the perfect companions during the pandemic. Sales in the first six months of 2021 rose by a staggering 71% compared to the first six months of 2019![4]


Overall, between 2018 and 2023, the revenue of the audiobook industry increased by an annual rate of 11.7%.[5]  Despite the lockdowns now being over, audiobook sales once again increased in 2022. Sale revenue in 2022 reached £164 million - an increase of 8% from 2021! [6] The pandemic highlighted the invaluable role audiobooks play in providing comfort, escapism, and companionship. As Listening Books’ patron Stephen Fry says, “The companionship and delight of a voice telling stories is incomparable”. 


Researchers found that over 44% of adults in the UK listened to an audiobook in 2021.[7] People aged 25-34 are most likely to regularly download and use audiobooks.[8] With more and more people becoming aware of their incredible benefits, the popularity of audiobooks is clearly here to stay.


So, if you haven’t already, why not consider opting for audiobooks! Some of the many benefits include being more sustainable in the face of the climate emergency, as well as a cost-effective solution to an insatiable reading habit during the cost-of-living crisis. Listening Books memberships start at just £20 a month for unlimited access to over 10,000 audiobooks, newspapers and magazines. We can also offer free subscriptions for those who find our fees a barrier to joining! To join our service, click here.


Remember, they also leave you with much more room in your suitcase!


Listening Books is a UK charity providing an audiobook lending service for anyone who finds that an illness, disability, mental health condition or learning difficulty affects their ability to read.

For more information about Listening Books, please click here.


Author: Emily Grimsey

Editor: Annabel Morgan





[3] Best, E., National Literacy Trust, Audiobooks and Literacy (2020)






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