To Audiobook or Not to Audiobook? Let the numbers decide.

To Audiobook or Not to Audiobook? Let the numbers decide.

I’ve been semi-curious about audiobooks for some time. Do people really listen to them? Will they help your print and ebook sales? Will you make any extra money? But I’ve been too busy to give them much attention. Recently however, Matt Stone (of archangel ink) offered to help me out and make one for Book Marketing is Dead.

It took about a week, and now it’s live on multiple sites. Over the next month or two I’ll see how things go and report back with sales figures.

In the meantime, here are some thoughts on audiobooks from Matt, who has a lot of experience in this area.

Something on many authors’ minds right now is audiobooks. It’s a tough decision to make when you’re trying to assess whether all that trouble and cost to produce an audiobook is going to be “worth it” in the end.

Should you turn your manuscript into an eBook and sell it on Kindle?

Well, of course. That’s an easy question to answer. That’s the biggest book market with the lowest cost of entry and the least complicated process.

Should you turn your manuscript into a paperback through Createspace?

Probably so. It’s also pretty easy to get into, and although sales aren’t great, it’s another revenue stream that should justify the effort.

With audiobooks, however, it’s a really tough call.

For one, it’s the most complicated. It involves equipment, software, specs, and scary audio terminology like “equalization” and “compression.” This kind of thing gets the hairs to stand up on the back of authors’ necks. It’s easy to feel those hairs, too, as most authors, like myself, are slovenly unkempt beasts that often overlook basic personal hygiene while staring deeply into a glowing computer screen for days on end when a good idea strikes. Sorry, that was a bit of a run-on sentence. Gotta be on my best behavior with a bunch of authors reading this.

It also requires some skill. Not everyone can read out loud and provide a listening experience good enough to keep listeners from trying to stab their ears with dull pencils.

It’s also very time-consuming. If you’ve got an 80,000-word novel, that’s going to be over 10 hours of narration and about 40 hours of audio editing and corrections if you have experience. If you don’t, that could be a real nightmare of a project, and you probably would’ve been able to write another book in the time it took you to record, edit, and master the first one.

If you don’t want to do any of that, you have two options:

  1. Pay a company like Archangel Ink to produce your audiobook. This runs $25/1,000 recorded words. Not outrageously expensive, and worth it for a shorter book (more on that in a second), but you certainly need to do some number-crunching to figure out what sales will realistically be and whether or not they’ll be high enough to offset those costs.
  2. Engage in a royalty split with a narrator or audiobook producer. Instead of paying money up-front for an audiobook whose performance is questionable, you can go 50:50 with a narrator. If it bombs, the narrator wasted a bunch of time, and you dodged a bullet. If it starts selling well, you’ll really kick yourself for not having ponied up for the up-front costs.

Straight Talk

I’m an author and an audiobook producer. While it may seem like you’re going to hear more good than bad about audiobooks from someone with a financial stake in your decision about whether or not to have your book(s) adapted into an audiobook, I assure you that the following is 100% truthful based on my experiences thus far. I am always honest about the audiobook market, in fact, my company refuses to accept work on any project that we feel is unlikely to see a positive return within six months or less.

A typical audiobook made from a book that doesn’t sell very well on Kindle (less than one copy per day), will probably make $50-100 per month if you list it through ACX (Audible Creation Exchange, an Amazon company). It really depends on subject and/or genre though. For example, in nonfiction, books in the self-help/self-development/motivation/spiritual realm fare much better than say, health and nutrition books, from my experience. Fiction will typically sell better than nonfiction, but don’t let that deceive you into thinking nonfiction audiobooks are a dead end.

A book that sells 1-10 copies per day on Kindle will probably make $100-200/month. Again, depends on genre and subject matter. We’ve produced one book that falls into this category that sells well over $1,000 per month, and did so without any promotional efforts whatsoever. It is possible to get lucky over there.

If you’re selling 10 or more books per day, the decision to adapt it into an audiobook is pretty much automatic. Do it. You should make several hundred bucks a month. The worst performing book I’ve seen that sells more than 10 copies per day on Kindle still rakes in over $200 per month.

So those are the straight numbers as I’ve seen them as of April, 2014. The cool thing about audiobooks, however, is that interest in this format is rapidly increasing, and the number of customers flooding the audiobook market is greatly outpacing the number of audiobooks being produced due to cost and difficulty in getting them done.

Self-publishing guru, Tom Corson-Knowles, reports seeing projections of 300% growth in gross audiobook revenue in the next three years. Even if you are uncertain about turning your book into an audiobook, these projections alone should have you giving it serious consideration.

I believe those that get in early with audiobooks may very well experience what early entrants into the Kindle market experienced—rapid growth. Just because an audiobook might be making $100 per month today doesn’t mean it won’t be drawing $300 per month by 2016. It could happen. I think the next 5-10 years will be the best 5-10 years in audiobooks sold per audiobook listed. Ever.

As an author myself, I will say that January 2014 was the first month that I made more money from audiobooks than I did from paperbacks. While it took a lot more time, effort, and money to produce those audiobooks, I’m awfully glad I got them done and out there. I think the steady climb that I’ve seen in audiobook royalties will continue in that direction.

Lastly, book length is a huge determining factor when deciding on whether or not to produce an audiobook. The longer the book, the more expensive it is to produce. So if you’ve got a library of books at 20,000-words or less, and you’re selling a few copies per day or more on most of them, I really think you’re missing out on a pretty substantial side revenue stream. With most audiobooks pulling in an average of about $100 per month, and production costs on a 20,000-word audiobook running around $500, you’re probably really missing out on some tasty gravy.

Author S.J. Scott writes nonfiction books in the 12,000-17,000 word range mostly, and he has recouped his investment on every audiobook we’ve done for him in three months or less. While you shouldn’t expect the kind of results that a high-powered bestselling author like S.J. gets, any high-volume “write, publish, repeat” style indie should really give audiobooks some serious consideration.

For more on the ins and outs of audiobook production, including many free DIY options, please visit:

Matt-StoneMatt Stone is an online entrepreneur, book publisher, and bestselling author with over 18 titles under his belt. He is also an avid audiobook narrator with over 40 titles to his name, including Derek Murphy’s very own Book Marketing is Dead.