The audiobook market has been growing rapidly in recent years, which presents an excellent opportunity for authors who want to reach more readers. Audiobooks were once delivered on cassette tapes, and then later in CD boxed sets. They were expensive. There were local retailers who would sometimes allow you rent them just like videos on VHS tapes (remember those?). And then CDs went the way of vinyl records and have since become decorative coasters.
Today the largest retailer for audiobooks is Audible, which, not surprisingly, is owned by Amazon. Most Audible users pay an annual subscription rate and obtain credits for downloading a certain number of audiobook titles each year, or they can purchase audiobooks individually at prices ranging from $10 to $40.
Today there are two primary providers of self-produced audiobooks to Audible and other online retailers: ACX and Findaway Voices.
Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX): acx.com
Amazon acquired this independent audiobook production service several years ago, which means that its services favor Audible, but you can also opt to distribute your audiobook to iTunes.
Here’s how it works: you can browse a directory of voice talent and listen to sample clips in order to find a narrator for your book, or you can upload your own pre-recorded and formatted audio files.
When you hire a narrator, you either pay a flat project fee (between $1,000 and $2,000, depending on the length of the book) or you offer a revenue split with the voice talent (hint: most prefer a flat fee). The fee you pay includes recording your audiobook and editing of all files so they meet ACX’s quality standards and are ready to publish. You can use this service and set up distribution to Audible, Amazon, and iTunes all within a couple of weeks.
ACX Royalty Structure
Audible currently sets the pricing of your audiobook based on its length:
- Under 1 hour: less than $7
- 1 to 3 hours: $7 to $10
- 3 to 5 hours: $10 to $20
- 5 to 10 hours: $15 to $25
- 10 to 20 hours: $20 to $30
- Over 20 hours: $25 to $35
You will also have the option of granting Amazon/Audible exclusive or non-exclusive distribution rights. Exclusive rights mean you cannot distribute your audiobook elsewhere (such as iTunes, libraries, or schools) and in exchange for the exclusivity, you will earn a 40% royalty on audiobook sales. If you choose non-exclusive, that royalty rate drops to 25%.
However, the rate you actually receive is not a direct percentage of the retail price. Here’s a (confusing) explanation from the ACX site:
Audible members can buy an audiobook for a fixed price for as long as they remain members. The calculation of royalties for member sales weights payments based on an audiobook’s list price. Audible takes the list price and multiplies it by the royalty rate and then by something called the Allocation Factor, which is the quotient of actual total member revenue divided by the aggregate regular price for member-selected titles in a given accounting period. So, for example, the sale of a book to a member with a regular price of $30 and a royalty rate of 40%, multiplied by the Allocation Factor, would yield about $6.00. The Allocation Factor allows us to share the revenue generated by members in a fair manner: for a given royalty rate, a book with a $30 regular price earns twice the royalty as a book with a regular $15 price.
Note that one popular way to earn more from your Audible sales is to participate in their “bounty” program. When you promote your audiobook and someone signs up for a new Audible subscription based on your recommendation, using a trackable affiliate link, you will earn a $75 bounty (finder’s fee) for each new Audible subscriber. If you convert a significant number of new Audible subscribers, those bounty fees can add up.
How to Self-Record and Produce Your Audiobooks
If you want to record your audiobook yourself, keep in mind that the required file quality standards are incredibly high. There cannot be any background noise, static, or other miscellaneous sounds in your recording. You also have to prepare and edit the files according to strict guidelines. This means that you may need to set up a recording studio in your home and purchase a professional microphone and editing software. Home audio creators often record in a closet for a sound-proof recording experience. (Yes, really!)
Another way to produce your own recording is to hire a local recording studio to provide you with the equipment needed to record properly, as well as the editing services to prepare your files for distribution. Once you’re done, you can set up your ACX account, upload your files, and become an official audiobook publisher. Search Google to find a local recording studio and be sure they have experience with audiobook production. Fees for these services average around what you would pay to hire experienced voice talent, but the benefit here is that you record in your own voice. (If that’s your preference.)
Findaway Voices: findaway.com/findaway-voices
The other top player in audiobook production and distribution is Findaway Voices. This service also offers a directory of voice talent where you can listen to sound clips and hire someone to record your book, or you can upload your own audio files.
One big advantage that Findaway Voices brings is wider distribution. You can make your audiobook available through the following retailers:
- Apple iTunes
- Barnes and Noble Nook
- Baker and Taylor (library market)
- Otto Radio
- OverDrive (library market)
- And many more
Findaway Voices pays authors 80% of the royalties it receives. The company also has a partnership with Smashwords, so if you’re using them to distribute ebooks, you can use your Smashwords dashboard to access audiobook publishing services.
By the way, Findaway Voices waives the $49 casting fee for members of the Nonfiction Authors Association.
Not a member yet? Join us here!
Hey Stephanie, thanks for your post. I especially appreciate the royalty explanation from ACX. There are many other players in the audiobook distribution field as well as production options. Those include author-narrated as well as authors narrating just part of their book, leaving the rest to a pro. And there is tremendous value in the pre-production process for nonfiction authors especially. Another resource for NFAA on this topic would the the podcast Audiobook Connection – Behind the Scenes with the Creative Teams. As one of NFWC Ask-a-Pro experts, I’d be happy to do a free consult for any of your readers. Can book at time at https://proaudiovoices.com. Again, Stephanie, thanks for the post!