Why Audiobooks Are A Bad Investment For Most Independent Authors


Audiobooks are growing in popularity and market share, but independent authors should focus on the more foundational aspects of publishing and promotion that will bring a higher return on investment.

Audiobooks are the new darlings of the publishing industry. In fact, audiobooks are currently the fastest-growing segment of the digital publishing world, accounting for more than $2.5 billion dollars in 2017 — a 32 percent increase over 2016. Over that same period, more than 26 percent of the U.S. population listened to an audiobook. Plus, in a recent survey, 77 percent of frequent listeners “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that listening to audiobooks “helps you finish more books.”

What’s more is that publishers are equally excited — the Association of American Publishers reported a 33.9 percent increase in the number of audiobooks published in 2017 vs. 2016.

Part of this increase is simply that listening to audiobooks is an enjoyable experience. Fans of the medium appreciate how audiobooks allow you to do other things while listening and that you can enjoy them wherever you are — in the car, at home, on your phone. Plus, for a lot of us, it’s just fun being read to.

Given all of this, it would follow that self-published authors should invest time and money in producing audiobooks, right?

Not so fast. Here’s why that assumption is incorrect.

Audiobooks comprise a tiny slice of the book market

Print is still king when it comes to reading formats. In a big way.

While audiobooks are growing, 70 percent of all books sold in 2017 came in some form of paper and ink: hardcover books accounted for 36 percent of sales and softcover made up 34 percent — a level of market dominance that’s held steady since 2011.

And while eBook readership has declined, it still accounted for 17 percent of the market in 2017.

That doesn’t leave much market share for audiobooks. Even its all-time high of $2.5 billion in sales accounts for less than six percent of the overall market.

For independent authors looking to reach the largest amount of readers possible, there are a variety of better places to invest your time and money than audiobooks.

Producing an audiobook is expensive

There are essentially two ways to pay for an audiobook:
1) through royalties
2) through a pay-per-performance model

Audiobooks produced through royalties require no up-front costs for the author/rights holder. Rather, the costs are cut from the revenue. A producer or narrator will record the audio in exchange for 20 percent of the revenue generated, for example. From there, more cuts are taken, and the rights holder stands to receive about 20 percent of the revenue generated by digital download sales.

This option might look attractive for self-published authors, but narrators who work under this revenue model are typically not the cream of the crop. The audiobook format really requires top-notch voice talent to provide a great experience for the listener.

With the pay-per-performance model, the author pays for all of the audiobook production costs up front and receives all of the audiobook’s net revenue — AKA the money left over after selling costs are deducted. When you sell through an online store like Audible, for example, only 40 percent of an audiobook’s sales revenue goes to the author.

Here’s where the math gets challenging. An average novel amounts to about 10 hours of narration (roughly 90,000 words) and is likely going to cost $300 or more per finished hour. That’s an investment of $3,000.

To recoup that money, most authors list the audiobook versions of their book as double or triple the cost of the average eBook. The Kindle edition of The Fault in Our Stars by John Green costs $4.99, but the audiobook costs $17.99. The Kindle edition of Max Brooks’ World War Z costs $9.99, but the audiobook will set you back $28.00.

The problem here is that a higher price depresses sales, especially for new, unknown authors. If you list your audiobook price at $20, you will only earn $8 of each sale. That means you’ll need to sell 375 audiobooks just to cover the production cost.

Self-published authors should invest in their books

Because of how expensive they are to produce and how slim of a market share they actually command, audiobooks amount to something of a luxury only available to established authors for whom readers are willing to shell out the extra money.

For new authors, audiobooks are the last place you should be investing your money because other investments offer so much more in return.

Where should new authors put their money?

  • Editing. No matter what, professional editing is the best investment for any book. Every single successful self-published book has been worked over by an editing pro, without exception.
  • Cover design and book formatting. A close second when it comes to important investments are cover design and formatting. You can write the greatest book since Moby Dick, but if it doesn’t have an eye-catching cover, nobody will ever discover you.
  • Producing printed books and eBooks. Printed books remain the dominant format, and it’s too easy and inexpensive not to invest in eBooks as well.
  • Maximizing distribution. Having your book available on Amazon isn’t good enough for most self-published authors. Using an aggregator like BookBaby can put your book in dozens of the leading bookstores around the world.
  • Marketing. This is the part of the publishing process that most writers hate, so investing in it is doubly important. For writers who are not marketing-inclined, spending money on consultations or publicists can make a big difference in sales.

Audiobooks are a great innovation, and with the rise in ownership of smart speakers like Amazon’s Echo or Google Home, they’ll continue to increase in prominence. Still, they remain a poor investment for new and independent authors. Until you garner a major following, you’re better off focusing on the more foundational aspects of publishing and promotion that will bring a higher return on your investment, like editing, design, marketing, and, of course, writing a really great story.

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Steven Spatz is a writer, marketer, and the President of BookBaby, the nation’s leading self publishing services company. Spatz’s professional writing career began at age 13, paid by the word to bang out little league baseball game stories on an ancient manual typewriter for southern Oregon weekly newspapers. His journalism career continued after graduation from the University of Oregon at several daily newspapers in Oregon. When his family took over a direct marketing food business, Spatz redirected his writing and design skills into producing catalogs. The Pinnacle Orchards catalog was named "Best Food Catalog," received dozens of other national awards, and the business grew into one of the nation’s largest gourmet fruit gift businesses. After the company was sold, Spatz continued his direct marketing career with Fortune 500 companies including Mattel and Hasbro. He joined AVL Digital in 2004 to lead the direct-to-consumer marketing teams for music industry-leading brands Disc Makers, Oasis, and CD Baby. After serving as Chief Marketing Officer, Spatz was tapped to lead the company’s new publishing division in late 2014. In 2019, the AVL Digital Management team purchased the New Jersey brands, including BookBaby. The company is headquartered in Pennsauken, NJ (just outside Philadelphia, PA) and meets the printed book and eBook needs of thousands of self-publishing authors around the globe. Spatz lives in Glenside, PA with his two children, a demented cat, and some well-used bicycles. Steven loves to hear from authors, editors, and publishers in the BookBaby community with tales of publishing trials and triumphs. To tell him your story, write to steven@bookbaby.com.


  1. finally some common sense about audio books.

    not only are they a VERY tiny slice of all books sold, the types of audio books that sell best are very limited too.

    audio books are extremely hard to make well for authors without experience in audio technology. and they are very expensive to have a qualified person make for you.

    the idea of getting some random person to do it for you and splitting the alleged profits is a fools game for both of them. books are a VERY long tailed phenomenon and the chance of even breaking even on audio books is fat slim and none.

    unless you have a best seller fiction book and a name then don’t even waste time thinking about audio books no matter how much some alleged experts hype them.

  2. Wow, the author of this post seems to be down on audiobooks, yet recommends all the services BookBaby offers. No mention is made of ROI on those services, but the ROI for audiobooks is decried. That number quoted for pay-per-performance on an audiobook is nearly the same as the cost of editing a similarly sized novel. How many copies of your book must you sell to recoup those costs? Also, his advice pretty much contradicts what everyone else in the indie publishing community is saying. The best release is a triple (e-book, print, audiobook) release.

    • Thanks for your comment David. My recommendations are based on the 1000s of BookBaby authors we’ve worked with over the years. Most of them have a limited budget for getting their book into the marketplace. We recommend they get a professional edit – from BookBaby or one of 1000s of other great editors around the world – before considering an investment in audio books. It’s just simple math.

      • Hi Steven, I find your comments about new authors putting their money into editing a bit of closing the door after the cows got out. EVERY author, no matter whether they do ebook, print or audiobook should have their book edited (professionally or very competent person). It is sooo frustrating to read new authors’ work that is substandard just because they didn’t have someone edit it!! I’m an audiobook narrator and I can’t tell you how many new authors who want to have their books narrated wrote a crappy novel or book to begin with!

        Yes, an audiobook is expensive, but there is a rise in demand for audiobooks. An audiobook listener understands they’re going to pay more for that convenience and are willing to do so. Not every narrator charges $300 per finished hour. But having said that and reading other posts here, the amount of time that goes into narrating, producing, and editing is 5-6 times each finished hour. The professional narrator is a business, too. If it takes 5-6 hours to produce one hour of finished audio, what is fair for the skill, expertise, equipment and training that goes into that hour? So, if I were to charge $300 for that hour that took me, say 5 hours, that’s $60/hour (remember this is a business, too and business overhead counts into the equation, too, not just the labor of the narrator and audio engineer). Sounds like a lot, but many narrators charge half that. Is it worth it now – to have another revenue stream for your book-baby?

        Yes, limited funds – spend it on marketing. But to say to spend it on editing? Poo! That should have been part of the original creation of good book. A good narrator brings it to life.

  3. If your printed and ebooks are selling, audiobooks are another great way to get your book out, depending on topic. I recommend for non fiction, you read it yourself. Who knows the topic better than you?
    Try to find an out of work audio engineer or a teenager with audio recording skills. Have them read the audible book requirements and make the payment contingent on successful acceptance by audible of the format/quality recording done. Read it yourself, you know the topic. If it is fiction, consider an out of work actor to read it. Audition a few first. You should be able to do this for under $1000 in total (includes audio engineer if you do it yourself and possibly out of work actor) and after you sell 200 books (plus bounties, look it up), you’ll be in the black. More people are choosing audible books and they look for great content in this format. Growing segment and you’ll differentiate yourself. Seems ‘more professional’ when you have print, ebook and audible formats available! Good luck!

    • but is your voice pleasant and consistent. do you have speech quirks that drive the listener batty.
      do you know how to record good sounding audio without noise or hiss or other problems. can you hire some kid who can meet the specs okay.

      and you still have the problem that audio books are a very small slice of the market. plus the fact that most self published books never sell 20 copies let alone 200.

  4. What if you can produce your own Ebook. I also have a band and studio recording equipment. If I can release it as cheaply as a song single doing it myself and with my co author to do the voices it may be worth it. Any opinion on that?

    • Hi Linda,
      I assume you meant to say: Produce your own Audio Book? My main objections for indie authors doing audiobooks is the cost. If you can do the hard work of recording your own book – that’s awesome!

    • Linda, obviously if you can do it yourself that would change your cost structure. But I would still urge you to have someone who understands audio take a look at your work before you offer it up for sale. It’s not as simple as a live podcast, there’s a lot that goes into editing and processing the audio before it’s high enough quality to sell.

    • Hi Linda. Yes, I have an opinion: Be certain to check ACX’s (Audible/Amazon) audio requirements, open and close of chapter timing, etc. They are VERY specific and you WILL be rejected if you don’t meet their specifics.

      I currently have 2 audiobooks ‘out there’ and, while I get a few bucks every month from them, I’m inclined to agree w/Steven’s article that there are better places to invest your time and money EXCEPT that you have access to a studio.

      I, too, have a ‘fully stocked’ home studio and found that I could not do my own book. The reason? I was continuously OVER THINKING my content and I continuously wanted to ‘add content/enhance the read’. (I’m not fiction so maybe that has something to do with it.) Additionally, is your voice the ‘one’ you want heard reading your book? If, yes, great!

      I found a reader/narrator on ACX who agreed to do my book and we split the royalties–so, no cost to me. We did this several years back and we spoke again just a few weeks ago. He hasn’t made any money considering all the time and effort he had to put into my book. In the meantime, I get paid by Amazon every month for paper and digital copies sold.

      Last note: Personally, I’m very pro-audiobook and, in the words of the terminator, I WILL be back (via someone else’s voice) AFTER I get this next book physically and digitally published–which I will be doing w/BB.

      Regardless, I wish you great success with your book, audio now or audio later.

  5. Thanks for the post. I am a customer of bookbaby. I have two books distributed by bookbaby. Unfortunately I have not been able to generate sales.

    At this stage I am not sure how to continue.

  6. The data about print books varies per genre. If you look at K-Lytics.com seminar on Amazon print bestsellers (http://k-lytics.com/video-vault/amazon-print-book-best-seller-sales-rank/) it shows a graph at about 7:45 that clarifies the percentage of each type of book being sold in each major genre per Amazon’s available data. Top genres like Romance are up over 90% ebook sales. Next major genre, Mystery/Thriller/Suspense is at 75% ebook sales.

    Just also adding paperback/hardback/both editions may also not be cost/time effective for fiction authors. As you get into non-fiction, the argument against audio falls apart, particularly in Business and Money, where it’s nearly an even 25% split between the four types of books. In that case, it’s yes, yes, and yes.

    • Thanks for the message, Diane. Don’t get me wrong – I love listening to audio books! I just think it should be the last priority for a self published author. Spend your valuable dollars on editing, design and especially marketing before considering an audio book release.

  7. Your book needs to be in the format your readers want. If you give them the three choices (paper, ebook, audio), then your chances of selling your book increase. California commuters love audiobooks on those long commutes. I do not agree with your premise of this blog post. Audiobooks are the fastest growing choice.

    • I agree, the premises of this post don’t seem to be informed by any kind of data. You can explore the ACX site that’s the platform for Audible, and learn more about the biz in general (not that I’m promoting Audible, but I’m on the journey to get an audio version of my novel More Than You Think You Know completed and it’s a great place to research). You’ll see there, if you look at the voice actors available, that there ARE indeed some professionals who work on a royalty rather than fee-per-finished-hour basis. And there’s no money upfront for the royalty arrangement. Also, anyone who thinks they can simply record their own book might want to look more into things like audio quality, voice training and the other elements that go into recording a polished book that you’re proud to bring to readers. And finally, doing an audio version isn’t just a way to do the best you can for your book — it also answers the ever-increasing expansion of accessibility for all. Lastly, for this, my first novel, I want to do everything I can to share it with readers but I also realize any version of the book will not typically begin to earn out UNTIL the second book is done. By that point I may have the equipment and the lessons (or a more well-heeled publisher, right now I’m with a small indie press) to bring the audio book to market at the same time print and digital versions are rolled out. Bottom line: Focusing mainly on how much $$$$ you’re going to make from your book is never a good idea. Think about what you’re offering readers and how they might benefit.

      • There are narrators on ACX whose profiles SAY they will split the royalties, but I can’t find one who will audition to narrate my novel. They want $120-$400 per finished hour AND half my royalties. This blog came at the right time for me!

    • Thanks for your message, Sandra. I don’t disagree that audio books aren’t growing. But they’re still such a tiny slice of the book marketplace. Most BookBaby authors have limited budgets for producing their books. If you have the means and interest in producing all formats – go for it!

    • when the baseline is almost zero then of course any growth would make it look fast.
      the truth is that audio books are a small slice of the market and only a few types sell in audio format.
      your chances of getting your money back are fat slim and none unless you have a best seller already.

      • It’s actually not true that “only a few types” sell in audio. It’s a GROWING market, not a stagnant one, which means (because obviously you need to have it spelled out for you) that in the next few years, audiobook listeners will be jumping in from many genres. There are a lot of factors to this growth, but the big drivers are a lack of time to read books and longer times spent on the road or travelling. This is where the research points: audiobooks are a good investment for authors who are doing well in ebook and print sales, but especially in ebook sales. I know many, many authors who do very well in audio, and that’s been my own experience. It’s not nearly as cut and dried as the OP and skeptic “jedidiah manowitz” say.

  8. I am a book narrator and am all WTF over this post.

    While it has some valid points, it does not really give the writer real choices or empowerment. Audio books are a growing reality and consumer choice. It’s shown people feel “smarter” when they listen to audio books, even if it’s fanciful fiction. They can listen to audio books when they can’t read (not only for reasons of being sight impaired, but while they’re driving, etc).

    Perhaps most important – audio books have generated more interest and sales in print books. Google it.

    Make smart choices and don’t be left out of decisions regarding your book.

    I’ve come across high selling authors whose publishers, for some reason, refuse to allow the book to be released in an audio version, even when the audio version would not only sell well but possibly sell more than the print (nonfiction). So I suggested to these writers they tell their agents that they must retain the right to create audio versions in the future.

    ACX.com is the best way for indie writers to break in to the audio book industry – which is growing exponentially. But you select the narrator/performer, who auditions to create your book in audio form – wait until just the right one shows up. And there are some really good narrators/performers out there – but the good ones will only want to work with your book if you have an actual marketing plan for the audio book version since the vast majority are done for royalties. Too often newly published writers don’t create a proper marketing plan for their book – ACX has plenty of ideas for you as well as an entire “how to.”

    It’s an amazon company, so it’s connected to audible.com, amazon and other distribution centers which automatically sells your audiobook (as well as your print book). This is a good place to learn what you need to if you’re beginning – some book publishers have worked with ACX for years.

    Not all ACX books are royalties-based; some are paid by the finished hour (between $50-400/pfh ..). That is up to the publisher. Pfh means it’s a buy out, you get all the royalties after you pay the narrator for his/her work.

    Larger/legit publishers generally have their own audio brand or deal with well established audio book publishers .. but in too many cases you have no choice re: the narrator, and while some are phenomenal, others not so much.

    I am a niche narrator – only nonfiction, well written, important subjects, and like working with the author to make certain especially pronunciations are accurate, and that their passion about the subject shines through. I’m book through virtually the rest of the year.

    So my advice is this: audio books are not a “bad idea.”

    They are a segment of the publishing world that is growing and rapidly, so you should educate yourself about how they work – and how they don’t.

    Learn about using words that don’t work for audio versions. One book I narrated used the term “in action.” In this case it meant “take action.” Listening to the term, unless it was carefully said, it sounded like “inaction,” that is, the “do nothing” version..

    Learn about it. Learn how to use it and work with it. Listen to audio books so you can see which of your books you feel an audio version would be well suited. Most writers should never dream of narrating their own work – but some are terrific narrators! David Cornwell (“Jean le Carre”) is a superb narrator. Mercifully for professional narrators who need the jobs, he doesn’t have time to narrate most of his work. Is that something you think you could do well? Should you bother? You may want to find out. Or not.

    Knowledge is power – it’s your creation, your work.

    Good luck in all your endeavors!

  9. “Why Audiobooks Are A Bad Investment For Independent Authors”


    “We Don’t Do Audiobooks So Please Keep Giving Us Money by Using the Services that We Offer”

  10. I haven’t read a paperbound book in a decade. That said I purchased 5 ebooks today and the ones that offered an audio book back up were the ones I was most likely to purchase. One can read a long book in a few days moving between text and audio. I find this very helpful. At this point I am more likely to buy an audio book over a text copy and I am much more likely to buy a text copy if it comes with an audio book option. These days I simply don’t have that much time to sit quietly and read.

  11. Agreed. But as important to understand that not all books are suitable for audio. Most non-fiction are not — especially if illustrations or graphs are involved. And even more important is to note that reading a book out loud and making it interesting and enjoyable is not the same as writing an interesting and enjoyable novel; thus very few authors can read their own stuff. This is (unfortunately) evident at many book promotions, when an author reads sections of his own book. Reading your own book out loud with a critical audience might indeed be a good way to find out how boring it is to others, but listeners might be bored by the voice rather than the content. My view is that audio started out as story-telling to the illiterate, moved on to be a useful aid for the visually impaired and fun on a long car ride, but it will never be in a position to compete with the written-read word and the reader’s imagination.

  12. Very interesting and thanks for the info but what if you, the author, were to do the narration? I know most authors may not have toe voice for voice over talent but I am a musician and have been a Guitar teacher over 35 years and have been told I have a very good voice for narration. Thoughts? Thanks

    • I attended a podcast where the moderator indicated that there were low cost options for the DIY set. He recommended for starters a directional mic like the Samsom QU2 mic which I bought for less than $50. He also recommended an Audiotechnica mic but I don’t recall the model (ATR2500, I think), but it was also at the same price point and both are USB connected and also have the cables if you intend to eventually upgrade . The most important thing I think is recording and listening to your own voice and being constructively critical. Do you have a distracting accent, do you slur your words (or certain words), etc.? If you have the will to address those things that’s half the battle. Onc you decide to go that route you need to make sure you you have a quiet place to record. The moderator also suggested doing the audiobook after your book is edited but before publication. This was it can serve as the final read- through and allow you to catch things you might have otherwise missed.

  13. Thank you Steve. This explains why audio text books are near impossible for the visually impaired to obtain. Considered too expensive to produce. The electronic readers are helpful, though the electronic voices are hard to listen to for long time study. Also human assistance is required to navigate the ribbon menus that work the system; this reduces available private study time.

  14. Dear Mr. Spatz,

    Nice try, statistically speaking that is; but these things don’t apply from where I sit. As a musician, performer singer and author, I am joyfully the narrator of my own audiobooks: ‘The Monster Musician’s Manual/The Monster Songwriter’s Manual’, The Monster Vocalist’s Manual.’ The jury is still out’ when it comes to entrusting your works to the multitude of online book marketers, promoters and publicists, claiming to ensure that your works will appear on newstands and in bookstores covering the four continents; all for a handsome fee. And we know this how? I sell and promote my own works wherever I go; there is no ‘middleman’ and all revenue comes directly to me. I do wish you all the best, but please don’t try to sell me anything; I’ll have to spam you. Been there, done that.

  15. So much depends on your subject matter and intent. I am on the fence because, while I want to cover my costs, my intent is to share my message with as many like minded people as possible, profit is less important. My challenge is to figure out which direction will reach the higher number of “readers”.
    Thanks for sharing this article. It was very helpful

    • I do so agree with the points you make. For me, too, apart from hoping to cover my costs I want my episodes and comments as time witness to come across ! Have just fInished narrating my book. The 3 versions – paperback, e- and audio – will be out for Easter and I do hope it’ll sell. Narrating it myself was strenuous but satisfying.

  16. Thank you so much for this feed of information with the variety of opinions. I had nearly spam-deleted the marketing blog, but now have found some input toward my consideration at hand. Currently, I am completing my second indie book. My first, Sticks, Stones & Songs–The Corey Story did well the first 2 years on Amazon, sold in local stores, and was placed in libraries. I spoke numerous times, personally sold more than 1000 copies, finding an unexpected audience in historical societies. Following the completion of my current project, my goal is to redo Sticks Stones (shorten, revise beginning) for audio. My need will be for technical assistance so I-a speaker, teacher, and musician- can narrate. Thanks to bookbaby for allowing the contradictions to the blog’s thesis.

  17. I always appreciate BookBaby Blog posts, and the BookBaby staff has done a great job producing my eBooks and paperbacks. When it comes to audiobooks, however, independent authors should decide whether to produce one based on their own individual circumstances. I write speculative fiction. After publishing “The Speed of Darkness–A Tale of Space, Time, and Aliens Who Love to Party!”, I found that many potential readers were requesting an audiobook version. In response, I found an ACX audiobook producer and narrated the book myself. The process was easy, reasonably priced, and fun, and made my readers–especially my younger readers–happy. One lesson I learned, is that readers who prefer audiobooks won’t come back and check later (e.g. on Amazon) if they initially see that your book is not available in that format. For that reason, I’ve held off on publishing my latest novel, “Virtual Fire”, until the audiobook is ready. All three formats will drop together in the spring of 2019. The story is told by four first-person narrators who I recruited from talented friends and family members after conducting many auditions. This process created early buzz for the book, and everyone involved, including me, had a great time. I also enjoyed hearing my words interpreted by the narrators and working with my daughter, Forest Sobol, whose involvement in the project led her to become an ACX producer.

  18. I fairly enjoyed this article. In my opinion, if your marketing is aggressive it shouldn’t matter if where you publish your book. I self-published my first ebook “In Due Time…” through some of the major platforms such as Amazon, Google Play, Nook. I thought about doing an audiobook once but I didn’t want to use a platform only because it was trending at the time.

    My ebook has 4.5 stars on Amazon, I believe I did pretty good as a first-time author.

  19. I’m an author and also a radio/TV voice artist, with more than twenty audiobooks for other authors, all done through ACX. I’ve done both fiction and non-fiction, from one-hour to ten-hour books . A couple of things about this article.

    First, on your price quotes, there is no “average novel,” it completely depends on the book and the genre. I’ve seen romance novels at 60-70K, sci-fi and historical ones at 120-130K. Generally speaking I can do around ten thousand words an hour, although some narrators are slower than that. And “likely to cost $300 or more an hour” is flat-out ridiculous. For that rate I’ll do your audiobook while I’m painting your house. If you want Morgan Freeman to narrate your book, you can go get a mortgage to afford him, but there are many quality narrators available on ACX/Audible in whatever price range you’re looking for.

    On royalties, I will look at a project for royalties under certain circumstances. I’ve done several non-fic books that have sold well, because I knew the author would be very involved in promoting the audiobook. Self-help and motivational authors are usually very good at this, so I don’t mind working for royalties if the book isn’t too long. For longer fiction books, I wouldn’t do it unless I can see from an author’s sales that they have a strong track record and a following.

    No offense to authors, but I work hard to make sure the book sounds like the author’s vision. For every finished hour of an Audiobook, I do about 3-4 hours of work, and after the initial pass I’ll do edits and retakes as often as an author requests to make it perfect. I can’t do all that without some kind of return on my investment, so if they’re not going to get involved with promoting their work, I can’t take it on. I’m probably not even doing any audiobooks this year because of my schedule. I’m a writer, which means I already work a half dozen jobs, so if I take on an audiobook project I have to know the author is behind the project as well.

    For me, audiobooks are similar to podcasts. Not everyone gets them but those who do love them, and have made them a big part of their information and entertainment. I can understand how Bookbaby doesn’t make anything from audiobooks and would rather recommend their own services, but audiobooks are a big part of life for many readers. Although it’s an investment in your product, it can be both a cost-effective one and a very effective marketing tool.

    Reid Kerr

  20. As a narrator, this topic is interesting and worthwhile for an author to consider.

    As a marketer, I suggest it’s incomplete in its analysis. The writing of a book requires all of the work discussed; the writing, editing, artwork, publishing on multiple platforms, advertising, and so on. The additional cost and effort to adapt as an audiobook is marginal compared to that…and it reaches (and advertises your book to) a quickly growing additional audience that behaves differently and has different needs and expectations. Ignoring that would be madness.

    Now, if you assume the work is being created ONLY as an audiobook…that would also be madness.

    A point of harsh agreement: a bad narrator, audio editor and producer can waste all your efforts. Take your time when choosing reader(s).

  21. I think this a good analysis. I read the audiobook as part of the editing process, but editing that reading may not be cost effective. I still will do it. I think the cannibalization of print and ebooks by low royalty audiobooks is a problem. I choose non-exclusive distribution of the audio for the books I narrate myself. That way I get more than 25% royalties from some audiobook sales. It is a total mistake to do a pay to narrate deal for most indie authors, because audiobook sales will often be 1/3 or less than of print or ebook. I’m a podcaster who edits audio all the time.

  22. As well, the majority of Audible books earn no royalty at all for the publisher, author, and reader–since the majority are read “free” which is one of three options Amazon gives to entice increasing their “readership.”

  23. I have nine novels, historical fiction, five on Audible, ebooks and print. These five out-perform the other four books, which are available only in print and ebooks, by at least 10:1. Strongly disagree about the quality of royalty share audio producers. I wouldn’t trade the audio actor and actress who produce my books for any I’ve heard.

  24. Thanks, Steve, for your insights.

    You are one of the few people in a position to break the audiobook model: subscription sales.

    One of the reasons eBooks have been profitable for indie authors is because production has been cheap enough, yes; but also because we control pricing and who distributes our books.

    If CDBaby were to pitch itself as a non-exclusive distribution platform that allowed authors to set their own retail price for their audiobooks and at a flat fee, trust me: we’d all forego the egregious ACX contract, what with its seven-year stranglehold and “WhisperSync” giveaway.

    In other words, build it, and we will come RUNNING.

  25. Very informative. Thanks! You’re right about independent authors and audiobooks – we just can’t compete with institutions with capital and network.

    I do have have 3 audiobooks now on ACX, but it’s more to test the waters. As expected, the ebook that sold best on Amazon also sold the most units on ACX.

    I just started publishing (on Amazon) two years ago and things aren’t bad. Books got their brief moments in the spotlight, and you’re back to your next book – hoping that the momentum and quality of writing could be maintained.

    Not yet thinking of going wide, though I haven’t asked the big “A” if paperbacks are covered by the KU arrangement.

    Again, thanks! Merry Christmas and a happy new year.

  26. The author makes sense. However in the nonfiction world you know your subject best and if you are reasonably articulate then recording it as the narrator makes a ton of sense and saves a lot of money. You will still have some expenses with regard to a recording studio or someone to help you set up your own recording equipment and edit the file, but if you keep the cost low the return can be quite good. Like an e-book there are no ongoing expenses such as printing a book and therefore the cash flow coming in after you’ve met expenses is pure profit/income.

  27. Hi Steven,
    Good article, I agree with everything in there!
    I am the author of The Canine Handbooks, the leading dog breed series on Amazon. I was in two minds whether to produce audio books, not least because the books are all factual and not as ideally suited to an audible format as a story.
    I took the plunge with my first audio book, The Goldendoodle Handbook, and got a good American narrator, Trish Helsell. It is around 11 hours long and retails at $24.99 on Audible (which I think is high, but they set the price, not you). I’m on an Audible-exclusive contract and I paid for the narration up front, rather than a royalty share.
    The book is selling steadily – about 10% of print sales. I am now producing the second one, The Cockapoo Handbook, for the British market.
    I think that the voice is extremely important. You can get a good narrator for around US $200 – $250 per finished hour. If you choose someone without a track record, it may cost around $100 per hour.
    There’s a lot of confusion about ACX royalties, so I contacted ACX to question royalty payments here ais their reply on my payments:
    ALC – a full price, non member retail sale – $24.95 x 40% = $9.98
    ALOP – a 30% member discount cash sale – $24.95 x 70% = $17.46 x 40% = $6.98
    AL – a member credit sale – $24.95 x 52% = $12.97 x 40% = $5.18
    Given the figures, I think that any author producing an audio book for the “middle market” needs to take the long view. If you think it will sell steadily, my advice is to pay up front for a good narrator, swallow the costs and then hopefully reap the benefits in the long term.
    Amazon is investing so much money into the audio book market, I don’t believe they would do so unless they are a) going to capture a massive share of that market and b) it is worth their while to do so, as there will be a substantial market for audio books going forward.
    Hope that’s helpful,


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