Audiobooks are all the buzz 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
(This post was originally published in 2018)
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.
TCK Publishing 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 voice. 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 professionally 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 (PFH) cost.
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!
Back in 2020, we reported that Amazon has the lion’s share of the audio market through Audible. Remember, there are other players out there in addition to Audible. Audiobooks.com and iTunes, along with services like Google Play Audiobooks, Kobo Audiobooks, Blinkist, Libby/Overdrive, and Scribd, make up a large 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 Audiobooks, Kobo, Nook, Libby/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.
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 your audiobook. ACX pays you 20% in royalties on audiobook sales. Your producer receives an equal share of sales of the completed audiobook.
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% of retail sales. You cannot split royalties with a producer if you pick the 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:
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 40 audiobook sellers across retail, library, and school markets–including, as of September 2022, Spotify. This distribution network reaches more than 190 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).
Formerly ListenUp Audiobooks, Lantern Audio has been one of the publishing industry’s top audio production companies. Lantern offers Indie Authors and Publishers Audiobook production and non-exclusive distribution services, paying 75% to Authors of the royalties they receive from retailers and libraries in over 190 countries. Authors can set their own prices with Lantern, 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 $199 upfront fee to prepare and distribute your audiobook with Lantern. “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 Lantern.
Royalty Share: Lantern pays authors 75% of the royalties they receive from retailers. If you are distributing to Audible/Amazon/iTunes through Lantern, Audible will pay Lantern the 25% non-exclusive royalty (ACX option 3) and Lantern will give the author 75% of the royalty and keep 25% of the royalty. We have illustrated this in the pie chart below.
For non-Audible retailers like Google, Kobo, and Nook, Lantern will receive a 40%-50% royalty from these retailers. Lantern will give the author 75% of the royalty and keep 25% of the royalty.
Author’s Republic is a distributor of audiobooks. They also provide production services so that authors can choose and pay narrators, then begin distributing their work. “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, Libby/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.
You know it, you love it: Kobo enables self-publishers to upload, promote, and sell eBooks and audiobooks. As of September 2019, authors who utilize Kobo can now begin making sales on audiobooks through the site. Self-publishers interested in promoting their audiobook here will see distribution to Kobo.com, Walmart, Indigo (Canada’s largest bookstore), and Bol (a shopping platform in the Netherlands and Belgium). However, your audiobook is not required to be exclusive to Kobo and its partners once it is distributed there.
Royalty Share: The royalty threshold for Kobo audiobooks is broken down as follows:
- 32% royalty rate (applicable to subscription purchases)
- 0% royalty rate (if a customer uses a free trial token on your audiobook)
- 35% royalty rate (for audiobooks priced at $2.99 or below)
- 45% royalty rate (for audiobooks priced above $2.99)
Of course, you also have the option of offering your audiobook for free through Kobo.
Many of you are likely familiar with PublishDrive, a self-publishing service that reaches 400+ online stores and 240,000+ libraries. Not only does the PublishDrive team provide services for eBook and print-on-demand distribution, but they also enable authors to get their audiobooks out into the world.
If you begin distributing your audiobooks through PublishDrive, you’ll be reaching markets in North America, Europe, and China with partners including Audible, Kobo, and Libby/OverDrive. Additionally, you’ll have the opportunity to tap into some of PublishDrive’s promotional options like automatic price promotions, Amazon Ads, and review tracking. The combination of managing, distributing, and promoting bundles much of a self-publisher’s daily work into a one-stop shop.
Royalty Share: PublishDrive enables authors to keep up to 60% of their royalties through their pricing model, though this is dependent on the store (for more information, check out this page). For more information on royalty rates by store, check out this page.
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. Click on the image to open a larger version.
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.