Audio Books for Kids: The Right Choice for Schools

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Ninety percent of the 90,000 U.S. public schools have a library media center, and the vast majority of those include audio books in their collection. Most librarians understand that listening to reading without paired text is an effective practice for developing literacy skills, particularly for low-income or struggling readers. By taking away the burden of decoding, access to more sophisticated text increases; in fact, students can listen up to two grade levels above their current reading level - making audio books a great resource for stretching on-grade level students. What's less often discussed are delivery options for audio books for kids. This blog post focuses on criteria you might use to choose the right audiobook solution for your school.

How Many Audiobook Titles Do We Need?

The average public school with a library media center has 12,780 physical books and 143 audiobooks in their collection. In other words, audiobooks make up just over 1% of the average overall collection. With just 36% of U.S. 4th graders reading at or above proficiency (dropping to 21% for low-income students), you may see value in having a greater number of audiobook titles in your collection. One reason why audiobooks make up such a small size of the collection is that audiobooks have traditionally been expensive - given the cost of production - ranging from $60-$100 per title for a school library. eBooks in contrast can cost less than $10.00. New methords of digital distribution and renting access have made audiobooks more affordable.

Devices vs. Digital Downloads vs. Streaming

Many school libraries still have CDs, and Playaways remain very popular. More and more though, digital options abound, ranging from Catalist to OverDrive to Tales2go. Let's dig in and understand the differences.

  • Physical Devices: there are definite plusses to having CDs and Playaways. Many schools still have CD players and Playaways which can be lent to students who lack technology and Internet access at home. The downside to physical devices include keeping track of them, cleaning and caring for them (including replacing batteries) and a limited shelf life. After a certain number of plays, the quality degrades.

  • Digital Downloads: Catalist and OverDrive make it easy for students to download a temporary copy of an audiobook onto a specific device. Librarians are also able to curate and purchase almost any title from all major publishers. A title is typically lent to a student for a specified period, all without having to visit the library. The downside to digital downloads include a need for technology (mobile devices), limited title selection at the school level (i.e., only those titles the school librarian actually purchased), difficulties in downloading a large file over the Internet, and limits to the number of copies made available at one time - typically one at a time. In some cases you might have to wait a week or more for a popular title to be returned.

  • Streaming Services: Audiobook Cloud and Tales2go are streaming audiobook services. Streaming typically gives users instant, unlimited, simultaneous and remote access to a large and varied catalog of titles. Tales2go has over 6,500 fiction and non-fiction audiobooks from leading publishers for Pre K through high school students. The delivery is a Netflix-like model with a step-function increase in selection and access. Streaming works great in a school environment because all students can listen to a title as part of an in-class unit. The downside to streaming services include a need for technology (desktops, laptops, and mobile devices), the catalog may or may not have a specific title from a specific publisher, and having to subscribe to the service year after year. 

Read about a school that switched to streaming audiobooks

Make Sure You Really Understand Trade-Offs in Cost

Physical devices and digital downloads tend to be priced on a similar basis. A librarian chooses a select number of audiobooks and pays between $60-$100 per title, so adding ten Playaways per year costs $600-$1,000 annually. Streaming services tend to price on a flat fee or per-student basis. A Tales2go building license (access for every school-owned device in the building plus a year-round take home license for each student) is about $3 per student per year, or less in bulk. Tales2go also offers library licenses: 25 concurrent/lendable licenses for $500 annually. While budget is always a consideration, cost can be managed relative to need and implementation.

There are also new pricing models emerging, such as Evidence-Based Acquisition models. In that model, a librarian commits up-front to a minimum fee for a collection of titles, typically a third of the cost of the actual value of the collection, and then is charged an additional fee for each title actually used. While this is a cost-effective way to increase a school's catalog, relative to purchasing them outright, streaming services such as Tales2go cost less than even the minimum fee.

Whatever option you go with, make sure to compare cost on an apples-to-apples basis. Even free resources come with trade-offs. Generally, free services have very limited selection, lack high interest titles from leading publishers, and at least in one case limit use to the classroom - in the hopes that teachers will compel parents to spend $4.99 or more each month for the full version.

Individual Teacher and Family Options

Audible is an audiobook download service popular with some teachers and families/commuters. Audible costs $14.95 per month for one credit (or more for more credits); one credit allows a user to download one audiobook. Access is limited to the individual's device, which may work well in a classroom setting, and cannot be shared with students on BYOD devices.

Tales2go likewise offers an individual/consumer subscription for $99.99 per year that can be used on up to 5 devices. This gives users all the benefits of the streaming service, including access to the full catalog of audiobooks.

We hope this helps with your search and let us know if you need more information on our streaming model audiobook service.

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Photo courtesy of @elisa_ventur

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