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The Upside of Audiobook Distribution

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PUBLISHED APRIL 2016

by Bryan Heathman, President, Made for Success Publishing


Photo of Bryan Heathman

Bryan Heathman

Audiobook recording and distribution is a method for publishers to add incremental revenue to each book release. Audios have a quality of immediacy that just can’t be found on the printed page.

The audiobook industry is now estimated at $1.47 billion, an increase of 13.5 percent over 2014 (Audio Publishers Association 2015). Unit sales of audiobooks are up 19.5 percent, nearly five times the increase of overall book trade sales (books were up 4.2 percent). In addition to adding revenues to your business, audiobooks are an excellent tactic to add to a book marketing plan, enabling you to make your content available across the globe both as physical CDs and as digital downloads.

There are several types of popular formats: 1) Digital download; 2) Audio CD in retail packaging; 3) MP3 CD version (popular with longer recordings, such as audio Bibles); and 4) Library case packaging with specialized pricing for multiple use. Note that the physical CD business is slipping in revenues, but is still a viable format for publishing audiobooks in 2016 and years into the future. One can choose from several types of audio programs as well. The three most common are audiobooks, keynote speeches, and audio lessons.

By definition, an audiobook is a performance of a book. It can be abridged or match the book manuscript word for word. A keynote speech is a live or studio recording of a presentation on a given topic. Lessons are the third most popular form of audio program. These segments are typically 30 to 60 minutes in length and can be sold as a series. Here are some excellent examples of each type of recording:

  1. Audiobooks. The first, Giftocracy by soccer star Michael Tetteh, was recorded by a professional audiobook narrator with some contributions from the author. Another example, The Last Apostle by Dennis Brooke, was recorded by the author in an in-home studio.
  2. Keynote speeches by professional speakers. The first, Whatever It Takes by John Maxwell, was recorded in a studio. Sample a live performance in Words on Leadership by Les Brown.
  3. Audio lessons are also popular. Good examples are Zig Ziglar’s live recording, Zig Ziglar’s Leadership and Success, and an audio series recorded in-studio: The Gentle Art of Persuasion by Tom Hopkins.

Recording Tips

When you create audiobooks, you’ll want to ensure a great listener experience. This means the quality of your material and your production values have to be high. Liv Montgomery, Made for Success Publishing’s most prolific audio recording pro, offers some audio recording tips:

  1. Thanks to technology, you can create a perfectly saleable audio in a homegrown studio. Many turn-key podcast systems are available that include software, headphones, a microphone, and a pop filter. There is some technical savvy required to set it up. If you are creating multiple recordings, this option is worth the learning curve.
  2. If you would rather leave the audio engineering to the professionals, choose the in-studio option. Recording spoken-word audios typically costs $75 to $200 an hour for studio time, plus two to four hours of engineering time for each one hour of recorded audio. You can spend $300 to $800 for an hour of recorded audio, depending on the quality of the performance.
  3. Using professional voice talent will produce the highest quality audio product and will lend polish to the product.

One question I often hear is whether or not to commercialize telephone recordings or webinars. The answer is a resounding “no.” Given the ease of recording, however, there are plenty of other opportunities to record without dumbing it down.


The Royal(ty) Treatment

With a quality recording, you’ll be ready for the sweetest sound of all: ch-ching! Let the royalties roll in.

But how do you obtain the seamless integration into retail catalogs worldwide? How do you get around the gotchas at iTunes and Audible?

Here are a few suggestions to get started distributing your recordings:

  1. Digital Distribution: Audible and iTunes combined represent the lion’s share of the digital audiobook market share in North America. The good news is that you can work with Audible to distribute audiobooks to iTunes, as Audible has an exclusive agreement with iTunes.
  2. Physical CD Distribution: As a publisher, consider relationships with Ingram IPS or Perseus Distribution for physical audiobook distribution.
  3. The technology of audio delivery is advancing rapidly and working with audiobook distribution specialists is another viable option which will include libraries and the rapidly growing streaming options.

With the growth in audiobook consumption, adding audiobooks to your book catalog is a smart move for consideration in 2016.


Bryan Heathman is the president of Made for Success Publishing, a company which has produced and distributed thousands of audio recordings for publishers and authors, into retail and library outlets and through dozens of corporate licensing contacts.

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