Who’s listening to what? The latest on UK audiobook consumers

The UK audiobook market has continued to grow in 2023, with purchases up 6% in the first half of the year and spending up 12%; if that rate holds, then annual value could surpass £200m for the first time this year, according to our monthly Books & Consumers survey. Audiobooks have gained share across fiction, non-fiction and children’s, adding up to more than 8% of overall book purchases in the UK from January to July 2023. That might not seem very high, but the format only crossed 5% market share as recently as 2019 and has steadily gained further ground each year. The audio footprint is now largest in non-fiction, approaching 12% of purchases for 2023 so far, nearly double the share from the first half of 2019.

The popularity of non-fiction audiobooks is further reflected in the latest results from our annual Understanding the UK Audiobook Consumer study, now in its eighth year. This is the first time that more audiobook consumers have reported listening to non-fiction than fiction, at 70% vs 68%. Back in 2019, it was 70% fiction and 57% non-fiction, so while fiction might be dropping a bit, it’s not a case of one replacing the other but instead seemingly an expansion of what listeners are enjoying.

There’s a bigger gap between fiction and non-fiction for the newest converts to audiobooks: 61% of those that started listening in the last 12 months have consumed fiction audiobooks, rising to 69% for non-fiction. For longstanding listeners (6+ years) it’s the reverse, with 76% listening to fiction and 68% non-fiction. Although it’s interesting to see both stats for the newest listeners trail the overall figures – within their group they may be showing more enthusiasm for non-fiction audiobooks than fiction, but it’s actually those that have been consumers for three to five years that are the most into non-fiction, at 74%, with 72% listening to fiction, so not as much of a strong preference between the two. Will these newest listeners keep their non-fiction leanings, or close the gap with fiction as they go deeper into the world of audiobooks? Similar to overall consumers, it’s the first time we’ve seen non-fiction ahead of fiction for those who recently started listening, following steady gains since 2019, which certainly points to non-fiction retaining its popularity going forward as well as providing a significant entry point for new consumers.

Narrowing down to specific genres, crime/thriller still reigns as the most popular, listened to by one in four audiobook consumers, although true crime has rapidly risen to second place, consumed by one in five. Non-fiction accounts for half of the top ten genres in 2023, and four of those have gained in popularity since 2019 (which special mention for history/political/biography, which has remained remarkably level over the years). Comedy biography and sport books join true crime with at least two years of consecutive increases, and while self-help dropped in 2023, it’s still more popular than it was back in 2019 and 2020.

Sport/biography claims the top spot for male audiobook consumers aged 18-34 for the latest year, overtaking the reigning favourite science fiction/fantasy/horror, with true crime ranking second for both men and women in that age band (behind romance & sagas for the latter). True crime comes in third for female consumers aged 35-54, although first in non-fiction, followed by self-help/popular psychology seeing its highest position across the different groups. Comedy biography goes to the top of the non-fiction list for 35-54 men, and ditto history/political/biography for both men and women aged 55+. So it’s really a variety of different books that are driving the non-fiction increase, catering to various interests and audiences, but with a common thread of true and personal stories (and crime, can’t forget about the crime) tying together the strongest areas.

For more insights, the Understanding the UK Audiobook Consumer 2023 report is now available, which is based on an annual survey of ~2,000 audiobook consumers aged 18-84. Please contact for more information.