Audiobooks for Fun and Profit – Part 1: Yes or No

Welcome to our series on Audiobooks For Fun and Profit! An audiobook version of your work can add profit potential to your writing empire, but also involves costs, energy, and new skills. It’s a decision each author should make for themselves, but we urge you to make a decision about it. 

Most authors never make a decision about audiobooks. They just never get around to seriously considering the option, so they end up without one by default. Don’t do that. Instead, seriously consider the pros and cons of adding audio versions…then decide whether or not to move forward. 

For the rest of the year, we'll be talking about ways that you can produce and sell your audiobooks. We'll start off today by going into the pros and cons of this decision in depth. For those who leave the article deciding not to do an audiobook, you’re done with this series for now. If you decide you do want to do one, then continue with this series to find out the best ways to make it happen. 

For now, though…

7 Pros of Making an Audiobook

1. It’s a Rapidly Growing Market

Over the first 20 years of this century, audiobooks jumped from a $400 million industry to over $2 billion in annual revenue. This during a pair of decades when hardback and paperback sales suffered a decline, and ebook sales had a bump and a downturn. As modern life makes lives progressively busier, audiobooks give bibliophiles a way to enjoy books while on the move. This trend is unlikely to change any time soon, and your writing can be a part of it. Even a global pandemic leading to fewer commutes for a few years was not able to put a dent into audiobook growth.

2. They’re Easier Than You Think

Making an audiobook does require time, money, and skills. We’ll talk about those in detail down below. That said, making an audiobook version of your work is easier than you’re thinking right now. And quicker. If you’re reasonably technical, it’s simply applying much of what you already know in a different arena. If you’re not, the infrastructure to hire it done is well-established. 

3. There’s Lots of Support

People have been self-publishing audiobooks long enough that there’s a whole industry based on making it happen. This ranged from local professionals to do a specialized task you’re not comfortable with, to subcontractors to pick up the slack, to services that teach you how, to soup-to-nuts operations that take your money and give you an audiobook. Whatever level of help you need, there’s somebody who can provide that help. 

4. They Have a Higher Profit Margin

You can sell an audiobook for much more money than you can an ebook, and about twice as much as you can sell the print book. Using Amazon numbers as an example, the average price for an audiobook is about $20, and the average price for a Kindle book is $3. Audible’s commission is 25-40% (depending on exclusivity) while the Kindle commission is 70% at that price range. Though the ebook commission is higher, 25% of $20 is $5 per unit ($8 if you are exclusive!), while 70% of $3 is $2.10.  You can usually make more per unit in other markets, too.

5. They Give You Access to a Less Competitive Market

One of the problems with self-publishing these days is how easy it is to put a book out there. That means you’re competing with a lot of people.  According to TechCrunch estimates, a new book goes up on Amazon every five minutes. Far fewer people make audiobooks, which makes it easier to get some traction in that market. Even better, establishing yourself in audiobooks helps boost your print and ebook sales. 

6. New Distribution Options

Having an audiobook gives you access to distribution channels you can’t get on with an ebook or print book. Audible is the most obvious example, but you can also put your books on Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, Google Play, Kobo, and similar options. Some authors release books as a podcast. Each requires a little extra work and effort, but once you’ve set up it’s there, selling books for you, 24/7/365. You can also use an aggregator such as Findaway Voices to get your book into multiple marketplaces at once.

7. They’re Fun

Having a print copy of your book on your shelf is fun. Having an audio copy is the same kind of fun, and you get to feel it again. It also adds new kinds of fun, as you get to hear your reader’s interpretation of your prose, your characters, and your dialogue. This isn’t necessarily the most profitable reason to do an audiobook, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention it. 

7 Cons of Making an Audiobook

1. They Eat Up Time

You probably already know it takes more time to listen to an audiobook than it does to read it yourself, because speaking is slower than reading. That’s true of recording an audiobook even before you go into the editing, production, and other factors involved in this process. That’s time you could spend writing another book or promoting what you’ve already published. 

2. They Cost Money Up Front

Unless you already have a “very particular set of skills”, you’ll need to hire help for at least one aspect of the production process for an audiobook. If you’re tight on money, that might mean choosing between quality and completion. Nobody wants to be in that situation. That said, some of the production companies and more than a few voice actors will record your book for a cut of the royalties, so you have some workaround options here. 

3. You Will Need New Skills

One of the most unfair aspects of self-publishing is how many of the skills required for success have nothing at all to do with writing. Making an audiobook introduces a whole new list of skills that also have nothing to do with being a good writer. You can outsource some of them, but you’ll need to learn a few if only to make sure the people you hire are doing a good job. Learning those skills takes time and energy you could be using to improve your skills as a writer and publisher. 

4. They Have a Steep Learning Curve

Many of the skills involved in making an audiobook — sound mixing, the specifics of recording equipment, setting up an acoustically sound recording space, etc. — are neither intuitive nor simple. It takes a lot of effort to learn them, and a lot of time. If you have those skills, this is actually a PRO since it gives you a competitive advantage. If you don’t, it’s definitely a downside to the whole endeavor. There are some modern tools that can make this easier, at least.

5. It’s Still a Small Market Segment

Although audiobooks are one of the fastest growing segments of the publishing market, it’s still a relatively small one. As of this year, they only represent about 10% of books sold in North America, meaning other formats sell 9 copies for every audiobook sold. That means you should only make recording and promoting an audiobook take up 10% of your publishing efforts. That said…it is a distinct segment from other formats, and audiobook buyers can be very loyal to their favorite authors or narrators.

6. You Have Less Control

For every task in the audiobook production process you farm out to somebody else, you lose a little bit of control over your book and your publishing career. This is a necessary evil for scaling your success in self-publishing, but many authors like to keep it to a minimum. If you like to control as much as you can, and you lack the skills to produce your own audiobooks, this might not be the right choice for you. 

7. It Can Cost You Readers

A bad review for an audiobook can turn away potential readers for other formats just as quickly as it costs you further audiobook sales. If you do a bad job with your audiobook recording, you’ll end up with bad reviews. For most writers, it’s easier to do a bad job with an audiobook’s production than it is to do a bad job with producing a print or an ebook. It’s a risk you’ll have to manage if you want to succeed with this option.

Genre Considerations

One last thing to think about is whether your genre is popular among readers who consume audiobooks. A 2019 survey by the Audio Publisher’s Association, making a deep dive into the Audible catalog identified which genres had the most, and the least, reviews and engagement for audiobooks. Their results led to the following conclusions:

  • Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Romance readers engage the most with audiobooks
  • Readers of Classics, Science, and General Nonfiction engage the least with audiobooks
  • Readers of Mystery, Thriller, and History engage a lot with audiobooks

Conclusion: Make Your Choice

With all of the above in mind, we can’t tell you whether or not an audiobook is a good investment for you. But after reading this and considering, you should be able to tell yourself. Sit on the idea for a few weeks, then act on that decision.

Just keep one more thing in mind. If you opt not to do an audiobook because it will take too much time, seriously consider spending that time in some other way of supporting your career as a writer. You have lots to choose from.

Still not sure if an audiobook is right for your book? Check out training #325 on how to make money with audiobooks for some additional ideas on what might or might not work for you.

In part 2, we talk about what you'll need to record your own audiobooks, and in part 3 we'll talk about how to hire somebody else to produce your book for you. Finally, we talk about the latest in artificial intelligence and auto-narrated books and then finish up with a discussion about where and how you can sell your books.