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Self-Publishers: Don't Overlook the Profits in Audiobooks!

by Marcia Yudkin

With the recent explosion in self-publishing, both in paperback and for Kindle and other ebook reading devices, one important content delivery medium rarely gets mentioned: audiobooks. This is a serious oversight. According to the Association of American Publishers, audiobook sales were up 33 percent in the first quarter of 2012 over the same period in the previous year. By comparison, ebook sales (including Kindle) rose only 28 percent in the same time interval.

Audiobook sales are rising because there are so many more ways to listen to audiobooks now. You can download them to your smartphone, iPad, Kindle, Nook or MP3 player in addition to listening to CDs that you purchased or borrowed from the library in your car. Sales are sure to keep going up, given the growth in sales of such devices and Audible's new Whisper-Sync option, where you can purchase both Kindle and audiobook versions of the same book and easily go back and forth, either listening or reading.

In mid-2012, I was startled at the size of my first royalty check for my audiobook versions of five paperback books that are available through and several other online audiobook marketplaces. In numbers of sales, I was selling as many or more of the audiobook versions than the Kindle versions. With all the hoopla in the Internet marketing community over Kindle publishing, this surprised me.

What's important to realize is that traditional publishers normally reserve audiobook publishing for their titles that they expect to sell in high volumes. Many steadily selling nonfiction books, even those that remain in print for 10 or 20 years, never have audiobook versions. This creates a huge market gap for audiobook content that independent publishers can profitably fill.

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For example, a well-known colleague of mine has published 70 books on copywriting, marketing and business communication from well-established publishers like Wiley, Alpha and Amacom. Guess how many of those 70 books have audiobook versions? Zero. None at all! I discovered much the same when I looked up several standard self-help topics like divorce, stepfamilies, forgiveness and conflict resolution: I found very few unabridged book-length audiobooks.

If you have a pleasant speaking voice and have basic audio editing skills, you can record your own audiobooks. I use a Plantronics headset microphone that attaches to my computer and free WavePad software for recording in my study at home. It takes me about three hours to finish recording each audiobook hour and edit it to mistake-free status.

If you have to hire voice talent to read your audiobook, it can run into quite an expense because of the lengthy reading time involved. I've seen rates for audiobook narrators ranging from $80 to $250 per finished hour. For a 70,000-word book, which runs around 7.5 hours when read out loud, that would cost you from $600 to $1875. Some experienced audiobook narrators are willing to invest their time in exchange for 50 percent of the income from the audiobook, which I believe is a very fair deal.

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You may be thinking that you can eliminate the need to hire voice talent by using a computerized robot reading voice. Because such programmed voices are hard to listen to at length and often misread proper names or other specialized words, audiobook listeners almost universally reject that solution, so you'd better give up on that idea.

You would probably also need to pay a graphic artist or your original cover designer to convert your rectangular book cover to the square CD-style image required by audiobook marketplaces.

As for distribution, it's easiest to work with a so-called aggregator, a company that ensures that your audiobook files, cover and content description meet the needs of and the other online marketplaces that they distribute to. They charge a minimal or no upfront fee and a percentage of your royalties in exchange for their service. Two such audiobook aggregator companies are eBookIt and Big Happy Family Audio.

You'll need patience as you wait to enjoy the financial fruits of your efforts, since it takes a while for new titles to get set up and another while for quarterly royalties from consumer purchases of your audiobooks to flow. But once they start, you can expect them to continue for years.

Copyright 2013 Marcia Yudkin. All rights reserved.  

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