Get the most out of selling your audiobook so that you don’t waste your time and money. This article is for authors who are considering turning their ebook and paperback book into an audiobook.

Audiobooks will sell well if their associated ebooks or paperback books have an Amazon Best Seller’s Rank (BSR) less than about 50,000. The lower the BSR, the higher the book’s sales proving that the author has a book readers want. Recording an audiobook creates another avenue for readers to find the author’s work. The added exposure will increase sales of the audiobook as well as the ebook and paperback book. This allows the author to recoup the thousands of dollars that may be required to create the audiobook.

On the other hand, if your ebook or paperback book has a BSR greater than about 100,000, you may not recoup the thousands of dollars you’ll spend creating your audiobook. In this case, the audiobook adds to the cost of overall book production, and not really providing another way for readers to find you.

The Amazon BSR is the rank of all books sold by Amazon from most to least sales. The lower the number, the more money your paperback book, ebook, or audiobook will earn.

Audiobook sales increase every year as more people discover the convenience and sheer fun of having someone read a book to them. Below are some sales figures for the past few years.

YearAudiobook SalesReference
2017$755 millionAPA Publisher’s Report 2018 and Calculated for 2017
2018$940 millionAPA Publisher’s Report 2018
2019$1.2 billionAPA Publisher’s Report 2019
2020 (predicted)$1.5 billionDeloitte

This increase in audiobook adoption is clearly visible in the US but also in other countries. The result is that it may be lucrative for authors to make their work available in other countries. Below are the 2020 predictions for audiobook sales based on Deliotte.

TerritorySales
USA$1.5 Billion
China$1.0 Billion
Other Markets$1.0 Billion
Total Global Market$3.5 Billion

Are Audiobooks Profitable?

Audiobooks are profitable if you’ve written a paperback book and ebook that are already selling well. Amazon has really made it easy and free to take your manuscript and turn it into a well-formatted paperback book and ebook. Other companies offer this service such as Draft2Digital.

How Much Does It Cost To Make An Audiobook?

When it comes to creating the audiobook, Amazon has made the process easy to go from an ebook or paperback book to an audiobook, but it can be expensive. Generally, the longer the book, the more the author needs to spend to have it recorded for an audiobook.

For example, if you have a 60,000-word novel, the result will be about 6.5 hours for the completed audiobook. When the narrator creates that audiobook, the process could take about 44 hours if you include time for narration, editing, proofing, and mastering. This is the primary reason that it costs significantly more to create an audiobook.

If you would like to learn more about the length of time needed to make an audiobook, take a look at my article How Long Does It Take To Narrate an Audiobook.

Because of the time and equipment that narrators invest in creating an audiobook, the price for a decent narrator could be $100 to $500 per finished hour (PFH). A finished hour refers to the length of the final audiobook.

If you find a narrator for $300 PFH, you could pay about $1950, assuming you pay the narrator upfront. If you use Amazon’s Royalty Share Program, you don’t need to pay the narrator upfront. Instead, the narrator gets half of the author’s royalties. The real issue is it will be difficult to find a decent narrator to accept the Royalty Share Program. A lower quality narrator will result in a poor-quality audiobook that won’t sell as well.

If you would like more detail about the cost to create an audiobook, take a look at my article How Much Does It Cost to Make an Audiobook.

How Much Do Audiobooks Make?

As I’ve mentioned above, your ebook or paperback book’s BSR is a driving factor to determining if your audiobook will sell well. Below, I’ve summarized some information about how BSR relates to sales.

DescriptionBSR = 100,000BSR = 50,000
eBook Sales$120/mo$720/mo
Paperback Sales$1080/mo$2160/mo
Audiobook Sales*$125 to $250/mo$250 to $500/mo
Time to Recoup $2000 Audiobook Investment16 to 8 months8 to 10 months

* Assumes an exclusive contract on Audible/ACX. Audible is an Amazon audiobook store, and Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX) is an Amazon company that helps authors turn their ebooks and paperback books into audiobooks. CreativIndie values were in terms of royalties to author and the values in the table are in terms of total revenue.

BSR = 100,000

If your book has a BSR of about 100,000 this means there are 99,000 books that sell better than your book. This rank means you sell about 1 ebook per day and about 3 paperback books per day based on TCKPublishing.

According to Mill City Press, the average ebook price is $3.99. The average price for a paperback book is $12 according to FixMyStory. Therefore, the monthly sales are $120 for ebook and $1080 for paperback book.

Based on information from CreativIndie, the average sales of an audiobook will be about $50 to $100 per month.

Using the previous section, if you invest about $2000 making the audiobook, it’ll take you 20 to 40 months to make a return on your investment.

BSR = 50,000

If your book has a BSR of about 50,000, this means you sell about 5 ebooks per day and about 6 paperback books per day. This is based on information from TCKPublishing.

Based on the average ebook price and average paperback price, the monthly sales will be $720 for ebook and $2160 for paperback book.

Based on information from CreativIndie, the average audiobook sales are $100 to $200 per month. If you invest $2000 making the audiobook, it’ll take you 10 to 20 months to make a return on your investment.

If you’re willing to wait several months to several years, your audiobook will eventually become profitable. Building an author business many times means being patient. It’s important to create several paperback books, ebooks, and audiobook, to ensure you always have assets that are creating income. Next, you need to be patient for them to start showing a profit.

How Do Authors Get Paid For Audiobooks?

Authors receive royalties from their audiobooks. The amount of the royalty varies depending on how the audiobook is distributed. This means that for each audiobook sold, the sales price is split between the audiobook store and the author. Most authors will use Audible/ACX, and I’ll use them for my examples.

There are three ways for authors to get paid: Pay-for-Production, Royalty Share, and Royalty Share Plus. In these examples, I assume the author has signed an exclusive contract meaning their audiobook isn’t available anywhere else.

Pay-for-Production

The Pay-for-Production option allows authors to pay for the creation of the audiobook upfront. The author and narrator negotiate the PFH rate. Another option is to record yourself reading your book. Once the files are uploaded to ACX and they are approved, your audiobook will go on sale.

The sales price of the audiobook is split so that Audible gets 60% and you get 40%. So for a $15 audiobook, Audible takes $9 and you get $6.

Royalty Share

The Royalty Share option allows the author to have their audiobook made for free. However, they have to split the royalties with the narrator. The author and narrator can negotiate the PFH rate. Then, Audible gets 60%, you get 20% and the narrator gets 20%.

Therefore, if the sales price of the audiobook is $15, Audible takes $9, you get $3, and the narrator receives $3.

Royalty Share Plus

The Royalty Share Plus program is a mixture of the previous two options. In this case, the author pays the narrator a certain amount of money to cover the costs of recording the audiobook. This amount is negotiable.

Then, the author and narrator can negotiate a lower PFH rate because the author is pre-paying for some of the production costs. Audible gets 60%, you get 20%, and the narrator gets 20%.

Findaway Voices and Others

Other audiobook aggregators work similarly to Audible’s Pay-For-Production model. In other words, the author pays the narrator upfront for audiobook production. In addition, the author splits the sales of each audiobook with the distributor. However, the percent that each distributer pays varies significantly from Audible. Many times the author can keep 50% to 80% of the sales as a royalty.

Findaway Voices has a model that is similar to Audible’s Royalty Share Plus program. In this option, the author pays the narrator 50% of the PFH rate. Then Findaway Voices takes 20%, you get 60%, and the narrator receives 20%.

If you would like to learn more about how author’s get paid, take a look at my article How Much Do Audiobook Narrators Make.

Can You Self-Publish An Audiobook?

Yes, you can self-publish an audiobook. This has the advantage of being significantly less expensive than hiring a narrator. However, there are a few things to keep in mind. If you have experience doing voice over work, then you simply need to decide if you want to spend several hours talking.

If you do not have experience narrating audiobooks, then start with non-fiction. Generally, non-fiction allows you to do a straight read of your book without having to worry about making different voices for each character.

Something else to keep in mind is Audible has fairly strict requirements on your audio files. This means it’s extremely important to use the right equipment. In addition, it’s essential to record in a space the dampens echoes and is well away from external noises.

When you’ve completed recording your book, you’ll need to edit, proof, and master the audio files. This is a long and tedious process that may be best left to someone experienced with editing and mastering audio files

If you would like to learn more about recording your own audiobook, take a look at my article How Do You Self-Publish an Audiobook

How Big is the Audiobook Market?

Audiobooks earned about $1.2 billion in 2019, according to the APA (see table above). This is up about 16% from 2018. However, audiobooks make up only about 7% of the total publishing market which includes digital books, print books, and other media.

Keep in mind that audiobooks are significantly more expensive than ebooks and even most paperback books. This price difference helps to make audiobooks profitable.

Audiobook statistics also show that college graduates are more likely to listen to digital formats according to Pew Research. Nearly half of all listeners are under the age of 45, and also listen to podcasts according to the APA’s 2020 Consumer Survey. In addition, the number of listeners increases significantly every year.

Audiobook listeners interested in fiction tend to listen to Mysteries, Thrillers, Suspense, and Science Fiction/Fantasy according to APA. Listeners interested in non-fiction listen to History, Biography/Memoirs, and Self-Help according to Publisher’s Weekly.

Where Can I Sell My Audiobooks?

Amazon has the lion’s share of the audiobook market. Most authors who create audiobooks from their ebooks or paperback books will use Amazon or its sister companies, Audible and ACX. However, there are many other companies that will also help you create and distribute your audiobook.

Findaway Voices is a company I’ve used in the past. It’s similar to Audible/ACX in that it helps authors turn their ebook or paperback book into an audiobook. It also distributes your audiobook for you.

There is one major difference between Findaway Voices and Audible/ACX. Findaway Voices has many more stores where it can distribute your audiobook. The advantage is that your book will be more visible to a much larger audience. In addition, your author royalty percentages are much higher than Audible/ACX. However, most authors will still earn more money with Audible/ACX.

Author’s Republic is another audiobook aggregator that distributes audiobooks to other stores. It doesn’t have a system to help authors turn their ebooks or paperback books into audiobooks, but it partners with other companies that provide this service. Its royalty structure is similar to Findaway Voices’.

Listen Up Audiobooks is much more similar to Findaway Voices. It helps authors turn their ebooks or paperback books into audiobooks. Then, it distributes your audiobook to its partners. The only downside is it has fewer partners than Findaway Voices.

If you would like more detail about where you can sell your audiobook, take a look at my post How Do I Distribute My Audiobook.

Conclusion

Audiobooks sell well and their popularity increases every year. However, new authors need to determine whether or not their book should be made into an audiobook. If you create an audiobook from a book that isn’t selling well, then you are wasting a large amount of money.

If you want to save money by recording your book yourself, then start with a non-fiction book unless you already have narration experience. Once your audiobook is complete, Audible/ACX and Findaway Voices have an easy-to-follow process for loading your audio files onto their system. They’ll also make sure that your book is automatically distributed.

Are you considering creating an audiobook? Which option would you choose? Would you pay a narrator or record the audiobook yourself? Let me know in the comments below.