For the past couple of months, I have been working on a new format to offer my readers: an audiobook. What I quickly learned was that I knew nothing about them! As a member of the reading world that still remembers visiting a library for every school book report, I have been reluctant to trade my physical books for digital and audio versions. However, as an author who writes in one of the most heavily saturated genres, romance, it is essential that I reach as many of my readers as possible. As an indie author, I need to do that in the most cost-effective way possible. Considering all this, I knew it was time to do some research. Hopefully, what I found will help you.
The first thing to decide is whether the format will be beneficial. You can judge this by your own criteria: profit, exposure, experience, etc. But the main thing to consider is whether your target audience will be looking for your product in this particular market. If they are, then make sure you show up.
Most of us know that audiobook sales have seen an impressive growth rate over the last several years, something that is forecasted to continue in the years to come. But, do you know if romance readers are interested in audiobooks? To date, the top performing audiobook genre is the Mysteries/Thrillers/Suspense, which captures about 37% of the market. Autobiographies and Memoirs frequently top the bestseller lists and non-fiction audiobooks still outperform fiction. When you consider that the majority of listeners are young adults aged 18 and over and affluent professionals under the age of 45, this news doesn’t come as a shock. What might, is the surprising lack of information offered about romance audiobooks and their readers.
What can be found are the top performers within the genre, with many also taking the top spots in other formats. Julia Quinn, Colleen Hoover, Sylvia Day, E.L. James, Nora Roberts, and Nicholas Sparks were all high on the bestseller lists between 2020-2021. If you think the readers of these big names may be interested in your story, and you have done your best to make it comparable in quality, then positioning your book alongside them is a good plan.
The following is not a comprehensive list but reflects audiobook platforms that came up most in my research.
Audible As in all online book sales, Amazon takes the prize for largest selection under their audio platform, Audible. Although it operates under a subscription plan, it is widely popular due to the over 200,000 titles available, some that are exclusively available through Amazon. Listeners can purchase a less expensive “credit-free” plan but many members opt for the benefits of upgrading to enjoy credits that can be used to get any audiobook for free, regardless of the price. Audible currently allows a free exchange for any audiobook that customers don’t like and has a 30-day free cancellation policy for all new subscribers.
Audiobooks.com Regarding the sheer size of audiobook selection offered, few can compare so closely to Audible. However, with over 200,000 titles in its library, Audiobooks.com can. Their return policy is not, at first look, as appealing as Audibles, however, since there is no guarantee and returns are allowed per company discretion. Heavy users miss out on savings, too, that Audible has built into their Platinum Subscription plan.
Google Audiobooks With no subscription requirements, Google Audiobooks is another popular platform for listeners. Google Play has offered audiobooks for years and has the advantage of being easily played on Google Home speakers, all with voice commands. Although they lack the credit system of Audible or Audiobooks.com, they offer frequent discounts, as well as a select handful of titles for free (freebies have auto-generated narrators.) They also offer a Family Library that lets users share their audiobooks.
Apple Books On the Apple books app, you can access audiobooks from the Bookstore and listen to them on your Mac, MacBook, iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch. Audiobooks downloaded from Audible.com can be dragged and dropped into Apple books. There has been talk about trouble listening to audiobooks on Google home speakers from Apple products, but Bluetooth capabilities have allowed a workaround solution. A simple internet search should assist with this.
Librovox Hands down, this is the best platform for anyone on a tight budget. Librovox offers audiobooks that have entered the public domain due to expired copyright protection—entirely for free. Accordingly, many of the titles were written several decades ago, but for lovers of classics, this adds to the appeal.
Kobo As in the eBook markets, Toronto-based Kobo has positioned itself as a rival to Amazon and other top competitors in the audiobook market. It offers a subscription plan, but for up to one-third of Audible’s pricing plans. If you aren’t sure about the value of their subscription service, you can try it out with a 30-day free trial period.
Smartphones make up the largest preferred way of listening to audiobooks (44%) while tablets, laptops, and personal shopping assistants (smart speakers) make up the rest. Smart speakers are projected to gain in popularity over the next several years. Some of this popularity was triggered by the pandemic, when audiobooks listeners who traditionally used their car’s Bluetooth capabilities to take advantage of work commutes, began working from home.
The biggest deterrent in using the audiobook format for most self-published authors is cost. The average cost of recording and editing an audiobook is currently $3,000-$4,000. Prices go up depending on what narrator(s) you hire and how much editing your audio files need. Costs go down if you decide to buy home equipment and use your own voice to narrate it. I’ve heard some authors have had success with Mac’s GarageBand for these recordings. However, equipment costs, opportunity costs, and the difficulties for some in finding a space quiet enough for quality recording, should all be carefully weighted.
It is possible to have an audiobook recorded with very little up-front costs. Some narrators work off a contract that guarantees them a percentage of revenue, allowing some breathing room for the author that needs the product’s sales before they can afford the costs. Others allow you to pay all costs up front, including the performance and sound recording rights. However, finding quality narrators willing to work within this model is difficult. When you consider that selling through platforms like Audible will cut further into your pockets by taking 60% of each sale, you begin to see why the average audiobook price is between $20-$30.
While the increasing popularity of audiobooks, the platforms they are offered on, as well as the devices used to listen to them are all excellent reasons to consider offering your books in this format, they may not be the best route for an indie author to take. Careful consideration of what your customers are asking for, what your goals are for your author brand, and whether the high costs involved in having an audiobook recorded and edited, should first be made.
I concluded that the exposure and experience of going through this process was worth the price. As I am currently having my novel, The Raven’s Call, made into an audiobook, I will use next month’s blog post to dive deeper into what to expect during the recording and editing steps.