Audiobook Distribution

Audiobook Distribution

Distribution: Exclusive to Audible or Wide?

Donor portrait of Anicia Juliana from illustrated codex

So you’ve made your choice to get into the audiobook market (Part 1), learned the generic steps any text takes on the journey to audio (Part 2), looked closely at the pros and cons of the four paths an author can take on that journey (Part 3), and learned what resources are available to help you in a hybrid model (Part 4). But what do you do with the completed files? How do you get them to audiobook sellers? Which ones?

Audiobook sellers get their product directly from you or from audiobook distributors. The best known distributor is ACX (audio creation exchange) which I’ve talked about before. They distribute to Audible and Apple and maintain the author dashboard tracking sales, revenue, and payments. If you want to update the metadata or upload new files, you do it through ACX.

If you want your book in other markets, you have to set up individual accounts with that seller OR use a distributor such as Findaway Voices (owned by Spotify) or ListenUp who—like ACX—maintain the author dashboard. In either case, when you have completed files, you set up an account with the distributor, provide meta data for your audiobook, a cover, documentation for payment, and sign an agreement laying out terms of service. (Cracking the Audiobook Market Resource Guide provides additional distribution resources.)

As in print and eBooks, there is an 800-pound gorilla in in the room: Audible (an Amazon company) which controls 63.4% of the US audiobook market. They offer incentives to authors to be exclusive, including higher royalties. The business decision you have to make is whether to be exclusive with Audible or “go wide.” That decision depends on your career goals and the popularity of your book. Let’s take a look at the pros of going exclusively with Audible:

  • Audible offers higher royalties (40% vs. 25%) to authors who sell exclusively through them. If you go exclusive, you are locked in for five years before you can make a change. Here’s where math and the popularity of your book comes in. Can you make up that 15% difference in royalties with wider distribution? Does that matter to you, if your books are getting to a wider audience, including public libraries? (Audible does not distribute to libraries.)
  • Audible offers a subscription service to its members which means their users might take a chance on an unfamiliar author if they like the book description/cover/narrator. (There is a shift in the market to more sellers providing subscription services which I’ll discuss in the final post.)
  • You only have to deal with a single author dashboard/platform through ACX.
  • Audible giveaway codes, used for marketing, are only available to those who go exclusive. They are the gold standard and many people won’t want to use other distributor’s codes.
  • They are a trusted brand. With the lion’s share of the market, people know your book will meet their technical standards.

The cons of going exclusively with Audible are—not surprisingly—the pros of going non-exclusive. If you go wide:

  • You can reach the over one third of the market that Audible doesn’t tap. There are dozens of additional audiobook sellers including Nook (Barnes & Noble) and Kobo. Another lucrative market is the subscription service Scribd.
  • Public libraries can get your books through specific distribution systems such as Overdrive and Hoopla rather than buy at market rate from Audible. This was the single most important factor for me in going wide with my novels. I’m a great supporter of public libraries and I wanted my books—paper and digital—available to library patrons.
  • You can price your book as you wish for marketing purposes and change that price for sales. I set my prices comparable to the paperback costs. Currently Audible sets the price for your book and you have no control over it. This used to be strictly based on the length of the book. With pressures on their market like new streaming services, they have very recently (March 2023) reduced the prices on a number of titles. My novel-length books are now priced very similarly to the hardback. My shorter fiction is priced slightly lower than the paperback versions.
  • Some distributors offer giveaway codes for marketing to replace the lost Audible codes.
  • Going wide also means you can distribute directly to readers from your own website–an option many authors are increasingly taking because the returns are so great. The downside of this is setting up the shopping cart on your website and using a service such as Bookfunnel to deliver the files. Here’s an excellent step-by-step video tutorial, if you choose to add direct sales to your mix.

Besides losing the Audible giveaway codes when you go wide, there is the inconvenience of multiple dashboards. Most indie authors are familiar with eBook distributors (such as Draft2Digital) who consolidate distribution to the wider eBook market beyond Kindle. Audiobook distributors work the same way. You can set up accounts with individual markets, but it’s a hassle to track everything if you have many sellers. Most authors prefer to pay the distributors a small percent on every sale to keep all the paperwork in one place.

The problem with having a distributor provide your books to Audible is that they take their percentage out of your 25% royalty. Because Audible has almost two-thirds of the market, that small percentage can take a big bite out of your revenue. For that reason, I distribute to Audible through ACX to get the full 25% royalty and everywhere else through a distributor. I’ve personally found it manageable to have two dashboards. Your mileage may vary.

To summarize, there are significant advantages to either choice to go exclusive with Audible or tap into the wider market. What choice you make depends entirely on your career goals, popularity of your books, and personal values. I’ve made different choices for different books, so don’t think you have to take one route for all your books. Do what’s right for each one.

In Part 6, I talk about that bane of all authors—marketing. See you next week!

Faith L. Justice has eight books out in audio. She learned these lessons the hard way so you don’t have to. This series of posts is an expanded text version of a presentation she made to the New York City Chapter of the Historical Novel Society. The original video is here.

Hybrid Model of Audiobook Production

Hybrid Model of Audiobook Production

A Deep Dive into the Hybrid Model 

Donor portrait of Anicia Juliana from illustrated codex

In the previous posts we explored why you should be in the audiobook market (Part 1), the generic steps any text takes on the journey to audio (Part 2), and the pros and cons of the four paths an author can take on that journey (Part 3). In this post we’ll take a deep dive into the fourth path—the hybrid model—and look at the resources available to authors to help them reach their goals. This is the path that offers the most flexibility in terms of investing time and money.

The cheapest way to go hybrid is to call on your network of talented family and friends. You can barter services or get volunteers to do a lot of the work for minimal overall cost.  My first projects were ridiculously cheap to produce as I learned my way around the requirements of producing and distributing a product. My family has roots in audio production. My husband ran a volunteer radio service for the blind for several years. He and I both recorded articles and our daughter edited our and many others’ contributions. When I wanted to put my toe in the water of audio book production, I had back-up.

To start, I recorded three collections of short stories and a children’s book. We already had the microphone, software, and linen closet/recording booth. As author, I prepped the text. My husband and I narrated the short stories and my daughter the children’s book. My daughter edited, I QC’d, and my husband mastered the files. I took care of the distribution and marketing. My husband did it for love (and laundry services). I paid my daughter a going hourly rate (she was in college) for editing and a royalty share for narrating the children’s book (more on that option later).

By the time I had finished these short projects, I had a good handle on the process and platforms. I was ready to tackle one of my lengthy novels. For this I wanted a professional voice. I put out a call to a couple of voice-over classes for auditions and hired a narrator who recorded at our home for a flat fee. Husband and child still contributed their talents and skills. I was very pleased with the product, but felt it was time to explore outside the family/friends network.

A second and more expensive way to go hybrid is to hire an indie narrator/producer. Most folks do that through ACX (audio creation exchange) an Amazon-run marketplace to help content creators find narrators. It is also a single point access to place audiobook files for sale on Audible. The platform and procedures are straight forward and there are tons of videos and chats to help the newbie post their project, sort through auditions, and negotiate a contract.

The key here is that the indie narrator/producer usually takes on four of the generic steps. Once you negotiate a contract, they record, edit, do retakes, and turn over to you final mastered files that meet Audible’s requirements. A key step that they might do for you, but I recommend you keep for yourself, is the quality control listen. You should hear the first run through and give notes to the narrator for retakes, then listen to the retakes as well. This is work for you, but this is your book. You don’t want any embarrassing mistakes. You should negotiate with the narrator, how many retakes they will do depending on whether the mistake was in the text or was their error.

The cost for using an indie narrator/producer can vary greatly. Some will work for a flat fee, but most charge a per finished hour rate anywhere between $200 to $800 depending on the experience of the narrator. A very few—mostly new narrators—will work for a half-share of the royalties. Those narrators have to believe your book will sell well to take on that risk. And you are stuck with Audible and Apple as sole distributors.

Of course, you don’t have to go through ACX to find a narrator/producer. If you know someone in the business that you like for your project, you can approach them directly. You might also want to do some market research. Some genres have “stars”—narrators that might not be famous, but are very popular. There are a number of audiobook fans that buy books in their favorite genre based solely on the narrator. You can look up the best sellers in your genre, see if the narrators show up in more than one project, and contact them.

A third way to go hybrid is by using an audiobook services company such as Findaway Voices (owned by Spotify), Listen Up, or AudioVista (check out Cracking the Audiobook Market Resource Guide for more companies). These companies are slightly different from a full-service audio company talked about in path 2 they have no studios and offer additional services. Like ACX, they help you find an indie narrator/producer, but they act as a middleman between you and the narrator. They curate a list of narrators based on your description of your project. When you and your preferred narrator agree, they provide and enforce a standard contract, collect the fee (based on the negotiated per finished hour rate), pay the narrator and deliver the mastered files. You still have to provide the new square audiobook cover formatted according to standard specifications.

If wanted, you can use these companies to distribute the files (even ones you have produced yourself) to audiobook sellers such as Kobo, Nook, and libraries. They offer over 40 sellers from which you can choose all or some. For that service they track, receive, and distribute royalties to you for a small percentage of the royalty. They distribute to Audible, but we’ll talk about the pros and cons of the that in the next post. The advantage here is having one dashboard to track sales of all sellers rather than setting up individual accounts at each.

To summarize: It’s your time or your money! Hybridization offers you the most flexible way to meet your budget, while maximizing your time. By using talented friends and family you can keep you costs low. You can also negotiate a wide range of up front costs (including free narration if you use royalty shares) by using an indie narrator/producer either through ACX or a more extensive audiobook services company.

Next up in Part 5: once you have your mastered files and new audiobook cover how do you distribute them to audiobook sellers?

Faith L. Justice has eight books out in audio. She learned these lessons the hard way so you don’t have to. This series of posts is an expanded text version of a presentation she made to the New York City Chapter of the Historical Novel Society. The original video is here.

Four Paths to Market

Four Paths to Market

Four Routes to the Audiobook Market

Donor portrait of Anicia Juliana from illustrated codex

In Part 1, I laid out the case for getting into audiobooks and for doing it sooner rather than later. In Part 2, I took you on the generic journey from text to audio. In this part we’ll explore the options within that generic journey and the pro and cons of each. Caveat: what decisions you make to follow any of these paths should be based on your career goals and personal values. Not everyone needs their royalties to pay the rent, but some absolutely do and need to pay close attention to their return on investment. Others have a little more leeway in taking a smaller return or even providing books free or discounted to libraries, if that fits their values. Those kinds of factors will always influence which path an author takes. There is no one true path, but here are my takes on them:

 Assign/sell your rights to an audiobook publisher.

This is the equivalent of selling your print and eBook rights to a traditional publisher—large or small—for a royalty share or whatever financial arrangement you can negotiate. There are a number of audio-only publishers out there and they are growing. Check out Cracking the Audiobook Market Resource Guide for specifics. There are several advantages to this path:

  • Requires the least involvement of the author (if that’s what you want).
  • No upfront money. Like selling your print/eBook rights, the publisher takes all the risk. You might receive an advance and/or royalties. It depends on what you negotiate in your contract.
  • You get a professional product.
  • You get the prestige of a recognized publisher.

There are also a number of cons to this path:

  • Of all the paths this is absolutely the least used for all the same reasons it’s hard to get your books printed by a traditional publisher: you almost always have to go through an agent and competition is fierce.
  • Even if it happens, it’s likely to provide the lowest royalty payback of the various paths.
  • You have the least control, just as with print/eBook publishers.

Hire a full service audio production company.

You’re the client and they work with you to produce the audio files (and sometimes arrange the distribution). You will still have to prep, possibly distribute, and definitely do the marketing, but the production company does everything else. Some of the pros of this approach:

  • Less work than DIY or hybrid.
  • You have a lot more control because you can work collaboratively with a full service organization.
  • You get a professional product.

The major drawback? It’s the most expensive of all the options. Prices vary but $6000 is the average flat fee (at the time of this posting) for 50,000 – 70,000 word novel. Some organizations charge per word (one charges 10 cents a word so my 120,000-word historical would cost $12,000). Others charge anywhere from $300 to $800 per finished hour. “Finished hour” is how long your book is when it is completed. Narrators typically read at an average rate of 9,300 words per hour, so you can estimate the length of the audiobook based on total word count of the manuscript. The more words in the book, the longer the recording, the more expensive the service.

Author do-it-yourself.

This is just what it sounds like: you do everything. Like most things in this life, it’s your time or your money. If you go with the full-service audio production company you’re paying big bucks and investing minimum time. If you DIY, you pay almost nothing, but invest considerable time. Here are the pros:

  • It’s the least expensive option although there are a few small expenses if you’re starting from scratch. A good microphone will cost between $70 and $100. You don’t have to build a studio. We recorded in an interior linen closet muffled with quilts. There are free versions of audio recording and editing software.
  • There are tons of free DIY resources out there. My favorite is ACX (audio creation exchange) which has an extensive DIY video “university” free to all creators. If you want to pay a small course fee there are also step-by-step courses with live coaches.
  • AI – Artificial Intelligence tools are getting better and will continue to. They can help with everything from narration (caveat: many distributors, including Audible, will not distribute an AI narrated book–at this time), to QC, to tech adjustments. I’ll talk more about the pros and cons of using AI tools in Part 7 – “Market Trends.”
  • You have complete control over everything related to the project. (Some folks might not want this, others may find this attractive.)
  • Last, but not least, you find and correct errors in your text. Reading your book aloud also helps you find awkward sentences, confusing homonyms, and other flaws you can correct in your print/eBooks. Some folks recommend doing your audiobook before finalizing the print/eBook versions so you can put out the cleanest product possible in the other formats. Reading your book aloud can make you a better writer.

The cons to this path can be daunting to some people:

  • Readers prefer professional narrators for fiction, unless you’re a really famous author like Neil Gaiman. He reads all his own stuff, and people love it, but not everybody is Neil Gaiman. If you’re publishing non-fiction or memoir, readers prefer the author narrate, but they also want a professional read. If you don’t regularly do public speaking, you might want to hire a director or coach to help with your delivery.
  • The scariest con for most people is the learning curve for the tech and the software: learning how to record, edit, and master. If you’re new this, it will take time and effort, but there are lots of free resources to help you learn. Once you’ve learned it, things get easier each time you do it.

 The hybrid model.

Here the author picks and chooses which steps they will do and outsources what they are unable or unwilling to do. I’ll do a deep dive on this option in the next post (Part 4) and show who can help with the outsourced tasks. The pros of this path are:

  • It’s cheaper than partnering with a full service production house. You control what you’re outsourcing and how much you pay for it. If you have a network of talented friends and family, you might even barter services or recruit volunteers to help with the various steps and keep the cost to a minimum—something I’ve done for several of my books.
  • You can use a professional narrator (if needed).
  • Others can do the tech stuff.
  • You have considerable control.
  • As you’re working on your audiobook, you find and correct text errors.

The cons are a little less daunting that DIY:

  • It can be more expensive than DIY unless you barter services or recruit volunteers.
  • There is still a learning curve on  using any hardware, software, distribution platforms, etc. But like DIY, once learned the next time is faster and smoother.
  • “It’s your time” with this path. The author is the producer/publisher. You have to organize all the parts and make sure all the outsourced steps are done to your satisfaction.

To summarize the four paths:

  • Selling/assigning your audiobook rights to an audiobook publisher is the cheapest way to get a professional audiobook to market, but is the hardest to make happen.
  • Hiring a full-service audio studio is the most expensive way to get a professional product, but requires the least time and involvement by the author.
  • Author DIY is very inexpensive but will require extensive time and effort if the author has no familiarity with the hardware and software tools. Help is out there, but it’s still work.
  • The hybrid path where the author manages the project and outsources whatever steps they wish, allows for the maximum flexibility on how much time and money the author puts in.

Which path you chose depends on how you want to spend your time and money, your current resources, and your career goals. In Part 4, I’ll take a deeper dive into the hybrid model and look at the some of the resources available to authors for their outsourcing options.

Faith L. Justice has eight books out in audio. She learned these lessons the hard way so you don’t have to. This series of posts is an expanded text version of a presentation she made to the New York City Chapter of the Historical Novel Society. The original video is here.

From Manuscript to Audiobook

From Manuscript to Audiobook

From Text to Speech: How a Manuscript Becomes an Audiobook

Donor portrait of Anicia Juliana from illustrated codex

In Part 1, I laid out the case for getting into audiobooks and for doing it sooner rather than later. Now we’ll look at how every book goes from print to audio. Whether you hire a full service company, produce everything yourself, or go hybrid; the generic process of getting the printed words to speech is the same. Don’t let this list scare you off. I’ll talk about who can help do each step in Part 3. Here are the steps:

Make sure you own the audio rights to your book. If you’re an indie/self-publisher, you automatically own your audio rights. It can be more complicated if you are published with a small or more specialized publisher. You need to look at your contract very carefully. If you own the rights, great! If the publisher owns the rights, make sure they put out the audiobook or revert the rights to you. If you have a contract with a big traditional publisher, they almost always take the rights to audio and produce the book. If they don’t, again, ask them to put out the book or revert the rights to you. 

Prep the manuscript. No matter who produces the audiobook, the author almost always preps the manuscript for recording. Even if the publishers handle everything else, you will want to do this task. Nobody knows your book like you and all the pre-help you can provide to the narrator (even if it’s you), the better, faster, and cheaper you make the process. Prepping the manuscript involves reading through the whole book to make sure there are no missing or extra words or confusing homonyms. This is the time to make any last-minute deletions or corrections that make the manuscript better and easier to read aloud. In addition, you should put together a pronouncer for weird names and places or foreign words. Not all parts of the book get recorded, so you should indicate what you want done with charts, genealogies, indices, etc. You might want to plan for any deleted print material to be distributed on your website as a “bonus” or “extra.”

Recording: The actual process of someone speaking the text into a microphone and recording the sound. Anyone with a phone these days knows how to do this. I’ll discuss how to make the decision on a narrator in Part 3.

Editing. No one gets it perfect 100% of the time. As the narrator is recording, they may miss a word, add something, pronounce it wrong, etc. There may be coughs, stomach gurgles, a dog barking in the background. If caught during the recording, the narrator repeats the text correctly. It’s the editor’s job to take out the errors and repeats and flag anything they can’t repair for a re-record called “retakes.”

 Quality Control (QC). Once the editor thinks they have it perfect and has a list for the narrator’s retakes, the recording goes to a second pair of ears for QC. I’ll discuss who this should be in Part 3. The QC person listens to the recording and compares it to the text. They make sure to catch anything the editor missed and add to the list for retakes. If the editor cannot make the changes necessary, the narrator is called in redo some sections.

Retakes. The narrator makes the corrections flagged by the editor/QC. After that the recording goes back to editing and quality control to see if the changes are correct. Hopefully no more retakes are needed, but you never know. You do as many rounds of record-edit-QC as needed to get it right. Here’s where good prepping the manuscript can save lots of time.

Mastering is the final technical part. The editor makes sure that the recorded files meet the technical specifications for all your distributors. This is the part that worries non-tech writer-producers the most, but is easily learned with a variety of tools on-line.

Submit files for distribution. The act of setting up accounts with distributors and delivering the files and required documentation for royalty payments, etc. I’ll discuss the factors in deciding whether to go narrow by distributing through Audible only or going wide with many distributors in Part 5. You also have to deliver a new square cover for your audiobook. This requirement is probably a throwback to the days of CD jewel cases, but no one has changed it in the age of streaming. (Just like we keep “dialing” our phones.)

Marketing – helping customers find your book – is the final step, but there’s good news here. If you’re marketing to your eBook and paperback it spills over to the audiobook. I’ll discuss marketing strategies in Part 6. 

That’s the generic journey. All manuscripts have to go through those steps to become an audiobook. But within that journey the author has considerable leeway about who does which step. You can assign/sell rights to an audio book publisher. You can hire a full service audio production company. You can DIY or some sort of hybrid. I’ll walk you through the pros and cons of each path in the next post: “Four Routes to the Audiobook Market.”

Faith L. Justice has eight books out in audio. She learned these lessons the hard way so you don’t have to. This series of posts is an expanded text version of a presentation she made to the New York City Chapter of the Historical Novel Society. The original video is here.

Why Audiobooks? Why Now?

Why Audiobooks? Why Now?

Why Should You Be in the Audiobook Market?

Why Now Rather Than Later?

So new readers can find you.

There are readers who prefer eBooks,  others who prefer print, and even more who prefer audio. If you want to reach a broad market you should be in audio. The good news is that audiobook readers are new readers. They tend to prefer audio to other media. They listen to a lot of podcasts and prefer being on their phones. If they do read print or eBooks, they make new time for audiobook listening while commuting or doing household tasks.

Audiobook readers are also disproportionately female and African American. Women will consume about 14% more audio content than men, and African Americans account for about 26% of audiobook readers. This population is young, educated and employed. About. 57% of the listeners are under age 44. Given that print and eBook readers skew older, it’s important to tap into this younger demographic. “Get them while they’re young and raise them right,” as my mother used to say.

 For the money.

This is the fastest growing segment in publishing and pays the highest royalties. Audiobooks had double digit growth year over year for the past 10 years and are projected to be doing the same through 2030. They surpassed eBook revenues in 2019. In 2022, the revenues were $4.5 billion for audiobooks., and it’s projected to be $35 billion by 2030. Audiobooks are 9% of all book sales projected to be 21% by 2030. Revenues are higher than market share because audiobooks are more expensive and the royalty payouts are quite nice—although that is changing as more distribution platforms challenge Audible. I will talk more about that in the final segment of this series dealing with market trends.

As a fiction author this final statistic is my favorite. Sales of fiction is 65% of the audio market versus 40% in print and eBook where non-fiction is king. This makes discoverability for fiction authors much better. Which leads me to the final piece of “Why and Why now?”

 Easier discoverability…for now

The competition is growing. The big publishing houses are all in and the smaller publishers are catching up. More indie authors are taking advantage of new tools and platforms (which I’ll discuss in another post) so if you want in, do it sooner rather than later.

Let me throw some numbers at you to show what kind of competition you’ve got. 4 million (includes self-published) books were published in 2022 and it looks like that rate is going to keep up for a while. If you launched a book last year (or plan to launch this year or next) you are one of 4,000,000 authors clamoring for attention and sales. You have lots of competition and it’s hard to discover you. By contrast 74,000 audiobooks were published in 2022. Discoverability is much higher.

If you write in a popular audiobook niche like romance, mystery, or fantasy, that discoverability jumps much higher. In my own field of historical fiction, there were over 60,000 historical fiction titles listed in the Kindle Store but only 30,000 historical fiction titles listed in Audible. I have twice the chance of being discovered at Audible if someone’s just looking at historical fiction. But it won’t stay that way. Lots of people are jumping into the market so…

 What’s keeping you from doing it?

When authors are surveyed about why they are or are not in the audio market, the big thing is money. And I’ll admit that is a big hurdle. You can pay $6000 (average—they can run up to 10K or more) to get an audiobook made. Even with higher royalties you want the audiobook to pay itself out and with those upfront costs, that can be tough.  In Part 3, I’ll explore the different ways to get to the market–some of which cost next to nothing.

The second hurdle is technical. If you don’t have the money to pay for beginning to end production, you can do all or parts yourself—but authors are scared off by the idea of all the technology needed to record, edit, and produce the audiobooks. There is good news on that front, as well, and I’ll discuss work-arounds in Part 4.

I hope that this post has helped you to decide to go audio (feel free to ask me questions) and you’re comfortable with taking the next steps. In order to honcho this process you need to know the generic steps of turning a manuscript into an audiobook and putting it in the market for distribution. That’s the topic of my next segment: “Text to Speech: How a Manuscript Goes Audio”

Faith L. Justice has eight books out in audio. She learned these lessons the hard way so you don’t have to. This series of posts is an expanded text version of a presentation she made to the New York City Chapter of the Historical Novel Society. The original video is here.