I got this question from a couple of authors over the past year, so I thought I’d address it in this post.
Audiobooks are only worth creating if any of the three conditions are met: you are making serious money (like A LOT of money) in ebooks already, you have a narrator who is willing to do the work for free (and get compensated via the split-royalty program), OR if you love making them and will do the narrating yourself.
I don’t know why there are people out there telling authors that audiobooks are “huge” and they are a “must”, but audioboks are in a whole different category from ebooks. Ebooks are the indie author’s best friend because this is where the main source of income comes from. In my experience, more people are still reading ebooks than listening to audiobooks. I assume the cost of ebooks and widespread availability of them are to credit for this.
An audiobook takes a lot more work to create than ebooks. When you write an ebook, you can have many disruptions and pick up where you left off. If someone interrupts you while you’re narrating an audiobook, you have to edit these interruptions out. With a house of five other people, I am greatly limited in narration time. This limits how much I can get done in a week. In my experience, it can take anywhere from 2-4 hours to edit one chapter in an audiobook. (My chapters run anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000 words.) Then when the narration (and editing) are done, you have to upload the audio files. Uploading each individual chapter can be time consuming. I believe it’s at least an hour on Findaway Voices for me to upload an entire book. ACX was longer. If you end up with a quality issue, you’ll have to go back and figure out how to fix it. Also, changes made to an audiobook are not automatic. When I recently made a change in the audiobook I narrated, Findaway Voices told me the changes could take up to a month to go through to all of their retailers. When you make changes to an ebook, those changes go through fast. Usually, within a day or two, you’re good to go. But with audio, it’ll be longer. So be prepared for that and try to get your audio files correct the first time.
Even if someone else does the narrating for you, you have to listen through every single chapter to weed out any errors. If the narrator is splitting royalties, you don’t upload the files. They have to worry about that. But if you own the audiobook version outright, you still got to upload them. I guess if you have an assistant who knows what they’re doing, all of the listening and uploading can be done by them, but not many authors can afford an assistant, especially one who has experience under their belt. I hired someone to listen to the audiobook I narrated, and I caught some things they missed. This person was not qualified to do the job. I hired my oldest to be an assistant to help me this time around, but he’s starting out, and there is a lot of hand-holding and training I have to do before he’s ready to be on his own.
Another factor to consider is your return on investment. ACX’s policy of deducting future royalties from authors if someone returns an audiobook totally sucks. For example, let’s say I sell an audiobook in March but the person returns it in April. ACX will take that “return” out of my future royalties. In other words, I pay ACX back. This happens even IF the person listened to the entire audiobook. As you can imagine, this puts a damper on your return on investment. Findaway Voices, on the other hand, is author friendly. They send audiobooks to all retailers (including Audible and Amazon if you don’t claim your book on ACX), libraries, and subscription services. I paid about $10,000 in 2020 to have five audiobooks made. Through ACX, I’ve made $228 so far this year. Through Findaway Voices, I’ve made $395 so far this year. If you are exclusive to ACX, you’re shooting yourself in the foot UNLESS you’re doing a 50-50 split royalty with a narrator. At least then, you didn’t put any money into the venture.
I also want to point out that most of the royalties I make off of Findaway Voices comes from libraries and subscription sites (like Scribd). They do NOT come from sales where a person keeps the audiobook forever. Considering the fact that people on Audible have a library mentality (where they “buy” a book and later return it), ACX is pretty much another library. That’s just my personal experience. That’s why I say you should be a super-selling author if you’re looking to pay a narrator to make audiobooks. If you are a big name, you will be more likely to pick up those people who will keep an audiobook forever. I am not that kind of author. I can get people to keep my ebooks, but I can’t get them to keep my audiobooks. Before taxes, I bring in $80K in ebook sales. This is why, in my opinion, you need to have substantial money coming in from ebook sales if you expect to make a return on investment when you pay for a narrator. I have no regrets in paying that narrator. She did a terrific job. I just can’t afford to keep paying her when you factor in living expenses for a six-family household, repairs that pop up, and taxes. That’s why I’m narrating the books myself.
Suffice it to say, if you’re going to do audiobooks, do it because it’s something that truly interests you. Regardless of whether you go with a narrator or do the book yourself, this should be a passion project. Do it because it’s fun. Do it because you want to hear your own book in audio format. If you do that, you will never regret making the audiobook.