Cash in on the audiobook boom

Have you heard? The audiobook market is on the rise. Here's what authors need to know before jumping in.

Audiobook
Learn how you can cash in on the rising audiobook market.

With the prevalence of mobile devices like smartphones, MP3 players, and smart speakers, technology makes it easy to listen to an audiobook while driving, cooking, gardening, exercising, or relaxing at home. Although you receive the same story or information when you read, listening is a different experience than reading. A great narrator can bring a book to life, creating a personal experience for the listener.

Audiobooks make up a small percentage of digital sales, but they are on the rise. According to the Audio Publishers Association (APA), audiobook sales in 2017 totaled more than $2.5 billion, up 22.7 percent over 2016, and unit sales were up 21.5 percent. Over 46,000 audiobooks were published in 2017. (Like in print fiction, the most popular genres continue to be mystery/thriller/suspense, sci-fi/fantasy, and romance.)

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For indie authors, or for traditionally published authors who kept their audio rights, this may be the perfect time to expand to audiobooks. With resources like Findaway Voices, ListenUp Audiobooks, and Amazon’s ACX, authors can be in charge of creating their own audiobooks.

A new frontier

Since the inception of digital audiobooks, Audible has been at the forefront of this movement. In 2003, the company made an exclusive deal with Apple to sell its catalog of audiobooks through the iTunes Store. In 2008, Amazon stepped in and bought Audible; a few years later, it launched Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX) as a way for authors to create audiobooks. This happened around the same time as the ebook “gold rush,” when $0.99 digital books were a hot commodity. All of this paved the way for individual independent publishers to begin staking a claim and control the destiny of how their books – audio OR print – entered the marketplace.

“With the audiobook marketplace only continuing to grow, having your book available as an audiobook opens you up to a new audience of listeners,” says Diane Lasek, senior vice president at ListenUp Audiobooks. “It’s an investment that definitely pays off in the long run.”

The success of digital and audiobooks inspired other companies to hitch up their wagons and join the race, bringing a healthy dose of competition for Audible. In 2017, Apple ended its exclusive contract with Audible and recently began working with other distributors, like FindAway Voices. Walmart partnered with Kobo in 2018 to distribute ebooks and audiobooks to its customers. Wanting a stake in this growing arena, Hallmark recently joined forces with Dreamscape Media, with plans to release over 20 audiobooks this year.

Mark Lefebvre, director of business development at Draft2Digital, believes this helps the industry as a whole. “The move Apple has made will allow them to do independent things related to audiobooks that can challenge the industry and make the whole industry better,” he says. “All we really need is for Google and Apple to apply a little bit of their expertise and smarts, and we can really see a boom in the audiobook industry.”

This is great news for indie authors and authors with audio rights to make their books available on multiple platforms. “I like that I have another format out there, another way to reach readers and get these stories told,” says Rachel Amphlett, best-selling U.K. indie author of the Kay Hunter crime thriller series that is available on a wide variety of audiobook platforms, including Audiobooks.com, iTunes, and Audible.

As Amphlett shows, Audible is no longer the only option for distributing audiobooks. But Lefebvre notes that while the barrier for entry for ebooks is low (take a word document, use a free conversion program to create an ePub file, then publish), the cost and experience required to record and distribute audiobooks means the barrier for entry is much higher – and therefore not as many people will jump on the bandwagon. “It is not going to be a similar gold rush that we saw with Kindle,” he says. “It will be a gold rush of higher quality.”

Ebooks versus audiobooks

Crossover between readers of print books and digital books is common; readers often have just as many unread books on their ereader as they do their nightstand. Still others have both print and digital versions of the same book, allowing them to read one chapter in print before bed and the next on their phone in a waiting room.

With audiobooks, however, the audience can be very different from the print and digital readership. Some listeners only consume audiobooks, wanting to be absorbed in the book’s world yet also be able to do other activities while “reading.” Because of this, a great narrator is critical to the success of an audiobook. Will Dages, head of product for Findaway Voices, says an audiobook is a different product than an ebook because the narrator becomes an additional character in the story. When a certain voice resonates with a listener, it creates a unique connection that cannot be experienced in print.

Amphlett agrees with Dages. “What I have found, and other authors have also found, is that once listeners find a narrator they like, they will listen to everything that narrator has done, no matter the author,” she says.

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