A former colleague recently asked a very good question: Why not create audiobook versions of my nonfiction guides? In this post I’ll explain why this idea despite having promise won’t work for my book publishing company.
Some quick background: I am the founder of i30 Media Corp., which publishes IN 30 MINUTES guides. There are more than 20 (the latest being HOME BUYING IN 30 MINUTES by author Jim Morrison, released late last year) with new titles constantly in development. I have also published my own book, Lean Media, as well as a small number of fiction titles.
I publish paperback, hardcover, and ebook editions, but not audiobooks. But I have seen the hype, which says audiobooks are hot. Via Publishers Weekly:
Audiobooks continued their meteoric rise in 2017, a new report issued by the Audio Publishers Association found, with another year of double-digit growth for both audiobook sales and title output. Total sales rose 22.7% in 2017, to an estimated $2.5 billion, over an estimated $2.1 billion in sales in 2016. Unit sales rose an estimated 21.5%, the APA reported.
… The audience for audiobooks remains young, with 54% of audiobook listeners under the age of 45.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? But the article also notes:
“Sales are based on reports from about 20 audiobook publishers. The APA then extrapolates from those figures, to derive an estimate for the entire market. “
I have a problem with such estimates, as they leave out thousands of smaller publishers and self-published authors who may not be seeing such rosy results. But there are other problems, too.
Audiobooks: a great opportunity for nonfiction?
Back to my colleague, who brought up the question in a short conversation on LinkedIn:
Wondering if you have considered doing any books in audio format. I think many of your titles would be conducive to people learning while they commute/ long car trip.
He’s absolutely right. The IN 30 MINUTES books about personal finance, software, genealogy, and even medicine would make great audiobooks. People are time-constrained, maybe to the point where they don’t have time to sit down and read one of the guides. But why not play it in the car or through headphones while doing something else?
I actually looked into audiobooks a few years ago, first for one of the fiction series and then for the nonfiction books when a radio DJ asked me about it. I determined that it wouldn’t work for my publishing company for several reasons:
Audiobooks have very high production overhead
For nonfiction, you can’t just read the book verbatim into your phone and call it a day. Quality audio production requires a lot of steps and coordination:
- Script. The books use screenshots and graphics which may not work for a pure audio format. So the books would have to be scripted based on the original material.
- Audio production: You need to hire voice talent, figure out the recording location (usually a studio or a voice talent who has good equipment), and hire someone to edit the audio. A
- Associated costs. We’re talking thousands for a single title, and very long production timeline – many months is typical.
Audiobook revenue is terrible (for most publishers)
Many indie publishers are gravitating toward Amazon, which tries to funnel them to its Audible subscription audiobook platform that pays very little to publishers – measured in the tenths of a cent per minute of audio, as discussed here. Do the math for an IN 30 MINUTES guide, and it would be pennies of revenue for a single audio book sold through this platform.
There are other platforms, of course, but even flat fee digital downloads still have a long sales timeline to break even. Say, for instance, your audiobook nets $3, but you just dropped $3,000 to $5,000 on production and you have to pay out royalties to the author. You will need scale to make back your investment.
Audiobooks quickly get old (for nonfiction)
Many IN 30 MINUTES guides are updated every 2 years. So even if an audiobook edition is starting to gain traction, it will be out of date 12-18 months after its release.
Can the out-of-date bits be removed, and replaced with new narration? Not easily. You have to hope that the same voice talent is available, and do some pretty tricky engineering and editing to make it sound seamless. It probably makes more sense to re-record the whole thing … and deal with a similar overhead as with the first edition.
For these reasons, I am staying out of the audiobook market. With video, however, it’s a different story. I have found success with short YouTube clips, and have built up more than 2,000 subscribers and thousands of listens every month. They are easier to record, and easy for my audience to digest on a big or small screen.