Make Audiobook Creation Your Goal for 2016

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

audiobooks, authors, self-publishing, indie authors, audioRecently, an author commented in a writer’s forum that he was just starting to create audiobooks and felt like he was coming late to the party.

I could understand why he’d feel that way. After all, news sites and other authors often discuss the explosive growth in the audiobook market, noting that this industry has doubled in size for two consecutive years.

In 2003, when I narrated my first commercial book, most audiobook productions occurred in pricey New York or Los Angeles studios. The finished products were packaged, shipped and sold on cassette or CD. Due to high production, warehousing and distribution costs, audiobooks were almost exclusively the domain of the biggest print publishers and reserved only for the bestselling authors and highest-profile titles. As a result, only about five percent of all books published were made into audiobooks.

In recent years, however, four technological and cultural shifts have radically changed the industry:

1. Anyone can listen to audiobooks.
In 1931, the Library of Congress established the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) to provide books for blind adults. The first “talking books” were produced in 1934 on 12-inch records and purchased by citizens who met the legal requirements. Since only blind people originally used recorded books, the general public never would have requested them.

2. Audiobooks no longer require a special player. I can remember the not-too-distant past when audiobook publishers used proprietary audio formats, which naturally required proprietary hardware devices to play the books.

Now, the industry has standardized to deliver audiobooks on CD or in MP3 format. You can play audiobooks on any smartphone, tablet or computer, but those aren’t your only listening options. For instance, you can play audiobooks on your Garmin nüvi GPS.

Audiobooks have long been a favorite form of entertainment in the car, whether during commutes or road trips. It’s no surprise that the automobile industry is facilitating technological shifts in audiobook playback. Over 100 automobile manufacturers now include Apple CarPlay in their new cars to connect the iPhone to the car’s in-dash display and speakers. Aftermarket manufacturers have developed receivers to retrofit older cars for this capability.

3. Our connected society no longer demands physical media. More people became interested in audiobooks when cars were equipped first with cassette players, and later with CD players. Devotees of this art form would swap cassettes or CDs as they progressed within a story. Keeping up with media in the car was a nuisance!

Today, the majority of audiobook consumers opt for instant gratification by downloading audiobooks straight to their devices. Downloadable MP3 audiobooks can be purchased one sites like Audible, Amazon and iTunes, or borrowed through a library with Overdrive, OneClickDigital or Hoopla. Some people even pay non-resident fees to libraries in other areas to take advantage of that library’s audiobook catalog.

If you want to listen to a book with family or friends, you could select one found in the streaming subscription service that runs on Apple TV or as part of Apple CarPlay.

4. Audiobook production is no longer cost-prohibitive. Authors and publishers can contract directly with a narrator like me who also acts as the audiobook producer. Producer/narrators offer one-stop service, from recording the manuscript in our own studios to hiring editors and proof listeners needed to create a high quality production. We return the polished, retail-ready recordings to you as the finished product.

With audiobooks becoming a mainstream option for entertainment, I encourage authors to set a goal to produce audiobook editions of their titles.

Even the newest authors are benefitting immediately when they produce an audiobook. First, they are enjoying greater visibility and discoverability from having their work in audio. It can be lucrative to be a bigger fish in a smaller pond!

As an example, let’s say a romance author publishes a new Kindle ebook. Her story now competes with more than 350,000 other romance ebooks in the Kindle bookstore. However, the audiobook of that same book currently faces only around 20,000 competitors on, the main distributor of audiobooks.

Furthermore, purchases of audiobooks continue to multiply. People who love to read books and people who never read a book all buy audiobooks.

In our increasingly fast-paced lives, more people are choosing to listen to books as they multi-task on some other activity, such as cooking, crafting, cleaning or commuting. In fact, a 2014 Bookriot survey found that each audiobook consumer on average listens to 17.5 books a year.

For prolific authors and publishers with a backlist, the increased consumer interest in audiobooks represents a tremendous opportunity to reach new audiences and generate additional income each year by creating audiobooks of your books!

Spring is a time of new growth, so please send me any questions you have about the audiobook production process. I’ll write more articles to help you get started and succeed in your goal of producing audiobooks in 2016.

To get all the ebook and digital publishing news you need every day in your inbox at 8:00 AM, sign up for the DBW Daily today!

15 thoughts on “Make Audiobook Creation Your Goal for 2016

  1. Chris Syme

    Very informative, Karen, and right on. With ACX offering royalty share on books, it is very easy to get a book produced with little or no investment. I used it with my latest book and the process was pretty seamless. I agree that audiobooks are much more user-friendly as well. With the ease of listening on your phone, you can “read” just about anywhere. Thanks for the great information!

    1. Karen Commins

      Hi, Chris! Thanks so much for the note.

      ACX royalty share (RS) deals are very popular with authors because, as you said, they require no investment up front. A RS agreement represents a deferred payment plan where the narrator is paid her fee and her production expenses over time from the audiobook royalties.

      However, these deals are less popular with narrators as we have ALL of the risk for low or no sales of the audiobook. Authors would continue to receive royalties from the other formats, but the narrator would only be paid from the royalties accruing from audiobook sales.

      The best contract for both parties is one that ACX doesn’t officially offer — a hybrid deal, where the author pays some part of the narrator’s fee and expenses up-front and also enters an ACX royalty share contract with the narrator. The author and narrator work out the details of the up-front payment through email.

      As Mark Pearson commented below, other companies are popping up to compete with ACX, giving authors even more options for audiobook production.

      I’m glad you had a good experience and hope you will continue to spread the word about audiobooks to your fellow authors!

      Karen Commins

  2. Michael W. Perry

    Great points! I’ll add another. Technologies such as ebook have made it easy to scam buyers with badly written and poorly formatted books. The problem has grown so bad, Amazon is trying to address it. As a result, readers become less willing to take a chance on an author who is new to them. What’s an author to do?

    Attractive covers help. Demonstrating high standards there hints that the interior meets similar high standards. Having both print and digital versions is also a plus, since it indicates still more effort by the author and publisher.

    Audiobooks carry that one step further. Having all three formats—print, digital and audio—suggest that what’s inside was worth the effort of creating all three formats and thus of being read or listened to. It adds to a book’s credibility as well as separating it out from all the books you mention that don’t have audio versions.

    The hitch, of course, is that many authors, including me, don’t have ‘broadcast voices.’ We need someone else to handle the reading. You might want to do followup articles on selecting a reader and splitting the income.

    –Michael W. Perry, co-author of Lily’s Ride

    1. Karen Commins

      Greetings, Michael! I responded earlier, but that comment didn’t make it throug. I really appreciate your perspective. In fact, I wish I could tell you how much I LOVE these sentences:

      Hear, hear!

      Until recent years, only about 5% of all books published were made into audiobooks due to the cost. Audiobooks were reserved for the authors with the greatest following and titles generating the most interest. As a result, and continuing with your point, an audiobook can confer an aura of prestige on the author because the public might believe the author to be the top echelon of publishing.

      Thanks for the ideas for follow-up articles, and please keep them coming!

      Karen Commins

      1. Karen Commins

        Something must be wrong with my HTML tags. The sentences I quoted above are:

        “Having all three formats—print, digital and audio—suggest that what’s inside was worth the effort of creating all three formats and thus of being read or listened to. It adds to a book’s credibility as well as separating it out from all the books you mention that don’t have audio versions.”

  3. Karen Wolfer

    Excellent and concise article, Karen. Yes, as an independent audio book producer for a niche market since 2008, I have seen the same explosive growth. I was here around the same time ACX came into being. Back then, one had to have at least 5 books published before Audible would talk directly to you about distributing them. You had to go through a ‘middle-man’ to get anything carried by Audible.
    Now that anyone can create an audiobook, and Amazon has enjoyed record profits, it would be nice if they would allow some of that profit to trickle down to the creators of these books.
    We are the ones doing all the work, after all.

    Karen Wolfer- Founder and Owner of Dog Ear Audio

    1. Karen Commins

      Hello, Karen! I remember the 5-book minimum for Audible, too!

      While Audible is the largest distributor of audiobooks, it isn’t the only one. I predict more people will start signing non-exclusive distribution agreements with Audible in order to explore library sales and other channels.

      Thanks for your comment, and best wishes for your continued success!

      Karen Commins

  4. Mark Pearson

    Great summary, Karen! Thank you for introducing more authors to audiobooks. Reason #5 to make audiobook creation your goal is the number of new companies that handle production for you. Check out , , and . Reason #6: if you work with any of those companies to produce your audiobook, your book will be available through independent bookstores via There’s never been a better time for authors to produce their own audiobook and get broad distribution.

    1. Karen Commins

      Hi, Mark! Thanks for the kind words about my article.

      I referred to your comment in answering one higher in the thread. With new companies doing production and new distribution outlets becoming available, it’s a very exciting time for authors to start looking into audiobook production!

      It’s even an exciting time to write about audiobooks because you’ve given me an idea for a future article!

      Karen Commins

  5. Karen Wolfer

    Yes! Another article from you. I would love to hear about your explorations of other audiobook distribution services. I have recently signed with Author’s Republic and am impressed with their energy and wonderful communication skills. Would love to see them succeed in a big way. If we all support them, then we will jointly create more distribution options.

    1. Karen Commins

      Hi, Karen! Thanks for the note. I’ve been traveling and apologize for the delay in my reply.

      As a narrator, I really have no say in the distribution channels selected by the rights holder. However, I do want to offer info that helps authors and other rights holders make the best decisions throughout the audiobook production process.

      Each service has pros and cons, which I hope to examine in a future article.

      Karen Commins

  6. Karen Christensen

    I’m a small educational publisher and will need to hire an audio book narrator, and decide which platform to use. Do you happen to have a table or chart that compares the various options? Or personal recommendations, of course! It sounds as though one needs to work out a good workflow, with the right people, in order to do this efficiently. Best, Karen.

    1. Karen Commins

      Hi, Karen! Thanks for the good question. I apologize for the delay in my reply.

      I haven’t created a table of options, but I am planning a follow-up article to discuss them.

      In the meantime, you might want to start listening to narrator samples on or the AudioFile Magazine Talent & Industry Guide.

      I’ve written several articles about ACX which you might find helpful. You’ll find them linked on this page.

      Thanks again for your interest!

      Karen Commins

  7. Karpy

    Cool nice article. I’m planning on making a series of children’s Audiobooks call the “The white fairy”. A friend is now creating an audiobook and I am following the process.
    It’s easy to be your own narrator and make decent recordings at home in a quiet room with low noise and low reflections of the sound on the walls. Actually with a budget of 200 – 300 , a quiet good sounding room and by following a few simple steps to setup your recording you can get it done.
    You have to focus on the narration, tell the story not just read the book. Don’t worry about mistakes they can be removed later. Just clap ur hands close to the Mic for an indication of mistake and continue.
    Find someone how knows how to edit and produce the sound, remove mistakes, uuus uuuhms, plosives, sibilance, noise etc and enhance the sound to make it all sound professional. You can find good affordable rates for audiobook editing and production online. are good, i will probably be going with because they have the best rates found untill now and also helped my friend with the recording process. There are more if you search a bit.


  8. Andy

    Hi Karen!

    Thanks for writing this article!

    I’m a voice actor who specializes in commercials and corporate web videos but I just finished producing an audiobook for a friend of mine. Now, she’s asking how to publish and distribute it. After doing a decent amount of research and, besides ACX, I’m having a hard time finding a good/easy distributor.

    It seems like ACX is the way to go but I’d love to know if there’s another channel that offers better than 25% for non-exclusive rights.

    Any help you can provide is MUCH appreciated.




Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *