Since March 2020 we have explored the various benefits of audiobooks for children and young people, from building comprehension skills to sharing stories across generations. Time and again, two key themes have arisen: the power of audio to engage reluctant readers, and the role of audiobooks in promoting and furthering diversity in publishing.
This report builds on previous work and focuses on findings from our 2021 Annual Literacy Survey.
Key findings include:
Listening enjoyment and behaviours
- 1 in 4 (25.4%) children and young people are listening to audiobooks, with 1 in 8 (12.8%) listening to just audiobooks and a further 1 in 8 (12.6%) listening to both audiobooks and podcasts.
- A further 1 in 4 (23.3%) children and young people listen to just podcasts, meaning nearly 1 in 2 (48.7%) listened to some form of audio
- Over 2 in 5 (43.8%) children and young people said that they enjoyed listening to audio.
- Nearly 1 in 5 (18.9%) said they either listened to an audiobook for the first time in lockdown (9.3%), or they listened more than before (9.6%).
- There is a smaller gender gap in listening enjoyment than there is in reading. Boys are much less likely than girls or those who self-describe their gender as other than boy or girl to say they enjoy reading (45.6% vs 55.9% and 60.7%). However, boys are more likely than girls, and almost as likely as those who self-describe their gender as other than boy or girl to say they enjoy listening (45.9% vs.41.8% and 48.0%).
- Most children and young people have access to technology that would enable them to access audiobooks, with 4 in 5 (82.5%) accessing websites online. This also increases with age, with 71.7% of children aged 8 to 11 accessing websites compared with 92.8% of young people aged 16 to 18.
Audiobooks and engagement with reading
- Of those who listen to audiobooks, 2 in 5 (44.5%) children and young people said that listening to an audiobook or podcast has got them interested in reading books.
- More children and young people who enjoy listening say that they also enjoy reading, compared with children who do not enjoy listening (58.3% vs. 46.1%).
- Of those who listen to audiobooks, 3 in 5 (61.0%) children and young people agree that listening to audiobooks helps them understand a subject.
- Also in this group, 3 in 5 (64.7%) children and young people agreed that when they listen to stories they use their imagination more than when watching videos.
- Boys who do not enjoy reading are more likely to say they enjoy listening to audio (46.6%) than girls who do not enjoy reading (37.8%) or those who prefer to describe their own gender (33.0%).
Audiobooks and diversity
- There is a link between listening enjoyment and an interest in diversity, with more children and young people who enjoy listening saying that they like to read or hear about characters or people that are different from them, compared with their peers who do not enjoy listening (65.1% vs. 51.7%).
- When asked whether it was important for story and information books to include characters or people from different backgrounds, 7 in 10 (70.6%) children and young people who enjoyed listening agreed, compared with 6 in 10 (62.2%) who did not enjoy listening.
- Children and young people who self-describe their gender as other than boy or girl are the most likely to say that it is difficult for them to find characters in books that are like them (54.2% vs 34.7% of girls and 32.2% of boys).
- Meanwhile, this group are also the most likely to enjoy listening (48% vs 45.9% of boys and 41.8% of girls).
Audiobooks and wellbeing
- Comments from children and young people suggest that listening to audiobooks and/or podcasts can help them relax and ease anxiety
- Many children and young people discussed listening with family and friends as a form of connection and/or shared activity
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