I’ve Changed My Perspective on Audiobooks and Here’s Why

Do you buy and listen to audiobooks?

Maybe I am showing my naivete and evidence of living in my own world (which I will not dispute – read on), but I was truly shocked recently when I read a CNBC article and discovered how popular audiobooks are these days in comparison to print and digital.

Published last year, the article contains some rather eye-catching statistics from 2015 about the relative strength of the book publishing market. As an author, this kind of news is, of course, important to me. First, the article noted that eBook sales are falling worldwide. It seems that there is a definite consumer shift from eBooks to print underway. But despite that, both eBook and print book sales are in general decline. That doesn’t seem to bode well for publishers or authors like me, with the hope of someday being able to at least eke out a modest living on book royalties.

The one truly positive development in book publishing the article mentioned, and the thing I found astonishing, was that the one area of the industry that is experiencing robust growth is audiobooks. As an example, audiobook downloads increased by a whopping 38.1% in 2015. Tracey Markham, a representative of the audiobook service Audible, was quoted as saying, “Audible membership growth is consistent at 40 per cent year on year, as more consumers realise how well audiobooks can fit into their busy lives. Audible members globally listened to 1.6 billion hours of audio content in 2015 (up from 1.2 billion in 2014).”

Just last week, the timeliness of the information gleaned from the CNBC article was driven home for me. I attended a video seminar for authors where one of the presenters emphasized that audiobooks have become a crucial driver of book sales. She advised very strongly that authors who aren’t producing audiobooks should immediately consider doing so.

I have a confession to make. I have never listened to an audiobook in my entire life. Reading from the pages of a good book is simply something I find quite enjoyable. I’ve just never felt the urge to have someone read a book to me instead. Since I’ve never had even the remotest interest in buying or listening to an audiobook, I suppose I just assumed most other book lovers felt the same. As it turns out, obviously, I couldn’t have been more wrong about that.

Isn’t it funny sometimes how our personal reality is so subjective, yet we tend to project our personal views and opinions onto others? Many of us consider ourselves average human beings and thus our perspectives on things a fair representative sample of the views of all human beings with similar interests. But of course, this isn’t true at all. Even among book lovers, every single person is unique and has his or her own reality, perspectives on things, likes, and dislikes.

Based on the unassailable evidence of their popularity that I’ve recently been brought face to face with, I’ve felt compelled to change my opinion on audiobooks. I now see how audiobooks could become an essential part of my efforts to market my new Ben Malone detective mystery & thriller series. I see now that audiobooks might allow me to reach a segment of the “reader” market that I’ll never touch with print and digital formats.

A change of mind is quite useless unless it motivates us to a specific action. Knowing nothing effectively about producing audiobooks, I spent several hours yesterday trying to educate myself about the process. I learned several things quite quickly. I have neither the tools nor the talent to narrate a book myself. I also discovered that it takes a great deal of time to produce an audiobook from a printed one. That’s important because it means paying a professional the going rate “per finished hour” of audiobook production is not cheap. But fortunately, I found there is a way to get an audiobook professionally narrated and produced which doesn’t involve a significant upfront cash investment.

While researching audiobook production, I discovered a service called ACX, a full-service marketplace where authors, literary agents, publishers, and other Rights Holders can connect with narrators, engineers, recording studios, and other Producers capable of producing an audiobook. The process is surprisingly simple.

As an author, I list my book and make a pitch of sorts that a professional narrator and audiobook producer might find interesting. Narrators and producers on the ACX website, check the listings of available books. Any who find my book and have an interest in producing it as an audiobook produce a brief, recorded audition from a text script I provide. I listen to the auditions, and if I find a narrator who seems a good fit for my book, I make them an offer. This is where the story gets interesting for an author who wants to get into the audiobook market but doesn’t want to assume the financial risk alone by paying a hefty upfront “per finished hour” fee.

Offers to audiobook producers through ACX can be in two forms. An author or book publisher can pay for audiobook production at an agreed “per finished hour” rate or can make an offer to a prospective audiobook producer to split the royalties earned from audiobook sales 50/50 with the producer once the audiobook is completed and listed for sale.

If an author agrees to an exclusive audiobook rights arrangement with ACX, the company does all the work getting the book into the sales channels it uses. Currently, these include Amazon, iTunes, and Audible.com, a subsidiary of Amazon. ACX also handles tracking sales and disbursing royalties when earned to both the author and the audiobook producer.

Not keen on investing a huge sum up front on my first dip into the audiobook market, I felt perfectly fine with the 50/50 royalty split arrangement. So, last evening I created an account at ACX and listed Come What May, the first book in the Malone Mystery series.

I wasn’t certain what to expect as far as how many narrators might be interested in submitting an audition or how long the process might take. I’d even come across several articles on the web about not getting discouraged too quickly if ACX narrators didn’t immediately show interest in a book and that had lengthy lists of what you were doing wrong if you couldn’t seem to attract any audiobook producer interest.

Imagine my surprise when I awakened this morning to learn that I had already received three auditions, all three were excellent. All the readings were very professional. But one stood out and was easily my favorite. The actor’s voice just seemed a perfect fit for the Malone novels. Long story short, I’ve already made an offer. The producer has 48 hours to either accept or decline, but since he included a note stating that he was amicable to a royalty split arrangement and I have some flexibility regarding project completion deadlines, I’m cautiously optimistic that he will agree to produce Come What May as an audiobook.

Barring any unforeseen obstacles, I’m hoping to announce the availability of the first Malone novel as an audiobook in early May 2017. I’ll be posting project updates as warranted for anyone interested in following the process.

So, how about you? As a reader, do you buy and listen to audiobooks? Or like me, had you never given audiobooks much thought? I’d really love hearing from readers with an opinion on this topic. If you are an author, who has produced audiobooks I’d be quite keen to hear about your experiences, especially regarding audiobook sales versus the print and digital versions of your books. Please have your say by leaving a comment.

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