The Power of Audiobooks

26 May 2021
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In April, The National Literacy Trust held a webinar to discuss the power of audiobooks, celebrating the launch of a new research project supported by Audible. The panel reviewed existing research into the benefits of audiobooks, exploring how teachers and educational practitioners can incorporate audiobooks into their practice, the role of audiobooks in promoting diversity, and how new research can support the removal of VAT from audiobooks via the Axe The Reading Tax campaign.

The panellists were-

  • Emily Best, Audio Research Manager, National Literacy Trust
  • Ruth Howells, Deputy Director of External Affairs, Publishers Association
  • Nicola Izibili, Literacy Consultant and Teacher
  • Kevin Addley, Country Manager, Audible UK

Audiobooks as another form of story

The panel began by looking at ways audiobooks are conduits through which stories can be accessed, for example where problems in decoding or comprehending written text can limit children’s access to a wide range of stories; audiobooks offer a way into reading for those who may find traditional forms of books intimidating. Audiobooks can also engage reluctant, struggling and developing readers, providing a pathway into stories that may be beyond a child’s reading level.

We want our young people to develop the reading habit. And they're going to do that if they're able to read the books that they love. In places that work for them.’

Nicola Izibili, Literacy Consultant

Turning theory into practice

The discussion then turned to how audiobooks could be used within education settings as an additional, creative option for bringing stories to the classroom, making the most of the age-old love of hearing stories that is shared across generations, introducing a range of voices and accents, and engaging with the class in exciting and democratic ways..

This discussion – and some comments from session delegates – highlighted the fact that listening is an active skill in itself that should be taught and nurtured, not just a way of demonstrating that children are paying attention! Audiobooks offer the perfect opportunity to engage a class in active listening.

‘Audiobooks have the potential to support our students in developing a meaningful and lasting relationship with the written word. And that's the best way of raising enjoyment in reading.’

Nicola Izibili, Literacy Consultant

Intergenerational and diverse listening

Audiobooks reach a diverse range of audiences and ages. Kevin from Audible spoke about how they select readers to record their audiobooks, choosing people who complement the books they’re reading out loud – often the author themselves – to ensure a wide range of voices can be heard.

Audiobooks can be enjoyed by the whole family, which is particularly important when parents are reluctant or struggling readers. In some families listening to the same story in a different language can also serve a similar purpose to dual language texts, thereby bridging language barriers.

'Hearing different voices through audio builds so much more of the story, but equally, a child hearing a story in their own accent can help legitimise that accent, and that heritage.'

Emily Best, National Literacy Trust

Barriers to accessing audiobooks

In addition to the educational benefits of audiobooks, we know that they can have a positive impact on wellbeing: during lockdown 1 in 3 (31.8%) children and young people said that listening to audiobooks made them feel better. However, as noted by the panel, audiobooks are not always regarded in the same way and while the Axe the Reading Tax campaign has been successful in helping bring e-book VAT to 0% - level with physical books – audiobooks are l subject to the 20% VAT which. Our hope is that the next stage of our research will build the case for the extension of this removal to audiobooks.

Removing VAT from audiobooks is a core part of breaking down barriers to reading, and we will continue to focus on campaigning for this.’

Ruth Howells, Publishers Association

Next steps

Each panellist agreed, that it doesn’t matter how you consume a book. A book is a book whether you listen to it, read it digitally or read a physical copy. The discussion concluded that it is clear that audiobooks provide a different entry point for those who might find physical books daunting and there are immense benefits to this.

The National Literacy Trust will be completing two new pieces of research to further understand the unique benefits audiobooks bring for young readers as well researching into the benefits audiobooks can bring to an older audience.

If you are interested in finding out more about our work in this area, then please email Emily.Best@literacytrust.org.uk to be added to the audiobooks mailing list.