The Pros and Cons of Audiobook Publishing

audio bookLast summer I took a trip to my brother-in-law’s home in Indiana.  The trip was productive in that I probably enjoyed one of the most restful vacations of my life, but I also spent every evening over the course of a week recording an audiobook for my third novel Come Apart in the incredibly silent recesses of my brother-in-law’s nearby church.

As of today I have edited through only 10 of 42 chapters of the audiobook, removing gaffs and mistakes made as I read my own book in the most careful and exciting tones I could muster.  I have had every intention of publishing the audiobook version of this novel, which is available now in print and on Kindle, but getting the time to do it has been one of those things that was left in the dust.

When I decide to do something, I usually weight the pros and cons of the thing, then based on that I make the decision to go ahead with it or not.  Here are some things I have discovered about the audiobook industry.

  1. PRO: Audiobooks Are Growing Fast – I’ll get to the recording and production end of the audiobook later, but Audible (Amazon’s audiobook branch) is one of the fastest growing media industries on the market.  According to Michael Koslowski over at “GoodEReader“, the entire industry is said to be worth over $2 billion which is a huge jump since 1997 when it made up only $480 million of the industry.  It seems that the market for audiobooks is on the rise and indie authors should take advantage of this market which is quickly eating up the large portion of “readers” who are listening to books on the way to work or while they work out or do other tasks.  People live increasingly busy lives, and it seems that they are listening way more than they are actually reading.
  2. PRO: Audiobooks Are Easy to Produce – You may not think that you have a voice for radio (and maybe you don’t), but many authors are outsourcing the recording of their audiobooks to professionals who will record them for a fee.  I have always had a talent for voices and have had training to modulate my voice to fit a recorded medium, but there are companies out there like Audiobook Creation Exchange who will produce your audiobook for a fee or take your pre-recorded audiobook and produce it for Amazon, Audible and iTunes.  I used a free program called Audacity which has a relatively easy learning curve to record .wav files which I then convert to MP3 using the same program.  There is a very good tutorial about how to record your own Audiobook here.  Once you do this you can upload it to Audible and start earning money when people download it.  Of course, you have to market it like everything else you write.
  3. PRO: Audiobooks Net Larger Profit Per Sale – Most audiobooks sell for around $20, and with Audible’s 40% to author sales distribution, you get almost half of that per book.  If you sell your Kindle version for $2.99, you only get $2 of that and if you sell the print edition, you net about 30% of those sales.  Audiobooks are a way for you to get more profits from sales in a market that is steadily on the increase.
  4. CON: Time Consuming – If you record your own audiobook, then be ready to spend countless hours reading your own book into a condenser mic, recording each chapter carefully, editing out all the mistakes, and formatting it to fit Audible’s formatting guidelines.  As I stated above, I recorded my book last summer and have only edited together about 10 chapters out of 42.  I got off on other projects, namely writing the next novel (the first in a series) and am hoping to get it out to more people.  I am going to record an audiobook version soon, as I have a good place to record that is quiet and private.  The wait for hiring out an audiobook varies on who is doing it, and hopefully you can get connected through the Creation Exchange who is well vetted and will return work in a timely manner.  Either way it is a waiting game.
  5. CON: Recording Studio – It is highly important that you not only find a quiet, noiseless place to record but that you also purchase a condenser mic that will record a professional sounding narration (if you are doing it yourself).  If you hire it out, then you don’t have to worry about this step.  However, I have found a professional studio right nearby on a college campus that I can use by way of reserving it ahead of time on a Saturday when most students aren’t using it.  It is a room built for this purpose and it is where Ryan McKinley and I do our podcasts.  I also have purchased a rather inexpensive condenser microphone.  It plugs right into my Macbook Pro and affords excellent sound production.  Another trick I use to prevent the inevitable smacking sounds that the mouth produces when dry is to keep water nearby and to keep a lemon slice to lick once in a while in between recordings.  Some recommend getting a mixing board and other devices, but not all of that is needed in my opinion.  As long as you get a good clean recording, the listener won’t know the difference.
  6. PRO OR CON: Technical Learning Curve – If you are a techie, then this learning curve is very low.  However, if computers scare you and you are something of a Luddite, then this will probably be a CON for you unless you hire it out completely (which can get expensive).  I fall along the first one mentioned here, and have no problem at all recording my own work.  It can be frustrating and difficult, so I do not recommend it to those who haven’t really done any audio editing or work with Audacity, even though it isn’t really that difficult for the person who is determined, and those who read and follow directions easily.

If you have any experience doing audiobooks, please chime in below.  We would love to hear from you, your experiences, your mistakes, or successes.

Published by Roger Colby, Novelist, Editor

Roger Colby is a novelist and teacher who has taught English for nearly two decades. He is also an avid reader of science fiction who feels, like many other sci-fi readers, that he has read everything. He writes science fiction for the reader who is looking for the next best thing, something to excite them into reading again. This blog is his journey as a writer and his musings about writing. He also edits manuscripts for a fee and is an expert at helping you reach your full potential as a writer.

19 thoughts on “The Pros and Cons of Audiobook Publishing

  1. tx for an enlightening post – here it is, 5 years after you wrote it & it is still relevant — how about letting us know if you learned more to pass along since? especially in the area of promoting one’s book. & podcasting info would be much appreciated too. Also, would you be so kind as to guest blog post for my site? if you’re so inclined, here’s a link to general guidelines:

    1. So sorry to get back to you so late. I’m a public school teacher and I found myself suddenly thrown into a world where I’m being asked to not only teach in-person (we lasted 2 weeks on an A/B schedule before we went back to full virtual) and teach online. I’d love to write a guest blog post on your site. Let me check out your blog and I’ll get back to you. I’ll also think about posting an article about what I’ve learned. Thank you!

  2. I’ve started into recording my own current book, The Best Advice So Far. I’m doing it myself because A.) I record music and have the equipment, B.) I have the voice for it and C.) I know what I meant when I wrote the book.

    On the latter point, I’ve actually listened to audiobooks recorded by people other than the author, and it’s surprising how many times the narrator adds incorrect inflection to something the author said, which entirely changes the intended meaning. I just can’t leave that kind of thing to chance.

    Oh, I forgot one: D.) I’m poor.

  3. Greetings, Roger!

    I have been looking into recording audiobooks for months now as a “side hack” in addition to my day job (which, coincidentally, also involves recording and editing audio for written works). I wish I had the recording equipment my company does, but I don’t have four figures of cash lying around for it.

    I’d like to pick your brain sometime on the work you’ve put into recording your own books. (I sympathize with you in that editing does indeed suck.)

  4. I am now working on narrating my 12th audiobook for ACX (as you mentioned, the branch of Amazon Audible that puts authors and narrators in touch with each other). What I have learned so far could fill a book and I’m actually in the process of writing one for anyone out there that’s interested. It will be aimed mainly for people who have no tech knowledge.

    There’s no doubt in my mind that the better a book is already selling, the quicker sales of the audiobook will take off. For the narrator, this is tough, as it takes a while to become ‘known’ and you pretty much have to bite the bullet and take what projects you get offered. Some of those projects I’ve done have earned me virtually nothing for the many hours I put in.

    That being said, if you’re an author and have a good enough reading voice to do your own you keep all the royalties after Amazon takes its share, which I think is closer to 70% as the author/narrator share proceeds from NET sales. In general, splitting royalties with the author, I may get $2.50 per audiobook sold.

    I don’t want to take up too much space here so feel free to ask me any questions if there’s anything you want to know!

    1. Not really. If you publicize it properly the sales could be pretty good. I’ll let you all know in the future when I publish the first one. I have to get busy editing.

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