Monday, May 23, 2016

All About Audio Books and ACX

Hi Folks,

Travis here. Last Monday was about the how's and why's of a series relaunch. This week's post is about audio books. I'm gonna touch on the explosive and awesome growth of the audio book market and how you can get into it. Plus some tips I'd learned at RT about managing your audio production properly.

I hope, by the end of this, you'll be totally pumped to get audio editions of your own book or books made. Also, I'm going to talk about ACX a lot today. This is basically an ACX guide.

So let's talk,

All About Audio Books

Audio books used to be limited and crazy expensive. Why In My Day it was something like $100 for a box set of 3-4 western short stories. Also, the audio book section of the book store was a lonely, hidden shelf that a reasonably tall person had to bend down to see. It was sad. 

Today though the audio book landscape is totally different. I mean, there were 43,000 audio books produced last year alone. One of the numbers I heard at RT2016 was that the audio book market has doubled every year for the last three years. That's fairly explosive by anyone's measure.

Yes Mr. Rock, that explosive

Rachel's and my personal experiences with audio book sales have been wonderful. We had 2k to 10k produced via ACX late last year for around $500 and it has already earned out. This is a book that's been out for a while and which we didn't really do any appreciable promotion for its audio release. That it has sold this well is a testament to the book but also to the strength of the growing audio book arena.

We've also signed deals with Audible for the audio book editions of Nice Dragons Finish Last, One Good Dragon, and the soon to be released No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished. So far this has resulted in awesome sales and an Audie award, which has knocked our socks off I must say.

Why Should You Go Audio?

First, more sales revenue is more better. I probably don't have to explain that part. Second, it's a new source of income that isn't fully coupled to print or ebook sales and sales channels. Additionally, audio book sales definitely affect ebook sales. Take a look at what happened with the Audie award.

NDFL eBook/KU sales.. May 13th was the announcement
Less dramatically, having an audio format helps sell more ebooks at a low level. Multiple formats makes your book(s) look official, more like a big deal, and that is very encouraging to customers in general. This effect is so well proven that Audible actively courts authors to make audio production happen. It's also good to know that having a print edition does this too. There's a reason CreateSpace likewise approaches authors with print services.

Lastly, consider market position. Audio books are growing fast, which means that getting in now and establishing presence, precedence, and audience are all investments that will grow with time. There's less competition in the audio book spaces, for now. It won't last forever.

Hopefully I've sold you on the many commercial reasons for having audio books made for your work.

Artistically, there's also the sheer cool factor of hearing your books narrated as well as just getting the story to an audience that otherwise would likely never read it. Consider the audio book customer, like I did in my customer stories a while back. Many are people who like books, but don't have time to sit and read books. They do, however, have space in their lives to listen to books.

Convinced? Let's get into execution then,

How To Get Into Audio Books

Step 1, you need audio rights. If you have a book and you haven't sold the audio rights away yet, then this is the easy part. There's two good ways that I know of for getting an audio book produced and sold. They are,
  1. Audible
  2. Audible
Yeah, it's basically the marketplace that matters here. There's also iTunes, but Audible will do that for you anyway. Amazon itself owns Audible, so whatever goes up on Audible also links up on Amazon.

There's two ways to get onto Audible. One is contacting them and negotiating a production deal. That's what Rachel has for the Heartstrikers series. The royalties aren't as good, but the production quality and treatment are top-notch. Also, we just don't have the time to use the most popular method. 

Which is,

By far the best option for achieving an audio edition for your book is ACX, which is basically self publishing for audio books. Like other forms of self publishing, the royalties offered by ACX are the best you'll find, and the distribution reaches Audible, Amazon, and iTunes. But (as with other forms of self publishing) the cost of these great features is that you'll have to invest more of your own time and effort into getting the book produced.

What I love about ACX is how it provides a one-stop-shop for the entire production process. It will guide you through the producer auditions and selection process. Then it will manage the production schedule, review, and approval processes. Finally, it will help you with promotions and launch. It's lovely, safe, and there's no scary steps. I adore it.

Your first choice when looking at ACX is:

Choosing ACX Royalties and Distribution

There's a big chart of all this at but I'm going to go over it briefly. There are three main options for how to pay for production and for setting the rules of distribution.

Option #1 
Pay the producer yourself and go exclusive with ACX for 7 years. In return, you are paid a 40% royalty on sales.

Pros: Best long-term earnings potential as it has the highest royalty. 

Cons: You have to upfront the production cash before you start earning royalties. This might be $1000 to $3000 depending on length. IMO, what this really means is that you are taking on all the risk. If the audio book doesn't sell well, you might lose money. Also, you cannot sell your book yourself. It is sold only where ACX wants to sell it.

IMO: Risk aside, I'd never do anything less than this. Even if it takes 3 years to earn the producer fee back, the long run is on your side in this equation.

Option #2
Pay the producer yourself, distribute though Audible, and have the ability to put the audio book up for sale anywhere else that you want. In return, you are paid a 25% royalty on sales that happen through Audible's distribution channels.

Pros: You can sell your audiobook however and wherever you want. Direct from your site? Sure! 

Cons: 25% royalties. 

IMO: Do you actually have another venue in mind? Is it big enough to make enough money that you are willing to take a 15% reduction in earnings from the three largest audio book markets in the world?

Option #3
Split the royalties 50-50 with a producer and go exclusive with ACX for 7 years. In return, you are paid a 20% royalty on sales. (which is actually 40% split between you and your producer)

Pros: No upfront production costs. So your chance of losing money in the short term is pretty much nil. This is also excellent if you just can't afford to pay for production any other way.

Cons: Long term, if your author career grows, you will make less money than you would have with option #1.

IMO: This is a devil's choice to make. Check out the ACX production stipends program if you cannot afford option #1. That said, I can imagine plenty of newbie authors out there who don't yet have the sales strength to justify paying thousands of dollars for an audio edition, but who would like the overall sales boost that comes from having one.

How Much Are We Talking Here?
The Nice Dragons Finish Last audio book is 13 finished hours long. Producers typically cost from between $100 and $400 per finished hour. I'd say the actual average for a decent producer is more like $200 or so. 

If we'd paid to have NDFL produced at $200 PFH, then it would have cost us $2600. Now, the final book is sold on Audible for $24.95, which Audible sets BTW. One of the weird things about audio books, even self published ones, is that the prices are set by the distributer/Audible based on how long the finished file is.

For those of us in the ebook industry who are used to setting our own price point, this can be annoying, but it seems to be a cost of doing business here. Just like print copies cost a certain amount to physically print, audio files cost a certain amount to distribute, and there doesn't seem to be a way around that at the moment. Maybe this will change in the future, maybe it won't, but for now, a high pricetag is the norm. The good part of this, though, is that customers already know and expect these prices (ie, no sticker shock), and Audible has a lot of sales/free promotions that encourage listeners to try out new titles.

So, as I said earlier, our final price for NDFL was $24.95.One might quickly do some math and see that we'd be earning $9.98 per sale if we'd done option #1 for NDFL and can see that 260 copies is the break even point. Sadly, it isn't that clear cut. There's all manner of discounts, sales, credits, and so on that can make the price of the sale fluctuate. So expect to earn slightly less than what the napkin math says will happen. It's still great, though! Just don't try to walk the razor is all I'm saying here.

Ok, now that you've figured out how to pay and sell the thing, let's talk about getting a producer,

How to Find a Good Producer

What's the number #1 thing you can do to make sure your audio book is a success? Get a good producer!
Def not this guy
The quality of the narration, both vocal and technical is extremely important to customers. It can make or break audio books no less. If you can't do a professional job, then don't waste your time and reputation in putting out something sub-par.

Additionally, producers often have their own followings. There are people who will come listen to your book just because they like the producer. That's some serious gravy for an author. We try to break out of our marketing bubbles all the time and this here is a way to do that automatically.

(Quick Rachel Note: Since I took a direct deal with Audible to produce my audio edition for me, they picked my narrator and producer for me. I ended up with Vikas Adams and he is AMAZING! He calls me to go over the voices for each book and has just done an all around awesome job. I couldn't have picked someone better myself. He brought a new dimension to the books, creating a different (and sometimes better) experience than reading alone.

This is the power of a great narrator/producer. I was super lucky that Audible hooked me up with just the right person, of course, but when we did 2K to 10K through ACX, we had very high expectations and Arial Burnz, the narrator/producer we chose, surpassed them. Again, part of this was because we got very lucky, but a lot of it was also having high standards. It can take a lot of trial and error and work to find the right narrator/producer for your book, but the quality audio product you'll have at the end makes all that work totally worth it!!)

So, you obviously want a good narrator/producer, but the best ones are justifiably expensive and can be hard to get. But what about yourself? Could you produce your own audio book? First up, do you have?
  1. Professional sound recording gear and recording area? 
  2. A professional audio book narration voice? As in are you trained or experienced in this already?
  3. A lot of time. Roughly 6.2 hours of your time per finished audio hour
If the answer to any of these questions is no, then you really should get a producer to make the book for you. 

It's all about the auditions process
To find a producer on ACX, you need to start the audio book process on their site. One of the first stages will have you put up a sample of work that you want producers to read as their audition. Once the sample is up, producers looking for work will see it and they will craft and submit auditions
Tip: Don't put up a long sample! Keep it to something that can be read in 2-3 minutes tops.
This is super important! Audio producers make audition samples for free. If they don't get the job, then their time is wasted. The fastest way to obliterate your chances of getting a great producer is to put up a giant sample that will take a lot of their time to read.
Tip: The sample should be your most intense or dramatic scene, preferably with at least two characters talking.
At RT2016, the actual suggestion here was to put up, "your steamiest scene" possible to make sure the narrator can handle the hot stuff well.

oh baby!
So many authors just put up the start of their book as the sample. There's no reason to do that though! You need good auditions in order to choose the right producer so put up a sample that's going to show if they can capture your voice properly when it matters.

You also want two talking characters as you need to see how the producer handles multiple voices. Audio book customers love narrators who do interesting, clear, and distinct voices for different characters. They don't like droning or samey ones. Your sample needs to pull this potential out so you can choose the best.

Lastly, don't be afraid to research and court producers. You can just look them up! ACX will also let you message them. Ideally, you can find someone who has already successfully narrated other popular audio books that are like yours. If you get someone to agree, they simply have to submit an audition and then you can use that to lock them in for the project.

Actual Production Work

Once you have a producer, the process on ACX is pretty straight forward. In fact, there's no point in me going over it here. Instead, check out ACX's excellent guide on what happens. Just make sure to listen to your book before approving everything. 

Don't be afraid to ask for redo's but remember that you have to balance a working relationship here. You don't want to beat your poor producer to death over trifling minutia. This is super important if you are working on a series. If the audio book is well made, you will ideally need to get this producer again. Audio book fans can and will abandon a series if you change its audio voice.

So if human decency isn't enough of a reason, there's also that very real business angle that you need to keep in mind. 

Promoting Your Audio Book

For the most part, this is no different than promoting or launching any other book. If your ebook is already out and about, then I would love to point you to my post on relaunching a series. While an audio release isn't grounds for an entire series relaunch, there's a lot of advice in that post that you can use to leverage and maximize the impact of your audio book launch. If nothing else, check out the marketing push segment for a great run down of the marketing plan.

Now, audio books, particularly those done through ACX have three special considerations you need to know about when promoting them.

#1 Linked Amazon Reviews
Your brand new audio book won't have any reviews to start off with. However, Audible can by pass this issue by linking to any reviews your book might already have on Amazon. Take a look at 2k to 10k here,

This is super awesome amazing and you absolutely need to make sure it happens on launch day. If you don't see this link up happen, email customer support at ACX! We had to and it was both quick and easy to resolve.

#2 Audio Sample
You will be provided with a sample audio segment by the producer during the creation process. This is typically the first several minutes of audio as people have already read your blurb on the site by that point.

The audio sample is basically the book's sample chapter. Make sure to put it on your site, link to it, promo the hell out of it, etc... 

Thankfully, putting it on your site is easy these days. I downloaded the provided MP3 and used the new html 5 audio controls tag to put a browser-determined player up. Check it out! 

#3 Promo Codes
So, you need to get reviewers beyond the store page. This is where promo codes come in. ACX gives, I think, 25 promo codes out. These are how you get copies of the audio book into the ears of bloggers and other desirable reviewers. You can also use them to run contests and so on.

I've been told by a producer that, if someone buys your book with a promo code, it still counts as a full sale. So it is to your benefit to make sure all 25 of those suckers go out the door!

I Think That's a Wrap!

I feel that I've pretty thoroughly covered the why and how of getting your audio editions out there. The audio book arena is a great marketplace with lots of eager customers just waiting to hear your stories. If you can go the extra time and distance to get these made, I doubt that you'll be disappointed. 

If you have any questions for me please leave them in the comments below. 

Thanks for reading today. If there's any topics you'd like me or Rachel to talk about here on the blog, please feel free to leave them below. We're always working hard to find information that is useful to you. You can also just hit me up on Twitter, that works too! (@TravBach) Rachel's social media links are here as well if you want to get live updates! (Twitter/Facebook/Tumblr/Google+)

Thanks again for reading, and I'll see you all next week!



MrFester said...

Love my Audible library. Coming from someone who spends a ton on Audio books. Seriously way to much. It's all about the narrator narrator and narrator. A narrator will make the book and or destroy a series if you change mid way.

A big example would be all the Legend of Drizzt saga books, Victor Bevine is the main Narrator for most of the them, but some wise person decided to change it up on some of the books and did not have Victor doing it, you can see the ratings of those books went into the gutter. Another example is The Hollows by Kim Harrison, narrator was changed book 6 and I was so pissed I refunded that book and totally stopped the series forever.

Bottom line, DO NOT change the Narrator once you have a great one ( cough Vikas & Luke!) Audible listeners are VERY critical of the person reading to them.

Unknown said...

I am wondering how Kindle Unlimited and add narration to ebook purchase fit it. Some Kindle Unlimited books are read/listen for free while others are read for free add audible for low price. Many ebooks have special price if you buy ebook and add audible. Who sets those prices? Some are a real bargain and some aren't any cheaper than getting them through audible membership.

As some who reads and listens to books, I have been influenced many times by the add narration option when it is a really good price. It was for the Heartstrikers series for example!

Travis Bach said...

Hi Elizabeth, what you are seeing is a two way discount in action.

If you have the Amazon eBook, then the audio book will be heavily discounted. I believe the that visa versa is also true.

There's all kinds of other discounts that Amazon and audible through in as well, but that's the general cause of the pricing irregularities.

I don't know if or how that affects royalties. Acx and audible reporting is a little less detailed as compared to say, kdp.

Amy J. Murphy said...

Thanks so much for doing this really helpful insight on the "business end" of audio book production. I'd recently been approached by a producer to create an audio version of my first book, but for the genre "space opera" there's not been the best match for talent in terms of a narrator... yet! But I hope to put some of this useful intel in action for Allies and Enemies.

Nana Cheryl said...

Everything MrFester said is spot on! The voice talent is critical. We are a finicky lot, us audio readers, and we demand quality. From the reader perspective, the best thing Aidible ever did was institute their return policy. It takes the risk out of trying new books & narrators. But that means authors can lose their hard-earned royalty in the click of a button. If it's because the book wasn't a good fit for the reader, that's sad but legitimate. If it's because you went with your brother's buddy's girlfriend as narrator cause she'd do it for $100, that was just stupid business savvy. I don't tend to return books for the first reason, but I'll return books in a Heartstriker heartbeat for the second.

I'm curious about Audible setting the prices on the books produced through them. If they set the price at $39.99, but I purchase with a credit that cost me $12.99, which do they base the royalty on??

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