New doctoral thesis provides increased knowledge about audiobook reading practices

Audiobooks are on the rise. That gave Elisa Tattersall Wallin, doctoral student at the Swedish School of Library and Information Science, the idea for her doctoral thesis, Sound Reading: Exploring and conceptualising audiobook practices among young adults. 

“I realised that there was very little research about a reading practice that has become increasingly common in people's lives and that we need to know more about,” she said, explaining that she was immediately faced with a challenge.

 “Because there was so little previous research, there was also a lack of a scholarly language. In order to be able to present my results, I therefore developed several theoretical concepts. ”

These for example include reading by listening, reading by touch and reading by seeing.

“We in society are used to think about reading as something which only involves the eyes, but I want to emphasise that reading can be carried out with different senses,” said Elisa Tattersall Wallin.

Confronts prejudices about reading

The doctoral thesis is based on three empirical studies. In the first, Elisa Tattersall Wallin surveyed logs from nearly 80,000 people reading through BookBeat, an audiobook subscription service. Unlike previous research which shows that women read more than men, her research shows that the user patterns for audiobooks are different. On the contrary, it is young men between the ages of 18 and 20 who stand out by spending the most time on audiobook reading, with an average of 100 minutes per day.

“We often have preconceived notions that teenage boys do not read, which is why it was so interesting to see in my study that the young men were the ones who read the most,” said Elisa Tattersall Wallin about her results, which were widely reported in the media.

Showed that audiobooks are a big part of people's everyday lives

A review of BookBeat's logs also showed that audiobooks are used less during traditional leisure time, that is, after the working day or school day and on the weekend. Instead, Swedes mostly listen during the day on weekdays. Between 5pm and 8pm, audiobook reading decreases to reach a peak again at 10pm for bedtime reading. Elisa Tattersall Wallin wanted to see what was happening behind the statistics and therefore decided to do an interview study, which specifically focused on young adults.

The interview study showed that audiobooks have become a large part of these people's everyday lives and were used during activities that already had a place in their routines, such as during commuting, chores, exercise, or even homework. Having more time for reading, making mandatory activities more enjoyable, and reducing stress were identified as reasons behind their audiobook reading.

The interviews further showed that the apps from the subscription services play a major role in how the reading practices are formed. Therefore, she conducted a third study where she examined the features and user interfaces of three audiobook apps.

Want to make reading more inclusive

Now Elisa Tattersall Wallin hopes that her research results will be able to contribute to both science and society. The theoretical concepts that she has developed have already been employed by other researchers and the goal is that the doctoral thesis should also be able to give people who work with books and reading new relevant knowledge.

“If the doctoral thesis can also make people reflect a bit more about reading and make them think that audiobooks count as reading, I would be very happy.”

A disability rights perspective is something that is close to her heart. Elisa Tattersall Wallin points out that there are many who have strong opinions about reading and who argue that audiobooks do not "count" as reading. She has encountered people who are ashamed when choosing this format over a  printed book and this makes her sad.

“Not all people can read with their eyes and if we can then talk about audiobooks, talking books and Braille as ‘real’ reading, everyone will be included. This is something I'm really passionate about.”

Wants to do further research on information practices

Elisa Tattersall Wallin is happy to have now defended her doctoral thesis and would like to build on her work in the future by studying the development of various platforms, subscription services and apps.

“Right now there is a very big shift when it comes to how people interact with information in digital settings."

She also has a great interest in information practices in general, how people engage with and disseminate information, for example on social media and when it comes to the climate crisis. Something she would like to research.

“I'm really looking forward to that,” said Elisa Tattersall Wallin.

Elisa Tattersall Wallin defended her doctoral thesis Sound Reading: Exploring and conceptualising audiobook practices among young adults 25 March 2022 at The Swedish School of Library and Information Studies, University of Borås.

Principal Supervisor: Docent (Associate Professor) Anna Lundh
Assistant Supervisors: Professor Jan Nolin and Senior Lecturer David Gunnarsson Lorentzen

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Elisa Tattersall Wallin

Doctoral thesis Sound Reading: Exploring and conceptualising audiobook practices among young adults

The research area Library and Information Science