As most of our world goes digital, the average consumer is still buying hardcopy books. Recent research found that, in the past year, 45% of the U.S. population bought a printed book, while 23% bought an ebook. But the latter number is impacted in part because of audiobooks, as more and more people opt for listening over reading.
Today, audiobooks can be quickly accessed on our phones while traveling or running errands, but audiobooks aren’t new. Their history dates back nearly a century, when books were put onto vinyl records for the visually impaired. This practice continued, and became increasingly popular with the general public, as cassette tapes debuted. Every format since has provided a medium for spoken-word entertainment, from novels and plays to motivational self-help books. But the ubiquity of portable electronic devices has only helped, and audiobooks are now more popular than ever.
Audiobooks were already growing before the pandemic, but the lockdown boosted their popularity in a hurry. According to Scribd data, searches for audiobooks on the platform barely registered in 2019, increased in 2020, and then skyrocketed in 2021, growing by an impressive 515% over two years. Beyond just searching for audiobooks, Scribd users actively listened to them. The average user spent 42 hours listening to audiobooks in 2021, a 32% increase over 2020. One reason that audiobooks have taken off in recent years is that people like to multitask — for example, by doing chores or exercising while still enjoying a good book.
To view this trend on a macro level, we can look to a recent study from Edison Research and Triton Digital. It found that roughly 131 million people listened to an audiobook in 2021, which accounts for about 46% of the total U.S. population age 12 years and older.
Audio formats extend beyond audiobooks, of course, with podcasts becoming increasingly popular in recent years. The same Edison and Triton research found that approximately 80 million Americans, or 28% of 12-and-older Americans, listen to podcasts weekly. This is a 17% increase over 2020’s numbers. Forty-one percent have listened to a podcast within the past month. All in, 162 million Americans have listened to a podcast at some point in their lives.
Digging deeper into listening habits, Scribd data also shows that people prefer listening to fiction over nonfiction audiobooks at a rate of 73% to 25%, respectively (2% of listens fall outside these categories). National data shows the most popular podcast categories across all platforms are comedy, news, true crime, sports, and health/fitness.
For further insights, we’ve mined Scribd data to find the platform’s top-five categories for fiction and nonfiction audiobooks, as well as podcast topics.
Scribd’s Top 5 Audiobook Nonfiction Categories
- Religion and Spirituality
- Biography and Memoir
- Science and Mathematics
Scribd’s Top 5 Audiobook Fiction Genres
- Mystery, Thriller and Crime Fiction
- Science Fiction and Fantasy
- Young Adults
- General Fiction
Scribd’s Top 5 Podcast Topics
- True Crime