Audio-Books – The Next Big Thing For Indies

Go Global In 2014

The American Librarian Association Annual Conference has been noting the very clear upward trend in audiobook (a-book) downloads. It’s something we should all be looking at very closely, because it presents enormous opportunities for indie authors willing to step outside the sheltered world of ebooks and Amazon.

Obviously Amazon’s Audible ACX package is the go-to place for indies contemplating a-books, and no question they make it relatively easy – but don’t expect to get rich off the proceeds. We all know how they recently slashed royalties for indie authors.

Even authors who have gone the DIY route and used their own resources to professionally create a-books are finding the Amazon option to distribute leaves much to be desired. Especially of you make the mistake of locking yourself into their exclusive programme.

Not here to look at alternatives to ACX (that’s another post another time) or the very real possibility of doing your own recordings at home, other than to say this:

Traditionalists will say it can’t be done, and you MUST pay a professional outfit because ONLY THEY can make a quality product.

But didn’t they say exactly the same about ebooks?

If you can avoid the ludicrous costs of a recording studio and a professional voice artist then it means you can produce an indie a-book at the fraction of the cost of a traditional a-book – and crucially, sell it at a fraction of the price of a traditional a-book, giving you a competitive edge in this fast-growing market.

Again, isn’t this exactly what we do with ebooks now?

More on how another time. Here’s the why.

Obviously there is demand for a-books. They’ve been around since forever, and are loved by regular readers and non-readers alike.

Of course back in the stone-age it meant having a bunch of magnetic tape cassettes or later CDs to cart around alongside the play-back device. And it meant finding a store that had the a-book you wanted, or later an online store and paying and waiting for delivery.

In the twenty-first century it’s a couple of clicks and the download arrives in seconds to play on probably the same device you listen to music or read ebooks on.

One reason libraries are seeing such increased interest in a-books is of course the price. Where a trad-pubbed ebook might cost $10 a trad-pubbed a-book will cost $30. A major deterrent to buying from a retail store. Libraries charge a token fee, if at all.

But if you are cutting out the middle men and bringing the production price right down, and if you can step outside the Amazon box and expand your availability beyond the Audible store, you can sell your own a-books at a fraction of the price, and crucially offer free chapters to let prospective buyers get a taste of your work.

And increasingly you will be able to get your a-books into the library catalogues just like you have the option (though very few indies seem bothered) to get your ebooks into the world’s libraries.

OverDrive is by far the planet’s biggest library supplier for digital content (and the only one with access to the massive China market) but 3M Cloud and Baker & Taylor’s Axis 360 are also significant players (an upping their game), and there are lots more.

Global digital libraries are a really exciting prospect for indies with digital content in any format, and along with the ever-expanding subscription services (a matter of time before they start offering audio on subscription too) are a big threat to the cozy Amazon-centric world we all grew up in a few years ago.

One key area for growth will be the “foreign” markets – that is, markets where English is not the first language.

How so? While many people have a good command of the spoken English word, reading English is a skill less easily acquired. In vast tracts of the world print books are unaffordable or simply unobtainable – especially in rural areas – so even in countries where English is widely spoken or the official language the key word is “spoken”. Thanks to TV and radio, DVDs, tourism, etc, the English-language is far more widely spoken than it is read.

And that of course is how it’s always been. The spoken word is a natural form of communication. Reading and writing, wonderful as they are, are artificial constructs we have to learn.

Not for nothing are all the ancient classics spoken-word sagas that eventually became written books. Not for nothing did Shakespeare write plays focussed on the spoken word that everyone could enjoy rather than write books that few could read and even fewer could afford. Not for nothing did Charles Dickens tour America playing to packed theatres filled with people listening to him read out loud his own books.

In countries where literacy levels are low but access to digital growing fast (which is basically most of the world) the opportunities ahead for indies who can produce sensibly-priced and widely-distributed a-books are boundless.

And because the a-book is simply a spoken version of the ebook there’s no editing, re-writing or new writing involved. You’ve already done all the hard work. You’re just making your masterpiece available to a wider audience.

~ ~ ~

Okay, having said above that we’d look at the how another time, a few quick suggestions on how now for those keen to get started. We’ll come back on this in detail another time.

First off, this is a book, not a music album. It will almost certainly be one voice the whole way through, with no background sound effects or other problems to sort. You DON’T NEED a hugely expensive recording studio with the latest interplanetary hi-tech equipment that the next Rolling Stones album might require.

That said, for the more ambitious indies the possibilities are endless. Multiple voices for multiple characters, opening chapter sound effects, or even turning your book into a radio broadcast.

But let’s stick with a straight-forward a-book here.

Obviously the voice must be the right one. It may be you. It may be a friend, or it may be an amateur or professional voice-artist.

That needn’t cost. Approach your local amateur dramatics societies, theatre groups or even local colleges and universities and sound out interest. Many budding thespians and voice-artists would jump at the chance of the “work experience” in return for getting a full credit on the finished product.

A fancy recording studio may look great in the promo-photos, but it’s not a pre-requisite. While the mike on your laptop might not be best-suited, you can pick up far better quality recording equipment for very little outlay.

Because you are only recording a voice straight to a mike, not a range of music that has to be matched up, you don’t have to worry too much about the acoustics where you actually make the recording. So long as it’s very quiet and you’re not going to suddenly hear police sirens, aircraft taking off or screaming seagulls or children in the background, then it shouldn’t be hard to find the right place to record.

Stringing all the recording sessions together is, like ebook formatting, a skill you can easily acquire or farm out to someone to do for you. And again, you might find the local theatre or college has willing participants willing to help out for a token fee or a credit that will look good on their CV.

Once you have the finished recording it just needs wrapping up with an a-book cover for the digital version to go out on the myriad digital distribution channels, and if going this route, a CD cover for the physical version (CreateSpace will make it very easy for you to sell the CD version on Amazon, and then there’s eBay and a ton of other options available).

~ ~ ~

No, there’s no get-rich-quick instant-gratification buzz for authors who go down this route. With all the big-name authors with big-name narrators on board it will be even harder to crack the a-book bestseller charts than it is wthe ebook charts.

But for those who understand being a professional career writer means thinking about the next five years, not just the next five weeks, audio-books should be a key part of your strategy.


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5 responses to “Audio-Books – The Next Big Thing For Indies

  1. I have one audiobook, recorded by a professional Audible narrator (who also does all the engineering and owns the studio.) We recorded it together, reading alternate chapters (I have a background in theater, so he was okay with me doing half the narration.) But I was very surprised to find out how different Audible is from KDP, even though they are both Amazon companies.

    Statements are sent in huge 8×11 paper envelopes via snail mail for one thing. Very oddly archaic. And they’re only sent to say you have no money coming, because you have to make a huge amount before they pay you.

    And I made the mistake of selecting the “exclusive” royalty (twice the non-exclusive royalty) assuming I was signing up for 90 days the way we do with KDP Select. NOPE. It’s SEVEN Years. I’m sure it was somewhere in the fine print, but most of us don’t read that stuff before we click “continue”.

    So we’re looking into other alternatives for the next book. We’d also like to be able to burn the files onto CDs. Most people have CD players in their cars, and cars are where most people like to listen to audiobooks. So far, the CD companies seem to need at least a 100 copy run, but we might just do that and figure out how to sell it from our blogs.

    The idea of foreign markets hadn’t occurred to us, but it’s certainly intriguing.

    • Thanks, Anne. Your experience should be a salutary lesson to others looking at Audible/ACX to exercise caution before signing up to anything.

      As for 8X11 envelopes to deliver statements… What chance Amazon ever grasping international glocalization when it can’t even bring its home payment systems into the 21st century.

  2. It certainly does offer great opportunities, I’ve got several friends doing this very successfully. But it should not be thought of as something easy to do, it’s hard work to get it right!

  3. Reblogged this on claudenougat and commented:
    Excellent overview of the audio-book market. But don’t kid yourself, it’s not easy to do and it absolutely NEEDS to sound professional or else it’s a no-starter…

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