4 Ways to Increase Ebook and Audiobook Awareness For Summer Reading

An ebook reader on table with a headset.
(Image credit: Image by Nicole Lu from Pixabay)

This summer, more students will be doing their summer reading (or listening) via ebook or audiobook — or at least that’s what the industry data suggests.

A new report from Sora, a K-12 reading platform, found that audiobook checkouts from students were up 20% and ebook checkouts were up 17% last year. Since 2019, digital book usage is up 286%, according to the K-12 ebook reading report.

Even so, not all students are aware of or have access to ebooks, audiobooks, and related digital book content, says Melissa Jacobs, director of library services for New York City’s Department of Education.

“I still think there's a lot of opportunity for growth, and there are some growing pains that publishers and platforms are going through,” Jacobs says.

Jacobs offers how teachers can encourage students to explore ebooks and audiobooks this summer, and how they can use their voices to advocate for more affordable ebook pricing for libraries in general, but particularly school libraries.

1. Remind Students Reading Includes More Than Print  

Many teachers and students need to be reminded that reading is about more than, well, reading. Or at least what we tend to think of, incorrectly, as reading. “To read means to absorb a story, to absorb text,” Jacobs says. “You can do that via audio. You can do that via text.”

Realizing this and reminding your students of it enables readers to control the ways in which they absorb stories and information, Jacobs says. They can speed up or slow down audiobooks, or get text in a language that they are more comfortable reading. “I really think that empowers the reader,” Jacobs says.

2. Help Students Find The Reading Mode That’s Right For Them 

Sometimes students need help understanding how audiobooks and ebooks can best serve them.

For instance, some readers only enjoy audiobooks after they start increasing the playback speed on the recording. Many listeners like to go to 1.25, 1.5, or even higher playback speed because it makes listening to an audiobook closer to the speed at which they might read text.

Jacobs’ learned this lesson in her own home. Her daughter was struggling with reading assignments for school, so Jacobs encouraged her to consider listening to audiobooks and reminded her to try speeding up the playback. “I said, ‘You'll get through a book much quicker,’ and she's like, ‘Wait a second, I do that with my podcasts.'”

It was a lightbulb moment for the young student. “She went from being three weeks behind in reading, and crying that she'll never be ahead and she'll never catch up to being three weeks ahead, and then asked if she could apply to honors English,” Jacobs says.

3. Raise Awareness of The Budget Issues Around School Ebooks 

Buying an ebook or audiobook is different for libraries than for individuals, Jacobs explains. Instead of purchasing a digital copy, they purchase temporary rights to a digital copy, but those rights can expire after 24 months or less, and need to be repurchased.

This can result in buying certain books from certain publishers incredibly expensive for libraries overall, and makes providing access to ebooks particularly difficult for school librarians, given tight school budgets.

Jacobs would like to see more publishers adjust their pricing to better match print prices. “If I was buying a book for a physical print copy, it would be $25, $30. If I'm buying that same digital book, it should be in that same realm that I'm buying the print copy of, it shouldn't be five times that cost,” she says.

4. Remember Digital Reading and Listening Is Here To Stay

“We spend a lot of time, and we will spend a lot more time, reading digitally,” Jacobs says. “It's either on a computer screen or on your smartphone or your tablet, but digital reading is here to stay.”

Encouraging students to explore digital reading can help them unlock new routes of access to books. “I would introduce it to a student as an assignment, as pleasure reading,” Jacobs says.

She adds the best way for teachers to introduce students to ebooks and audiobooks is probably as “an opportunity.”

Erik Ofgang

Erik Ofgang is a Tech & Learning contributor. A journalist, author and educator, his work has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Smithsonian, The Atlantic, and Associated Press. He currently teaches at Western Connecticut State University’s MFA program. While a staff writer at Connecticut Magazine he won a Society of Professional Journalism Award for his education reporting. He is interested in how humans learn and how technology can make that more effective.