Today Penguin Random House UK has launched a new charitable partnership with Calibre Audio, ensuring our entire audio back catalogue – around 6,000 titles – and future releases are freely available to Calibre’s members.

Calibre Audio is the only national charity in the UK to provide a completely free for life audiobook service to anyone who has a print disability. Their 16,000 members have a range of print disabilities that make reading and understanding text difficult including visual impairments, learning disabilities, cognitive impairments and physical dexterity conditions. 

Earlier this year Calibre made its service available for free to people with long Covid. The Office for National Statistics suggests that around 1.3 million people in the UK have long Covid and as a result may experience extreme tiredness, difficulty concentrating, and ‘brain fog’, all of which impacts ability to read text. 

Anthony Kemp, CEO of Calibre Audio, said: "The addition of Penguin Random House UK's entire back catalogue to Calibre's collection will make such a difference to the reading experience of all our members. We passionately believe that everyone should be able to freely access books in the format they require and this partnership is a huge leap forward, demonstrating to our members that they are important not only to our charity but to Penguin Random House and their authors, too."

The partnership builds on  efforts to make our books more inclusive and accessible, as detailed in our social impact strategy. Other actions already taken include:

  • Ensuring all newly published e-books meet high standards of accessibility, including introducing measures like fully searchable and resizable text and including clear navigation
  • Donating tens of thousands of print books each year to foodbanks, homeless shelters and community groups across the UK through Neighbourly

How Calibre Audio is used in practice

Sarah has suffered with ME since she was a child, but it only became severe enough to affect her ability to read in her early 20s. Before her illness took hold, Sarah loved nothing more than to curl up with a paperback and was devastated to lose that.  

“I feel I have lost a lot through my illness although it’s hard to explain why my ME makes it challenging for me to read print. One of the distinguishing features of ME is post-exertional malaise, or PEM, which means the worsening of all symptoms after even minor physical, mental or emotional activity that is disproportionate to what was undertaken. Reading a novel is about as achievable for me as climbing Mount Everest in flip flops; if I tried to read a single page of print it’d take me a long time. Then I’d get such bad PEM I’d be lying in a darkened room unable to move for weeks. Simply by having my books in audio, a lot of these problems are overcome.”

Sarah goes on to say: “Books mean solace and escapism to me. Audiobooks are an integral part of my life and I honestly don’t know how I’d cope without them. They help me to cope with the constant pain and awful symptoms I experience all the time by giving me something else to concentrate on. I’d lose all links with the outside world without my Calibre books. I can never understand people who say they don’t read - it’s like breathing to me.”

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