As audiobook sales soar, report reveals sharp decline in literacy development at primary level

With COVID-19 forcing the mass closure of libraries and book stores across the UK, a new report by Yap Books shines a light on the lack of available reading resources for young people across the UK

Audio- and e-book sales continue to soar as COVID-19 wages on, but a new report by Yap Books shines a light on the sharp decline in literacy development in primary schools across the UK.

With the pandemic fuelling local and national lockdowns as the majority of the workforce remains on furlough or continues to work from home, the situation has had huge implications for both the book and reading markets. As the situation remains volatile and uncertain, facilities such as book shops and libraries have been stuck in a cycle of rapid closures and re-openings, with local authorities and members of the public concerned about the risk of handling and borrowing physical books for fear of spreading the virus. As such, people have been forced to look elsewhere for reading and learning materials.

This is great news for the digital e-book and audiobook industries, which experienced a 17% and 42% boost in sales, respectively, in the first six months of 2020.

But this could very much be a double-edged sword, since this new surge in readers increases pressure on the market. School communities, including teachers and parents – who are already overwhelmed with the pressures and stress of the pandemic – are doing all they can to keep children entertained as social-distancing measures continue to restrict daily life. Worryingly, the Yap Books report shows that many are struggling to find quality e-book and audiobook resources that align with the curriculum and develop their literacy skills.

While many might assume that lockdowns have driven an increase in home reading, the report points to the opposite, with the lack of home reading contributing to a drastic decline in the overall academic attainment of primary school pupils. This has been particularly detrimental for students’ literacy skills, hindering progression in aspects like spelling, comprehension, punctuation and phonics. This year alone, attainment levels in these aspects have fallen by 10–16%.

Benjamin Ridgway, founder of Yap Books, commented: “Due to the uncertainty of book sales and decline in library visits this year, educators have been forced to find new alternatives when it comes to learning and reading materials for their children. This has resulted in many educators relying on digital solutions, such as ebooks and audio stories.

“The digital book industry has seen rapid growth during 2020, but continues to disappoint many educators and home readers due to the lack of functionality and value it provides. With very little variation in content and the lack of connectivity between educators and pupils, children’s literacy progress still continues to decline.

“I work closely with children in education and it is clear to see that so many people are crying out for more literature and content. Teachers are looking for new ways to support their pupils’ progress remotely, whilst parents continue to search for a better standard of home reading solutions.

“Without access to curriculum-aligned learning content and support, home reading will continue to decline and children’s overall academic attainment will continue to drastically drop. But what is the solution? Edtech! Myself and the Yap Books team firmly believe that edtech is needed now, more than ever.”

In other news: UK schools used 140 different remote learning tools and providers last term


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