Audio Book Options for Indie Authors

December 6, 2015

dreamstime_xs_8151360 lab with headphones

The audio book market is growing faster than any other format. People are listening to books while they drive, exercise, or simply relax. Listeners don’t have to stop when they switch devices, since Kindle’s Whispersync enables them to move between audio and ebooks without losing their place.

Every indie author should consider jumping into this market.

What Audio Books Sell Best?

Fiction captures 77% of the market, and adult titles outsell children’s titles by almost 9 to 1.

Most listeners (63%) buy audio books based on the genre of the book. Mysteries, thrillers and suspense are the most popular followed by historical, biography, memoir and general pop fiction. Most listeners prefer non-abridged versions.

How Can Authors Produce Their Own Audio Books?

By far, the most popular digital platform for producing and distributing audio books is Amazon’s ACX (Audio Book Creation Exchange).

ACX serves two functions. First, it is a matchmaker for authors and narrators (which ACX calls producers). Second, it uses Audible to distribute the audio books through Amazon and iTunes, the two biggest retailers of audio books.

dreamstime_xs_22714603 audiobook correctedThe ACX matchmaking process works well. Authors post their books on ACX and producers upload auditions. The author chooses a producer from the auditions, and the author and producer work together to create a final version of the audio book and upload it.

Alternatively, authors can narrate their own books and upload them into the ACX system.

In either case, Audible distributes the audio book through Amazon and iTunes. And Audible has the right to distribute the audio book for seven years.

In working with ACX, the author must make two decisions,

  • First, the author must decide whether (i) to pay the producer an upfront fee for the work (typically between $100 and $1000 per finished hour) but no royalty on sales, or (ii) to split the author’s share of audio book royalties 50/50 with the producer and pay no upfront fee.
  • Second, the author must decide whether to sell the audio book through Audible on an exclusive or non-exclusive basis.

If the author grants exclusive rights, then the author receives 40% of the retail sales. However, the author agrees not to distribute the audio book through any other channels, including the author’s own website. An exclusive agreement with ACX does not affect the author’s right to sell the print and ebook versions of the same work.

If the author grants non-exclusive rights, then the royalty rate is 25%. In addition, the author does not have the option to split royalties with the producer and must pay the producer a flat fee. The author retains the right to distribute the audio book through other channels and in other audio formats. Some other distribution options are described below, and others are sure to pop up over time.

Keep in mind that Audible has close to a monopoly on the market. Most likely, the bulk of your audio book sales will be through Audible, so authors may be better off with the exclusive option.

Before you sign up with ACX, there are some drawbacks you should consider.

First, Audible controls pricing. Under KDP and CreateSpace, authors set their own suggested retail price (SRP) and earn royalties based on that SRP. Audible, however, sets the price for the audio books, and royalties are based on actual sales. Audible discounts audio books substantially and offers low subscription pricing. For indie author accustomed to controlling their pricing, this is hard to accept.

Second, the royalty-splitting option may not get you the best producers. Many of the better producers won’t participate in a royalty-sharing agreement unless the book is a top seller. They prefer to be paid a flat rate, typically thousands of dollars. This upfront payment may not be feasible for most authors.

Other Audio Options

Podium Publishing is an interesting option. Podium produces and publishes high-quality audio books and boasts an impressive portfolio (include indie author Andy Weir, author of The Martian). They focus on sci-fi and fantasy.

While the Podium contact page says they love to hear from authors, agents, publishers and listeners, they do not accept submissions. “We reach out to authors that are a good fit for us, rather than accept author submissions.” But if you have a book that is selling well, it’s worth an email to let them know you are interested.

Various companies offer to produce audio books for you. An online search of “audio book producers” will generate dozens of choices. They hire the narrators (with the author’s input and approval), produce and edit the audio book. Some work on a flat fee basis, other on a royalty-sharing basis, and many will negotiate a blended deal.

If you work with any of these companies, make sure you end up with all rights to the finished audio book and you also understand how to terminate the relationship in case the arrangement does not work out.

Some self-publishing service companies also produce audio books. Frankly, that doesn’t appeal to me. They are not experts at producing audio books, so they probably send the project out to other providers. The author ends up with more people with their fingers in the royalties cookie jar.

Once you have a completed audio book in hand, and assuming you have decided not to give ACX an exclusive distribution deal, then there are various distribution sites to help get your book into listeners’ hands.

Author’s Republic is one. This audio book distribution portal can get an author’s work on every major audio book platform through just one submission, including Audible/iTunes/Amazon, Audiobooks.com, Barnes & Noble, Scribd, Downpour,  OverDrive, and Hoopla. Authors control the price of their audio books and receive a royalty of between 25 and 35% of the retail price, depending on the sales channel.

Finally, authors should also consider selling their audio books as downloads from their own websites. Selling the audio books themselves, authors enjoy the highest royalty rate – 100%!

What is your experience selling audio books?

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5 responses to “Audio Book Options for Indie Authors”

  1. It is my intention to produce the ‘as read by author’ version of the audiobook myself; I have a local studio which will supply facilities and an engineer (good especially for a first-timer) at a reasonable price, and can work with me not having enough energy to do more than an hour or so at a time.

    It’s still going to be expensive. And time-consuming.

    But audio is a very good place to be – it’s an entirely different customer base. And I’m a ham.

    The big choice will be governed by how long Audible and ACX control the rights to the finished product. If it’s seven years – that may be bearable. Longer, and I don’t think so. They do the distribution for their cut – and audio are huge files compared to the epubs and mobis and pdfs people could manage on their own websites: many hours worth of audio files to transmit, many more chances for digital disruption of the files.

    Consumers are used to the convenience – it costs.

    Amazon has been good about that. KDP Select is a 3-month choice with a few small limitations.

  2. Sara Crabtree says:

    Great post. I am looking for production options for Canadians. As it stands, I am unable to bring my books to readers in audio format. Any suggestions?

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