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Audiobook Production and Distribution Guide

How to Publish an Audiobook: Your Guide to Audiobook Production and Distribution

Audiobook Production and Distribution Guide

Audiobooks are all the buzz in 2018 and we have been getting questions from authors on what the process and options are for turning an ebook into an audiobook. We did the research and here are our findings.

There are two components to self-publishing your audiobook: 1) Audiobook Production and 2) Audiobook Distribution

Audiobook Production

Audiobook production is the process by which your written book is narrated and recorded into an audiobook. When it comes to audiobook production you have two options: You can record the audiobook yourself or you can hire a professional to record your audiobook.

Recording an Audiobook yourself

To narrate your own audiobook you will need a quiet place to record, equipment and software, time and some technical expertise. The equipment and software you need will likely cost less than $200. By far the biggest investment will be in the times it takes you to narrate your book and the time it takes you to edit your audio files in post-production.

How long will it take to read your book?

Audible uses 9,400 words per hour as the estimate for professional narrators. If you apply this to your book, you can assume that a 70,000-word novel will be approximately 7.5 finished hours as an audiobook. It’s fair to budget about two times the length of the finished audiobook for total recording time to account for retakes, breaks during the session, and giving your voice some time to rest!

How long will it take to edit your audio files?

After you have recorded your audiobook you will have to listen to the entire book and fix or re-record poor audio spots. You will also have to get the files ready for upload. This process will likely take 3-4 times the length of the fully recorded audiobook. So, for an audiobook of 70,000 words, you can budget an additional 20-30 hours of post-production work.

eBookIt has an in-depth step by step guide on recording your own audiobook you can use for reference.

It is most common for authors to perform their audiobook themselves in non-fiction where the voice the audience expects to hear is consistent with the author’s voices. It’s less common in fiction where the depth of characters and potential range of voice ages, accents, or dialects can become overwhelming and, perhaps, better suited for a professional trained voice actor.

Hiring a professional to record your audiobook

Many authors choose to hire a professional to record their audiobook. When hiring a professional narrator the process usually goes like this:

  • You create an account at one of the audiobook publishers or production companies (I’ll walk you through some popular options below)
  • You find a narrator (sometimes called producer) by listening to their auditions
  • You and the narrator reach an agreement on how much they will get paid for each finished hour of the audiobook.
  • The narrator will record and upload the audiobook, which you will then approve. You pay the producer and receive your audio file.

How much does professional narration cost?

The cost to produce a professionally narrated audiobook depends on the length of your book, the service you use and the quality of the narrator. Many ACX actors are members of the SAG-AFTRA union, and as members, they can accept no less than $250 per finished hour for audiobook projects. You can use our calculator below to estimate the cost of professional audiobook production. We recommend using $225-$300 for the per finished hour cost.

Audiobook Cost Calculator




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Note: ACX has an option to pay the narrator a reduced upfront fee in exchange for future royalties. We have outlined how this works in Option 1 below.

Once you have your audio file you are ready to distribute your audiobook!

Audiobook Distribution

Source: Wall Street Journal January 2018

As with eBooks, Amazon has the lion’s share of the audio market through Audible. But there are other players out there in addition to Audible. Audiobooks.com and iTunes have the #2 and #3 spots with services like Google Play, Kobo, Overdrive and Scribd growing within the “Other” segment of the market for online sales.

Your first decision will be whether you want to be exclusive to Amazon/Audible/iTunes by distributing through ACX or whether you want to have non-exclusive distribution that will enable you to get your book on Amazon/Audible/iTunes AND other retailers, services and libraries like Google Play, Kobo, Nook, Overdrive and Scribd. The benefit to being exclusive to Amazon is that you will receive higher royalty rates as discussed below. The benefit to non-exclusive distribution is that your book will be available at many more retailers.

AudioBook Distributors

1) ACX

ACX is Audible’s (owned by Amazon) full-service audiobook production and distribution arm. With ACX you can distribute to Amazon, Audible and iTunes. You have 3 options for audiobook production and distribution with ACX:

 

Exclusive to ACX Options

Option 1 – You decide to be exclusive to ACX. You find a narrator that is willing to record your audiobook for a reduced upfront cost in return for a share of future royalties. ACX pays you 40% in royalties, which are split 50/50 with the narrator.

Option 2 – You decide to be exclusive to ACX. You find a narrator and pay them the full upfront fee for narrating our audiobook. ACX pays you 40% in royalties and you keep 100% of the royalties. The producer does not receive a share of royalties.

With these two exclusive options, you are tied into a 7-year exclusivity contract with ACX. Some authors have had luck asking ACX to break their contract after the first 12 months of the contract has passed, however you will need to enter into the agreement expecting that your book will be exclusive for the full seven years.

 

Non-Exclusive to ACX Options

Option 3 – You decide not to be exclusive to ACX. You find a narrator and pay them the full upfront fee for narrating your audiobook. ACX pays you 25% in royalties and you keep 100% of the royalties. You cannot split royalties with a producer if you pick thie non-exclusive option with ACX. Note that ACX penalizes you on the royalty rate if you choose the non-exclusive agreement. However, if you decide to be non-exclusive to ACX, you have other options for your audiobook production and distribution.

 

A Note on ACX Pricing

Authors who publish through ACX cannot set the price of their audiobook. The ACX website provides the following guidelines on pricing:

While not always the case, the regular price on Audible for the product is generally priced based on its length, as follows:
• under 1 hour: under $7
• 1 – 3 hours: $7 – $10
• 3 – 5 hours: $10 – $20
• 5 – 10 hours: $15 – $25
• 10 – 20 hours: $20 – $30
• over 20 hours: $25 – 35

To be clear, although the above represents general guidelines for Audiobooks sold on the Audible website, Audible retains sole discretion to set the price of the Audiobooks it sells.

The following table summarizes the three ACX distribution options that we outline above:

2) Findaway Voices

Findaway Voices provides audiobook production and distribution services. Findaway Voices champions an open audiobook market where authors and publishers choose where to sell their audiobooks and at what price to sell them. They’ve built a robust, global distribution network that makes it easy for authors to sell their audiobooks through more than 20 audiobook sellers across retail, library, and school markets. This distribution network reaches more than 170 countries around the world. They also give authors full control over pricing (with the exception of Audible which prices based on length as noted above). Findaway Voices also has a unique partnership with Draft2Digital, where Draft2Digital authors can easily connect to Findaway Voices through their Draft2Digital account and quickly start creating a new audiobook or distributing an existing one.

“Audible has been the primary game in town for so many years, which means most audiobooks are sold through their credit-subscription model. That’s changing, now, as new entrants into audiobooks are providing more pure play retail options where authors will have the freedom to control their prices, run discounts and promotions, and generally experiment with distribution strategies that were previously unavailable. We’re barely scratching the surface at what will be available for authors with sales, marketing, and distribution!” says Kelly Lytle of Findaway Voices.

Royalty Share: Findaway Voices pays authors 80% of the royalties they receive from retailers. If you are distributing to Audible/Amazon/iTunes through Findaway Voices, Audible will pay Findaway Voices the 25% non-exclusive royalty (ACX option 3 above) and Findaway Voices will give the author 80% of the royalty and keep 20% of the royalty. We have illustrated this in the pie chart below.

For non-Audible retailers, Findaway will receive a 40%-50% royalty from these retailers. Findaway Voices will give the author 80% of the royalty and keep 20% of the royalty. For example, on a book that retails for $10 on Nook, Nook will pay Findaway Voices a 45% royalty on the book price, which is a $4.50 royalty. Findaway will give the author $3.60 (80% of the $4.50 royalty) and keep $0.90 (20% of the $4.50 royalty).

3) ListenUp

Located in Atlanta, since 2009, ListenUp Audiobooks has been one of the publishing industry’s top audio production companies. ListenUp offers Indie Author’s and Publishers Audiobook production and non-exclusive distribution services, paying 80% to Authors of the royalties they receive from retailers and libraries in over 190 Countries. Authors can set their own prices with ListenUp, and are informed of each Distributor’s distinct parameters for how they price their audiobooks, with a determining factor being the length of the audiobook.

There is a $149-$199 upfront fee to distribute with ListenUp but this fee is waived if you use ListenUp to produce your audiobook. “We have exceptional Narrators and Producers and are always striving to create a perfect audiobook, offering the ears a wonderful listening experience,” says Diane Lasek of Listenup.

Royalty Share: ListenUp pays authors 80% of the royalties they receive from retailers. If you are distributing to Audible/Amazon/iTunes through ListenUp, Audible will pay ListenUp the 25% non-exclusive royalty (ACX option 3) and ListenUp will give the author 80% of the royalty and keep 20% of the royalty. We have illustrated this in the pie chart below.

For non-Audible retailers like Google, Kobo, and Nook, ListenUp will receive a 40%-50% royalty from these retailers. ListenUp will give the author 80% of the royalty and keep 20% of the royalty.

4) Author’s Republic

Author’s Republic is a distributor of Audiobooks. They do not provide any production services themselves. However, they do have a production deal with Deyan Audio where, if you use their services, authors receive a larger percentage of the royalties from Author’s Republic. “”Author’s Republic has very relaxed publisher agreement terms, and you can terminate your agreement with them at any time if you so choose,” says Mike of Author’s Republic.

Royalty Share: Author’s Republic pays authors 70% of the royalties they receive from retailers. If you are distributing to Audible/Amazon/iTunes through Author’s Republic, Audible will pay Author’s Republic the 25% non-exclusive royalty (discussed above) and Author’s Republic will give the author 70% of the royalty and keep 30% of the royalty. We have illustrated this in the pie chart below. For non-Audible retailers like Google, Kobo, Nook, Overdrive, Scribd etc,  Author’s Republic’s royalty rates differ by partner – some use the author provided MSRP, some are rental prices, and some are library prices.  Generally, Author’s Republic receives a 50% royalty rate from their retail partners. Author’s Republic will give the author 70% of the royalty and keep 30% of the royalty.

The following table summarizes the information we have discussed above for non-exclusive audiobook distribution. Please note that you could take a hybrid approach and distribute directly through ACX Non-Exclusive to get the full 25% royalty rate and then use one of the other audiobook distributors to get your book onto Audiobooks.com, Google, Nook, Scribd etc.

Those are the ins and outs of publishing your audiobook. As we’ve covered in this article, audiobook production and audiobook distribution are generally closely linked due to the exclusivity precedent set by ACX. However, as with most things self-publishing, authors can choose between exclusivity and control for audiobook distribution, and DIY or professional help for audiobook production. We hope this article has helped to clearly lay out all the options so you can easily evaluate how to take the next step. Have you published an audiobook? Tell us about it in the comments.

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30 comments on “How to Publish an Audiobook: Your Guide to Audiobook Production and Distribution
  1. Thank you for writing this and sharing your information. I am in tne process of recording my book myself and plan to use ACX exclusively but had no idea it was for 7 years! That’s a long time. So I guess that means if a publisher wants to pick it up they cannot due to the 7 year commitment … or maybe that shouldn’t even be a concern or factor at this stage. Maybe the main focus should be is to just to get it out there.

  2. One finesse on the details you have laid out above. It is permitted to distribute non-exclusively through ACX AND simultaneously through Authors’ Republic. This means you get the $2.50 (in your example above) from ACX rather than $1.75 frrom ACX via Authors’ Rebublic.

    1. Great point Allan! Yes, you can choose to distribute non-exclusively through ACX to get your audiobook on Amazon/Audible/iTunes and then use Author’s Republic to distribute to the other retailers. Thanks for pointing that out.

    2. Thanks for the note, Allan. I’m thinking of something similar except with Findaway Voices. I just published one book with Findaway and so far, so good. One thing I’m missing is any kind of sales dashboard. I see that with ACX. For my next book, maybe I’ll do ACX to cover Amazon and iTunes and then Findaway for the rest.

      Findaway has been wonderful in helping me get the files just right, even to the point of helping me with Audacity settings to fix things.

      P.S. I’m an author who is also recording my own audio so no sharing issues.

  3. This is a great article. One of the best I’ve read about audiobooks. Thank you for putting in the detailed charts. It makes comparing and choosing the best option much easier. I currently use ACX and have had a great experience. The only thing I really hope to see in 2018 is some channels to specifically advertise audiobooks, like AMS Ads for kindle ebooks. If you know of any out there please share. Also some audiobook only mailing lists would be a great resource.

    1. Thank you Christina! NewInBooks has an audiobook audience of about 25k readers who listen to audiobooks if you are looking for an audiobook mailing list to try.

  4. Wonderful information. I’m a first time author and am finding as I near completion of my book that publishing and marketing are an area that I know little of. Thank you, this is very helpful.

  5. Thank you. I have written several books that are sitting on shelf unedited (professionally) I chose one that is being edited now with the mindset to self publish it this year. I have a friend at the starbucks I hang out with at who was blind for 15 years and now has limited vision. We would get into conversations about my stories. (As I am a storyteller and enjoy talking about them and he being entertained) He suggested once I get published to consider audiobooks. I would definitely need to employ an actor(s). This was very informative and I saved it on my computer for the future. Thank you!

    Bobby Wayne

  6. Timely article!

    I’ll be able to post more experiences soon, but I just published my first audiobook with Findaway Voices and the experience was easy and supportive.

    I’m debating whether or not to do my next book (a nonfiction book which is doing well on Amazon) through ACX non-exclusive and Findaway for the rest. Partly because I’d like more insight into stats, but also for the larger share of the royalty.

    Hmm, I just realized something however: I think with ACX, I can’t set the price. I’d like control over the price (sales, specials, etc.).

    Thanks again for the excellent post!

  7. Hands down the best article I found after much searching – thank you! (Why is always so hard to get complete, accurate Indie publishing information?)

    I read a comment elsewhere that I’m trying to confirm or (hopefully) disprove. When you enter an eBook in the Kindle Select program, does the Amazon exclusivity automatically apply to an audiobook version as well? If, sad to say, you tell me the answer is yes, then this would be a significant difference to highlight, as ads in daily free eBook newsletters have been by far and away my most effective marketing tools.

    Thanks in advance for your thoughts.

    1. Hi Andy – With KDP Select the exclusivity only extends to the ebook, not to the audiobook. If you decide to publish your audiobook with the ACX exclusive options, then your audiobook will be exclusive to ACX but your ebooks are not exclusive to Amazon. Basically, each program has exclusivity to the format but does not require umbrella exclusivity across all formats.

  8. Thanks, Ricci. It sounded wrong to me when I read it, but I wanted to be sure. And thanks again for the great article.

  9. Hello, discovering this just now, as I learn about audiobook production. Question: You indicate how to estimate reading time and then how to estimate editing time. Does “finished hours” reflect the sum total of both those activities (reading and editing)? And when you say to expect to pay a professional narrator $225-$300/finished hour, should that be calculated just on reading time, or on reading time + editing time? Thanks!

    1. Hey Allison, “finished hours” refers to the length of the product the listener will receive in the end. So with reading and editing, a “finished hour” could take 4 or more hours to actually produce. In our example, you aren’t paying an hourly fee for time worked, but a fixed amount for each hour of the final product. Hope that answers your question.

  10. From what I’ve seen here on each of the websites, it seems best to use three platforms. ACX for non-exclusive distribution to Amazon/Audible/iTunes to get the most royalties through those (25%). Then, Author’s Republic for the royalties on Credit/Subscription plans. Then Findaway Voices for whatever the other two do not distribute to. That’s if you’re looking for good royalties and don’t mind having three accounts.

    Questions: does anyone know how to distribute to christianaudio.com?

  11. Your post is helpful in so far as it goes, but I would love to see suggestions for those mavericks who actually have their own website and would like to sell audiobooks directly, rather than giving away a chunk of the profits to distributors. I have enough of a following at my website that my plan is to start out by selling our audiobooks exclusively there…this way we get 100% of the profits, at least at first. Once sales slow down, we will probably add the audiobook to Audible or another distributor, but until then, we are looking for secure ways to deliver the audio files. Any suggestions?

    1. Hey Lisa, Great idea to sell directly and independently to readers. With a solid following and the technical know-how, it seems like a great way to maximize your earnings. Unfortunately proprietary audio distribution is not something we are currently versed in at Written Word Media, but I would love to hear how it goes for you!

  12. Well researched and written. As one other poster said, it is difficult to find well grounded indie publication content. The business of running a book selling business has many plot twists. Thank you for writing especially the tables

  13. Great content and much appreciated by me as well as everyone who commented. Thanks to you providing such clarity, I feel ready to go ahead now and do what has been waiting for many years! It has been daunting on account of being a book of 160,000 words. However, the printed version has sold half a million copies. Once upon a time, a book would sometimes be sold together with a CD – is it perhaps done these days for an audio-file to get included with ebook or printed version? As a promotion, perhaps? I have never heard of it, hence my question.

  14. Hi!
    I am musician/writer from Austria who wants to publish his last audio book in the US, and I fell over this great article. But then I heard something about the platform Spoken Realms, but I couldn’t find out any details on their share and price policy. Do you know something about them?
    Thanks so much and regards,
    Stefan

    1. Hey Stefan, We’ve never worked with them, but from their site it appears that you work out price with the narrator you choose. I would recommend reaching out to them to learn more if you are interested.

      1. Thanks so much Clayton for your reply. That’s actually what I was planning to do. I’m just amazed by the variety of publishers on your site. And I don’t know which one to choose… 
        Greez Stefan

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