Should I sell audiobooks?

Should I sell audiobooks?

There is a lot of talk about the rise in audiobooks. Some articles show that the sales of audiobooks are surging. Many of these reports need to be taken with a grain of salt, because a number of the sales figures are based on trade published books only.

Still, many people are getting into audiobooks. Should you do the same?

The answer isn’t clear-cut.

Commonly given advice about audiobooks is that if your e-book isn’t selling well, your audiobook won’t either. It’s not easy to market audiobooks on their own, so their sales will always be related to the e-book sales. The discoverability of audiobooks is, to excuse my french, piss poor.

On the other hand, audio is an entirely different market. People who listen to audiobooks don’t always listen read e-books and vice versa.

Not all genres do well in audio. Audio is more expensive to purchase, so genres that are populated by readers who don’t have much money, such as young adults, or people who read at such volumes that getting books cheaply is important, such as romance, tend not to do as well. The Science Fiction and Fantasy categories are populated by books that are long and part of series that make satisfying listening for audio consumers. And of course non-fiction is big in audio. Of course, there are exceptions. If your ebook sells well, the audio will sell, too, regardless of genre.

So should you get into audio? If your e-book has been selling very well, you might already have received an offer from a production company. Companies like Tantor or Podium are well regarded.

Still, if you haven’t yet pulled the trigger, there are a few things you have to be wary of.
Audio is expensive and time-consuming, so it’s nice to get an offer for someone to take it off your hands.

Reputable as they are, these companies are still likely to orphan a series if the first book doesn’t sell well by their benchmarks. If that happens, are you then going to produce the other books by yourself? They are going to be even harder to market, because you have no control over the first book.

If you receive an offer, it means they think they can make money, which means you could probably make more doing it yourself. And keep control of the series.

In general, there are two rather depressing aspects to selling audiobooks. One, the cost is much higher than e-books and two, sales are likely to be lower. On top of that, you get a much smaller percentage of the cover price. On top of that unfavourable equation, the industry is full of scammers and shenanigans.

For example:

  • People “claim” your book on ACX/Audible and produce an illegal version (possibly using AI)
  • People produce scam audio to defraud creators and narrators giving the industry a bad name.
  • ACX/Audible encouraging listeners to”return” books so they can reuse the monthly credit. Of course when a book is “returned”, the sale vanishes off an author’s dashboard.
  • ACX banning author accounts based on automated detection of some sort of transgression that’s never explained, with the author having no avenue for recourse.

There is, of course, a single common denominator in this and it’s spelled out in three letters “ACX”, Amazon’s audio production platform. They are literally the worst company we have to deal with. Endless audio approval times, repeated weird rejections of books that shouldn’t be rejected. Returns, garbage reporting, garbage back end service. It’s high on the “tread with extreme care” list.

Fortunately, you can sell audio to many other venues via Findaway Voices (and you can even choose to leave the Audible box unticked if they piss you off enough), and you can upload direct to Kobo, and sell full length audiobooks on your own website via Bookfunnel.

So yeah, tread with care. This is not for beginners.

On the other hand, even if your book is not a bestseller, it can be worth producing an audiobook if you can keep production costs low and fully funded by sales you have already made. You can keep costs low by either recording it yourself, or by hiring it out to someone cheaper.

Some people in the community make a bit of fanfare that you should hire “only the best” and that “narrators have their own followers”. Yes, and yes. But like cover design, this is a typical case where cost and effectiveness are not always in step. Because if you’re still reading, the narrators who have followers are not the ones you can afford, so forget about that. You want someone who can 1. Read the book, 2. In a pleasant voice that suits the book, 3. Without mistakes, 4. With enough knowledge about the tech to produce audio that passes quality control. That’s it.

You can snatch someone who’s doing this as a part-time gig, or someone who is just beginning as narrator. In the latter case, you may have to consider that you may have to pay a higher price to have later volumes recorded.

Or you can do it yourself.

One fact holds for both ebooks and audiobooks: the more books you have in your catalogue, the easier they become to sell.

Also, don’t gamble any money on audio production that you can’t afford to lose.

So that’s my mixed bag on audio. I declared 2020 the year of audio before COVID hit and mercifully closed the airport, and I’ve put a slew of books out in audio. Reading some myself allowed me to hire a narrator for others, and keep myself in the black at the same time.

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