On March 21st, Smashwords announced it was partnering with Findaway Voices to help their Indie authors with the beginning stages of audiobook production. In the blog post, Mark Coker shared the basics of the partnership and his observations on how audiobooks are a growing market and a new opportunity for a wider audience for Indie authors.
It was all great news. What the blog post didn’t share, however, were some additional details I later found in this Forbes article where Mark Coker contributed an interview.
Here’s the deets:
In early 2017, Amazon’s Audible and Apple’s iTunes’ exclusive supplier arrangement expired, which suddenly opened the door for more retailers, producers, and content providers to enter the market. You might not know this (I myself didn’t until about a week before I got the announcement from Smashwords), but there are actually several platforms for audiobook production out there, aside from Amazon’s ACX program. I guess they just don’t advertise as aggressively as Amazon.
Now, producing an audiobook is not a cheap venture. Unlike eBooks and even print books, your manuscript alone is not enough to create the product. You either need a studio setup and a whole lot of time to narrate it yourself, or lots of money to hire a professional narrator to do it for you. As Mark Coker’s blog post stated, audiobook production costs are based on the length of the finished product, and narrators charge a set per-finished-hour fee, which ranges anywhere between $150 and $400. So, assuming a 9,000 words-per-hour narrating speed and a 90,000 word novel (for simplicity’s sake), you would end up with a 10-hour long audiobook, which would cost you in the range of $1,500-$4,000 to produce.
That’s a huge production cost. And that cost is the largest barrier to Indie authors entering the audiobook market, because there is no guarantee they’ll sell enough copies to recoup that initial cost. Also, audiobooks may be priced much higher than eBooks, but the royalty rates on them are lower, as the Forbes article says. Basically, it’s a massive financial risk very few Indie authors are willing to take.
But here’s the thing: it could also be a huge opportunity. The way I see it, the print book market is still dominated by traditional publishers who pretty much have a monopoly on low cost bulk printing and store shelf space, so the odds of an Indie author getting there, much less being seen and discovered, are essentially zero. And it’s not even about physical stores anymore, since most book sales still happen online. It’s more about how expensive print-on-demand is as opposed to bulk printing. It drives up the per-unit price of books and, unless Indies want to shell out $1,000s to buy a truckload of their own books in the hopes they can sell them on their own, there’s not much they can do about it.
The eBook market would appear to be the better choice, with its next-to-nothing initial costs, endless shelf life, high royalty rates, and worldwide distribution, but that’s precisely the problem. It’s such an easy market to enter, it’s become massively overcrowded which has created a virtual shelf life of literally days, sometimes hours, during which you can be discovered. After that, another thousand plus other books crowd you out farther down the ranked list of new releases, and the more time passes, the deeper your book sinks into obscurity. What you saved in initial costs, the eBook market extorts over time through aggressive marketing. And that’s not even taking into consideration all the complications of the pressure authors feel to price their eBooks lower, or offer them free.
Which brings me to the audiobook market. Now, admittedly, I am just beginning my research into this, but right off the bat, I can tell you a few things about it:
#1 It has a huge entry cost of $1,000s per produced book, which means a lot of authors will think twice and three times before taking the plunge. And that means…
#2 It’s not yet as overcrowded a market as the other two, so your odds of being discovered there are somewhat higher.
#3 Audio content distribution is easily as wide as eBooks, and advances in audio technology, smartphones, and other devices make the listening experience not only convenient, but pleasant. And that means…
#4 People who don’t have time or can’t read books the traditional way now have a way to enjoy books while commuting, doing house work, walking dogs, etc.
#5 These recent changes with Apple/Amazon, and Smashwords/Findaway Voices make the entry into this market easier, if not cheaper.
Am I saying you should start auditioning narrators for your book right this second? Absolutely not. This isn’t something to jump into head first without testing the waters. What I am saying is that it might be worth considering–if you feel it would be worth it, if you can afford it without going into debt, and if you’re ready to put in the necessary hours of research, and listening/proofing work it requires.
As an Indie author myself, this might be something for me to explore further. My philosophy on money is that if I’m going to spend it, I want to make sure I get something out of it. If it’s a choice between buying ad space that hasn’t netted me more than a sale or two in the past and producing an audiobook I can then sell worldwide… I think I’d rather go for the audiobook.
A caveat here: There are no guarantees for any of this. Both Mark Coker’s blog post and the Forbes article enthusiastically called audiobooks a growing market, which would suggest its potential is on par with eBooks circa early 2000s, the time when the rising trend propelled Indies up the ranks and made them a mint in royalties. But a simple Google search unearths articles from 4+ years ago, basically saying the same thing. That could be because the initial production cost causes slower market growth, or because both articles are attempting to create enough hype to cause market growth.
In the end, my advice on this would be the same as it is on anything else I write about on this blog: Do your own homework before taking the plunge. 😉