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Who Listens to Audiobooks?

Danika Ellis

Associate Editor

Danika spends most of her time talking about queer women books at the Lesbrary. Blog: The Lesbrary Twitter: @DanikaEllis

Immersive Media & Books 2020 is a survey of more than 4,000 U.S. Americans who have engaged with a book in the last year. This includes not just people who have read a book in the last year, but also those who have gifted a book or used a book as reference material. The survey was funded in part by the American Library Association and OverDrive, and it has resulted in a ton of very interesting data. At the end of June, for Audiobooks Month, the lead researchers held a webinar hosted by Audio Publishers Association to share their findings on audiobook listening habits, which you can watch in full on YouTube.

The Executive Director of Audio Publishers Association, Michele Cobb, shared that “2020 was a banner year for audiobooks with over 71,000 titles published and the ninth year of double-digit sales growth.” While 2020 might have brought a lot of commutes to a stop, it looks like that couldn’t slow down the growth in audiobook listening. In fact, 43.6% of the survey answerers engage with audiobooks to some extent.

While audiobooks were first produced by The American Foundation of the Blind and continue to be a great resource for accessibility in books, they’ve also taken off in a lot of different contexts. They’re great for multitasking, whether you’re listening on your commute, while walking the dogs, doing dishes, shopping for groceries, or more. (You can do things other than chores while listening, though!) In fact, the survey showed that 70% of audiobook users multitask while listening. More surprising to me is that 61% of ebook readers also do!

Immersive Media also found that people who listen to audiobooks are the most avid book engagers: 67.9% of them engage with four or more books in a month, as compared to 53% of the general survey population. They also have a higher percentage of library card membership: 81.4% compared to 75.8% of the general survey population. They don’t just listen for free, though: 49.6% of audiobook listeners buy books in multiple formats. If you listen to audiobooks, you can probably understand this: sometimes you want to show off that shiny hardcover even though you read it through your ears. Or, you might want to read along with an ebook while listening. And, of course, many audiobook listeners like to read in multiple formats.

Clearly, audiobook listeners are serious book people. They’re also younger (41.5% of Millennials and 43% of Gen X engage with audiobooks) and are more likely to be people of color (19.6% of listeners are Black and 16.% are Latinx). They engage with YA of all genres more than the general survey population, which makes sense, given that they skew younger than average.

If you’d like to dive into more data, check out the full report, which has lots of juicy numbers to compare.

If you want to start listening to more audiobooks, try these websites, where you can find thousands of free audiobooks! You can also check out our other audiobooks posts or follow our audiobooks newsletter.