Indie Publishing, Publishing, Writing Business

Audiobooks: The Next Indie Frontier

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Five years ago, I wrote a post about audio books and I’ve been wanting to write another since there have been so many changes in the past year alone.  When I wrote: Audio Books: What Indie Authors Should Know, producing an audiobook was expensive and time consuming.  Also, there was the fact that there wasn’t any real place to promote them.  In the article I actually said, “there is no BookBub for audiobooks,” but guess what?  That all changed in March of 2019, when BookBub announced their latest newsletter called, Chirp, which promotes limited audiobook sales to readers.  Neat, huh?  However, the feature is still in beta and you’ll have to join a partner  waiting list.     

As if that weren’t enough, Kobo announced their own audiobook subscription service for readers which costs $9.99 per month.  This is lower than Amazon’s Audible’s subscription fee of $14.95 per month.  So for the first time in a long time, Amazon has some competition when it comes to audiobook retail.  This is great for indie authors because the barriers to enter this market are slowly disappearing bringing opportunity to distribute audiobooks farther and wider.  Audiobooks have always been difficult for indies and here are just a few hurdles we’ve faced:    

Problem #1:  Production 

Just a few years ago, you had two choices when producing an audiobook and those were: DIY (Do It Yourself) or go through Amazon’s ACX.  This was because most professional narrators have a fee of around $200 – $400 per hour.  At ACX, they had narrators who were either paid based on a flat fee, or shared a piece of the royalties.  Many authors pressed for cash took the later and hoped for the best.  Today however, indie authors can find reasonably priced narrators (notice how I didn’t say cheap) or find a narrator who will agree to a royalty share at the following places without any exclusivity:      

Problem #2:  Distribution    

If you went through ACX, the terms were exclusive or you paid for expanded distribution with smaller royalties.  Since at the time, ACX was the biggest game in town, most indie authors went in that direction, naturally.  Making money with ACX was hard because you could only sell your books on Audible, Amazon.com or iTunes.  Many indies, myself included, didn’t see the point in even producing an audiobook when distribution was a joke. 

Luckily in 2017, Draft2Digital partnered with Findaway Voices to make audio production and distribution seamless.  So now that ACX has real competition in this arena and indies should be seriously considering getting into the market.  If authors start going elsewhere to produce and distribute their audiobooks, maybe Amazon will be forced to rethink their contracts at ACX.    

Problem #3: Marketing

As I stated in the beginning of the post, just a few years ago, there weren’t any major sales routes for indie authors wanting to advertise their audiobooks.  However, things have improved and now, there are more serious avenues that indies can pursue when promoting their audiobooks.  

For those who don’t have a big advertising budget, there are sites that will review your audiobook and even hold giveaways if you’re interested:

The Reality Of Audiobooks:  Doing The Math

What a lot of indie authors don’t understand is that it takes time to get an ROI on an audiobook.  Despite all of the hype that has been going around the publishing community in the last year, this is a lot of work.  One professional narrator said that authors have to sell about 100 ebooks to make just one audiobook sale.  So this is not a get rich quick scheme, in fact, despite the new opportunities, I would still caution indie authors to set realistic expectations when going into the audio market. 

Another point authors don’t consider is the complexity of a project, for example, some authors commission several narrators to read the female and male characters of their book.  If this is your idea, you’re going to have to pony up more money of course.

So as you can see, audiobooks are not the cash cow that some people are claiming.  I still think audiobooks are worth the investment but only after you’re making consistent sales on your print and ebooks.  I see audiobooks as a more advanced part of an indie author’s career.  This particular game isn’t for rookies because you can easily lose money in this type of project.  Nonetheless, the audio market is evolving after years of stagnation and those indies who are ready could find another potential stream of income and this is always a good thing in our industry.                 

Business, Indie Publishing

Audio Books: What Indie Authors Should Know

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Over the past few months indie authors have been discussing audio books and many of us have questions such as; how do you make one, should even you make one, and where do you promote them? So I went on a quest to learn the ABCs of audio books but before I begin let me be clear.  When I refer to audio books I am talking about both MP3 files as well as CDs.  Yes, there are people still listening to CDs!

Major Misconceptions About Audio Books

Despite what you’ve heard, audio books aren’t for the blind or small children who are struggling to read. Lots of people listen to audio books at the gym, in their cars, and even at work. The numbers reflect this, because every major publisher has reported increasing audio sales since 2012.  This explains why it’s become standard for publishers to demand audio rights these days.

Another big misconception is that the bestselling audio books are all nonfiction. But not according to the APA (Audio Publishers Association) 2014 Sales Survey which says adult fiction takes 77% of the audio book market.  Don’t believe me? Just go over to Audible, the biggest audio book retailer, and look at their bestseller list.

The Pros and Cons

Pro: Right now Audible (which is owned by Amazon), has only about 180,000+ audio books for sale as of this date. However, that is predicted to explode as Google and Apple aim to make their software standard in new cars. This has the interest of many indie authors and it was the talk of many book conferences this year. There’s no doubt that the market has potential but it’s still small.

Con: The sad thing is, the most popular entry into the market is through ACX (also owned by Amazon), which makes producing audio books easy for authors but it all comes at a price. ACX has both exclusive and nonexclusive deals and none of them favor authors. For example, if you decide to go exclusive, you’ll get a royalty of 40% but you’ll have to remain exclusive with them for seven years. No, that wasn’t a typo, I said seven years, as in almost a decade! In that time, they will distribute your work to Apple iTunes and Audible however, there is no mention of Barnes & Noble, or Overdrive nor any of the other retailers in their FAQs. They also set the price of the book, not the author.

It only gets worse, indie authors who decide to go nonexclusive, will only get 25% royalties but they can sell their audio book(s) anywhere, even their own websites. Now before you despair, ACX isn’t the only deal in town, not long ago on Jane Friedman’s blog, one author talked about going to CD Baby to circumvent ACX’s undesirable terms. This may not be such a bad idea for the author who actually wants to make money from their audio books!
Keep in mind, there will be expenses associated with this as CD Baby does not provide narrators like ACX.  The average narrator can charge per hour or according to the length of the book.  Even if you decide to narrate the book yourself, you’ll need the proper equipment like a quality microphone and recording software. Another thing to note is CD Baby also has its own service fees ranging from free (minus 15% of your royalty) to $89.

Promoting Audio Books Can Be A Challenge

Recently, Goodreads (Another Amazon subsidiary) opened its doors to audio books so things are changing albeit slowly.  It’s also been rumored that Kobo and Google may be looking to get in the audio game so things are evolving. If this continues the supply will meet demand and we will begin to see marketing services catering towards audio books but right now, there aren’t that many options to promote an audio book.  Don’t get me wrong, there are several small advertising outlets for audio books however, there is no BookBub for audio books. (For those who don’t know, BookBub is the go to for online book advertising.)

On the flip side, getting a review for your audio book isn’t as challenging. I discovered several groups on Facebook, and Goodreads for audio books and reviewers. Below is just a small list of reviewers and online magazines catering to audio books.

Reviewers for your audio book
Audio File Magazine
Audio Book Jukebox
Eargasms
Books for Ears
Audio Book Reviewer (Giveaways & Reviews)
Audio Book Jungle
Library Journal

As you can see, there are many things to consider before committing to publishing an audio book. If you do manage to produce one, you have to make sure the quality is just as good as your print or ebooks.  If listeners don’t like the quality of your book, it won’t sell. Another thing to consider is that this is a burgeoning market so it’s unrealistic to expect your ROI to be as high as your ebooks or print editions.  Indie authors have to see this as a long term investment and treat it as such.