Go to main navigation Navigation menu Skip navigation Home page Search

The audiobook trend is here to stay

Something many people are looking forward to during their summer holiday is to have time to relax while reading a book, and in recent years, audiobooks have gained rapid popularity. SSE student Alice O’Connor and SSE alumna Hedda Hanner decided to take a closer look at the phenomenon in their bachelor thesis in 2019, where they focused on consumer behavior with audiobooks as a book medium and digital subscription services as a channel for audiobooks. They then got in touch with the Swedish Publishers' Association who found their thesis so interesting that they wanted to turn their study into a report for them.

In the thesis, Alice and Hedda followed a framework looking at how people’s beliefs form certain attitudes, which together with subjective norms influence their behavioural intentions, in turn influencing their actions. In their case, the investigated beliefs, resulting attitudes and subjective norms related to Swedish consumers’ intentions to listen to audiobooks as well as subscribe to digital subscription services.

The pair researched different belief factors as to why people listen to audiobooks, such as "polychronicity" (i.e. multitasking), "need for companionship" and "need for cognition". Previous studies have highlighted the ability to multitask and lesser mental effort needed as reasons to listen to audiobooks, but neither multitasking nor "need for cognition" were significant in Alice and Hedda’s study. Somewhat surprisingly, "need for companionship" was a significant belief; it has been looked at sparingly in previous research, but it is not something that has been emphasized much, and therefore the factor Alice and Hedda had least literature about.

"To listen to stories being told by others is something that goes back thousands of years in human culture to the days of storytelling by the campfire. It is also something that  often reminds us of our childhood, being read to by parents or teachers. Listening to stories can give us a feeling of security and less loneliness", says Alice. "It would be interesting to see if the need for companionship as a factor has grown even stronger during the pandemic with limited human contact, if someone would do a follow up on our study which was done in 2019", she says.

They also researched different belief factors as to why people use digital subscription services for audiobooks compared to other channels, such as on CD, radio or other digital channels. In the study, they found "perceived usefulness", "perceived portability", "the taxi meter effect" (related to digital subscription services’ payment model) and "preference for trialability" to be significant belief factors. These factors may help explain how digital subscription services have become the dominant channel for audiobooks in Sweden, far surpassing other channels in use. "Sweden is by far one of the leading markets for digital subscription services for audiobooks globally and understanding why was core to us choosing this research topic. We would definitely be interested in knowing if these belief factors are important in other markets where these services are less widespread as well", says Alice.

Different book mediums in different contexts

In the thesis, they discovered that audiobooks did not seem to replace other book mediums. A majority of the study’s respondents read a combination of paper books, audiobooks and/or e-books. Some people fear that audiobooks will completely take over, but Alice and Hedda hypothesise that people use different book mediums in different contexts, and the contexts were not necessarily the same.

"From a personal perspective, we thought about it like this. If I would go on vacation, I would be likely to listen to an audiobook on the plane, but have a paper book with me on the beach, while Hedda would do the exact opposite; read a paper book on the plane and listen to an audiobook on the beach", says Alice.

"Reading in general is very connected to having time off and being on a holiday for me, and I don’t want to miss out on that particular feeling", says Hedda. "Our different choices for holiday reading is just one of many ways people might switch between different book mediums. For example, we also discussed how people might listen to audiobooks on their phones while travelling and then read the paper version at home."

How to pick a good audiobook

So how does one pick the perfect audiobook when they want to relax in the hammock during their summer holiday?

"Since the "need for companionship" proved to be an important factor in our study, the narrator is clearly important for many people. Some audiobook providers have yearly "awards", where people vote for the best narrators and the best audiobooks. The ones on those top lists are certainly worth listening to", says Hedda. "It might also be unknown to most that there are books that are unique as audiobooks, meaning that they have been written to be just that, not to be a printed book that a narrator then reads out loud. Many audiobook listeners  tend to like those, and many streaming services have their own originals", she says.

"Then there are all sorts of audiobook communities online, such as social media groups and dedicated apps. There you can find excellent tips, from readers rating the best digital subscription services and narrators to plenty of books being discussed", says Alice. "It’s amazing how committed and helpful people are in these communities, who also were a great help to us in our thesis writing. If you want to join a book circle this summer from the comfort of your own home, you can join one that already exists or start your own in one of these online forums", recommends Alice.

Moreover, they both believe that audiobooks are more than just a trend, it’s a format that is here to stay.

"With the strong growth rate of audiobook consumption over the last several years and readers’ love for the medium that we have seen firsthand in our research process, we believe audiobooks are definitely here to stay. Connecting to a larger cultural debate, however, some people are still prejudiced against the value of audiobooks, believing that it takes less mental capacity to listen to audiobooks and that it is some kind of shortcut to reading, but from the research we have read it is most certainly reading, it is just a different medium. In other words, it is important to point out that while people often say that you listen to an audiobook, that doesn’t take away from you also reading the audiobook", says Alice.

"All in all, whatever medium you prefer, reading at all is perhaps the most important part", says Hedda.


Do you want to learn more about the report? You can find it here.