If you're a regular reader here, you know how highly I value my readers. The Big Five publishers treat readers as a captive audience whose tastes they can manipulate. I cherish my readers as the people who enable me to write for a living. When my readers have requests or suggestions pertaining to my writing, I listen as carefully as you would to your boss.
I depend on my readers to make my living. When you guys talk, I listen.
Don't believe me? Just ask any of my readers here, on Facebook, Gab, or Twitter about how I offered Nethereal second edition for free to people who'd bought the first version, or how I sent them free epubs when delivery of their print copies was delayed.
Times are tough. Folks need to look out for each other. If you paid your hard-earned money for my books, I look out for you.
Let's talk audiobooksEver since I published my first book, people have asked me when the audio version will be out. This told me that there is definitely a demand for audiobooks, so I researched audiobook costs, royalties, and sales trends. The results weren't encouraging--at least not immediately.
Finding out exactly how big the demand for audiobooks is proved to be a daunting task. There is no shortage of sensationalistic articles from mainstream media outlets proclaiming that audiobooks are the future of reading, poised to overtake even eBooks.
But under closer scrutiny, all of these reports start from the false premise that eBook sales are declining. This zombie meme was hatched by the Big Five publishers and dutifully spread by their legacy media buddies to distract the public from the Big Five's collapsing paper distribution monopoly.
I dismantled this fake news here, pointing out that it is only the Big Five whose eBook sales are slipping. It doesn't take a genius to figure out why, since they charge print prices for a bunch of ones and zeroes. Indie now dominates the publishing industry, thanks almost entirely to eBooks.
Unfortunately, all of these stories likewise only cite audiobook sales figures from legacy publishers. When you're charging paperback prices for eBooks, it shouldn't be a surprise when people opt for other formats. The Big Five report that their audiobook sales doubled in 2016, but that doesn't tell me what level of sales to expect as an indie publisher.
In this case, I'm forced to fall back on anecdotal evidence, albeit from reliable sources. Other self-published authors I trust say that audio accounts for 5-10% of their sales. The higher figure is consistent with my print sales, with 90% of my royalties coming from sales of eBooks, so I think it's reasonable to expect that audiobook sales would also amount to 10% of my eBook sales.
Audiobooks aren't books
Another elephant in the room besides audiobooks' unreliably reported popularity is the fact that the term "audiobook" is a misnomer. An audio recording of a book is no more a "book" than the film version is.
Instead, audiobooks are actually extended one-man radio plays. That's not a put-down. Many people, including myself, have listened to and greatly enjoyed radio dramas.
It's important to keep in mind from a business perspective that audiobooks shouldn't be thought of in the same terms as print or even eBooks. People interact with audio in a vastly different way than they relate to print, and while there is some overlap, the book and audiobook markets aren't entirely populated with the same customers.
The takeaway is that audiobooks require a different marketing approach than books do. Producing and selling audiobooks actually means getting into a different business than I'm in now. The production methods and costs associated with audiobooks also couldn't differ more from those of actual books, as we'll see next.
The audio bubble
When I create print and eBooks, the production process is the same. I compose a digital document that can be downloaded as an eBook or printed on demand as a paperback.
By the way, each Soul Cycle trade paperback is now on sale for $14.99.
The primary form of each of my books is the eBook. Producing the print version incurs zero additional costs.
The same cannot be said for audio versions of my books, which are not just more expensive, but prohibitively so.
There are currently two methods of audiobook production available to indie authors.
- Hire a narrator at an up-front, one-time fee and distribute via Audible.
- Split the royalties with a narrator via ACX's profit sharing scheme and distribute via Audible.
Let's rip off this Band-Aid right up front. Audiobook narrators overcharge. By a lot. Here's proof.
Each of my books so far cost less than $1000 to make. That includes cover design, editing, and formatting.
The most reasonable narrator fee I've been quoted is twice that.
Why should I pay double to produce a product that almost certainly won't double my profits and is far more likely to account for only 10% of my sales?
This isn't a slight against audiobook narrators. They are being good capitalists by taking advantage of the fact that most authors are status-minded rather than business-minded.
When the going price for a product or service far exceeds that commodity's intrinsic value, what you have is an economic bubble. Authors with more disposable cash than sense caused it and continue to feed it by failing to think like publishers.
I write for a living. While my readers' needs are paramount, if I make too many bad financial decisions I won't be in business to supply my customers' needs.
If you write for yourself, validation, or recognition, that's great. People have been pursuing that route forever, and have had a lot of fun along the way. Those people are accurately called amateurs.
Paying audiobook narrators' currently inflated costs makes no sense for professional writers. Don't think like an amateur. Think like a publisher, and make it feasible for professional authors to give readers what they want.
"But what about ACX's proft-sharing option?" Readers and other authors bring this up to me all the time, and I always say the same thing. As bad as paying thousands of dollars up-front is, profit-sharing is much worse.
ACX Royalty Share is a colossal ripoff
Let's break this down. ACX pays 40% royalties on audiobooks. If you don't want to hire a narrator at an one-time fee, ACX will help match you with a narrator. You and the narrator then split that 40% royalty 50/50. Forever.
If that doesn't make you run screaming from ACX Royalty Share, you're either innumerate or have no concept of time.
Here's a concrete example. An audio version of my first book Nethereal would have a total running time of 30 hours. According to ACX's suggested pricing schedule, I could reasonably charge $25.00 for a Nethereal audiobook.
H/t to my friend JimFear138, a pro audiobook narrator who's wisely getting in on the audio bubble while the gettin's good. More power to him!
I earn roughly $5.00 an hour from writing (no 5 day, 40 hour work weeks for me!), which in this market is actually pretty good.
Hiring a narrator at the lowest price I've found to record a 30 hour audiobook means paying over $60.00 an hour. Let's factor in editing, mixing, outtakes, etc. and double the number of man-hours going into the finished audiobook to 60. That's still more than $30.00 an hour.
I'm not paying anyone more than six times my own wage for one-time work. I'm certainly not giving him half of my royalties forever.
That is because royalty sharing gets even more expensive than up front costs really fast.
ACX royalties on a $25.00 audiobook are $10.00. Not terrible.
The author's share after ACX and the narrator take their cut is $5.00. We are now firmly within the eBook royalty range. Ebooks that can be produced for less than half of audiobook costs.
Instead of getting paid a couple grand once, the narrator now gets $5.00 of every audiobook sold forever.
You only have to sell 400 audiobooks to equal that $2000 up-front fee. And you are effectively losing money on every audiobook you sell after that.
"But what if your audiobook is a huge, Larry Correia-sized hit!?" That makes it even worse.
If you sell 10,000 audiobooks, the narrator gets $50,000, and you have now paid $48,000 more for the audiobook than you had to. Congratulations. You are a sap.
"But you got 50 grand, too! That's better than nothing."
I could pay 50 grand to make 50 grand. Or I could save up my eBook and print royalties; then pay 2 grand to make $100,000.
That's thinking like a publisher.
Soul Cycle evangelizationNobody wanted to hear the uncomfortable truths presented in this article. Frankly, the situation sucks. My fans want audio versions of my books. Believe me, you know I want to supply them.
Audiobook narrators' grossly inflated fees are simply out of my price range. For now.
I refuse to take ACX's royatly sharing option, because it's retarded.
If you're among the fans who desperately want the Soul Cycle in audio, what can you do?
Hint: bugging me about it on social media isn't going to work. It won't put the extra money I need to fund an audiobook in my pocket. My royalties pay my bills. It's poor form asking a guy to not pay rent or buy food for something that probably won't earn its costs back for years. It's no better to suggest that he give up half of his royalties forever.
Is there a win-win solution for everyone? As it happens, yes there is.
Get three friends and/or family members to buy all three of my books.
My critically acclaimed and award-winning Soul Cycle is available right now from Amazon.
As I said above, the print versions are currently all on sale. You can get all three eBook versions for about the same price as a single trade paperback.
There ain't no free lunch, and audiobook don't grow on trees--especially not in this audio bubble economy. If you want something in this world, you have to pay for it. That's a bummer, but we have to deal with reality as it is.
I'm not asking for a handout. My books have proven their value time and again. Jeffro Johnson and Jasyn Jones have pointed out that I am among the new breed of adventure and heroism-oriented authors fighting to take back science fiction from the legacy publishers who all but killed the genre with dull, debauched message fic.
If you want to help spread the Red SF revolution--or if you'd just like Soul Cycle audiobooks, then become a Soul Cycle evangelist.
You have three family members, friends, or coworkers who used to love science fiction, or are desperately clinging to the genre in the hope of something fun and exciting coming along. This is your chance to help them. Introduce them to the Soul Cycle. I know that many of you are passionate about this series, because you tell me. Now is the time to tell them.
If even half of my readers could get three other people to buy all three of my books, we'd have the funds to make a Nethereal audiobook in no time.
I'm doing my part to entertain you and, possibly, save our genre. Whether we meet our goal or not, know that I'm grateful for each of you.
We can do this. Get out there and spread the word!