In 1935, the Royal National Institute of Blind People in the United Kingdom created a support program for veterans who had lost their sight on the battlefield. The idea was to provide them with resources so that they could enjoy literature. “Typhoon,” by Joseph Conrad, narrated by BBC announcer Anthony McDonalds, became the first audiobook in history. In parallel, in the USA, the American Foundation for the Blind began to develop the technology necessary for popularizing audiobooks for the same reason as the English.
The popularity of audiobooks has been growing as they are used for other purposes (education, self-help, or simply recreational). They have been brought into other cultures, with more or less success, depending on their particularities and the involvement of the publishing world.
In the '80s they became a hit in the USA. The country's obsession with productivity led Americans to incorporate audiobooks into reaching their goals: becoming a business owner or improving an existing business (some even claim to teach you in less than a day), self-help (although they prefer to call it self-development or 'making yourself') or learning languages (even Swahili) while running, driving or going to gym.
Today, not only are they still popular in North America, they have become a mega-industry. It only makes sense that they have aroused the curiosity of the scientific community: Neurologists, psychologists, sociologists, and pedagogues have undertaken research and studies on audiobooks to try to discover whether there is a scientific basis that supports their effectiveness or whether the experience can be just as enriching as reading.