Saturday, February 22, 2014

DIY Audiobooks for the Self-Publishing Authors - a Review of Sources

Selfpublishing audiobooks is harder than indie author ebooks - but can be done.
(photocredit: mlibrarianus)

How to publish audiobooks can be learned by indie authors - this is a review of places you can, just maybe, get your book published.

Like ebooks, you first encounter the shadow of the Amazon Monster before any word is recorded. Through their purchase of, and that exclusive contract with iTunes, there are few other options to getting your audiobook published.

That said, there are many options to augment your ebook (and its hardcopy cousin) with audio files in packages and bundles.

This is all building on my earlier research, which started when Matt Stone of Archangel Ink contacted me about doing an audiobook of my current Kindle Hit, "How to Completely Change Your Life in 30 Seconds."

As I didn't know much about this, I started researching. This post continues the research which was noted earlier and actually started with this entry. (Meanwhile, a sidebar also showed up on another blog of mine.)

Those two posts say how to do this in general terms, introduce you to the concept that Amazon owns the space, and you can get started with podiobooks as a method of improving your "chops" so you can submit a professional product that ACX won't reject.

The next question: Are their alternatives?

Short answer: Yes, but not many. (Practically: 3-4, depending on your approach and expected result.)

To begin with, none of the existing, major self-publishing ebook distributors (except Amazon and iTunes) deal with audio books, or will even distribute CD's for you. Lulu used to, but quit a year or so back. There are rumors of GooglePlay starting this up - but nothing substantial yet. B&N will sell your CD's (and maybe MP3 downloads)  if you can get them over there.

There are a handful of places which actually do this outside the Amazon tourniquet.

(A blog post by Joanna Penn says that this contract with iTunes may be expiring soon, which will may change this scenario.)

While music has made this transition (despite the ham-handed efforts of the Big Music Publishers) - you can now download pretty much any MP3 from any music distributor - there aren't yet the same capabilities for audiobooks.

In short, there hasn't yet been the breakthrough which ebooks have experienced (thanks primarily to efforts of Coker's Smashwords, I'm sure.)

At this point, it looks like we are still some years away.

Why do audiobooks and go through all these painful hoops?

It is pretty much laid out in a blog post on Copyblogger:
I was at a dinner that Amazon had for self-published authors last October.

One guy who was making a solid living self-publishing science fiction novels told me that he always made an audiobook. I thought this was a horrible idea, and told him so.

But two things about audiobooks:
  1. He said, “When people see you have an audiobook, they see your book as even more credible. It stands out from the average self-published book when you have an ebook, a print version, and an audiobook. Plus, the audio book is more expensive, so even though there are fewer sales, it’s decent money.” By the way, if you self-publish, always do a print book at the very least. Even if 99% of your sales are going to be ebook.
  2. I asked the head of an ad agency what marketing tips he had for me for my upcoming book. He said, first thing, “Make an audiobook. For your kind of book, people will love listening to it while they drive into work.”

Short answer: Credibility, which means more sales. Your book is an ebook, your book is a hardcopy (even better if you put the hardback up there), and your book is an audiobook. Looks like someone is taking some professional interest in this. Now you have a choice of what you want to buy. And on Amazon, the "deal" is always the ebook, which is cheaper than anything else.

It's going to boost your sales, even if you don't sell many audiobooks themselves. 

You simply don't know what sales you're missing until you get something up there. This has been true for ebooks since the beginning - and is why you need to be on all the major and minor distributors out there - they all have slightly different readers, audiences, and (most importantly) different "recommending" algorithms.

Also, when you can package audio with your ebook, it's adding value. Gives you multiple price-points.

So, now that you're sold on creating your audio book, what are your options?

A small handful - about three or four out of the following:
Audible via ACX. This is the 900lb. gorilla in the room. Either have your work done professionally, or prepare for the learning curve necessary to become a pro at this. This is the only DIY route you can use to get into iTunes and Amazon. Nowhere else will post your audio book here that I know of without paying through the nose. Again, quality is required.

Podiobooks. How to give away your audio book chapters for free. Costs you monthly hosting with Libsyn. Does link to your ebook and iTunes. Has a suggested donation price. Their mentoring program will bring you up to speed - which may enable you to get your book past the ACX quality hurdles once you "graduate."

Internet Archives. Again, free. No quality hassles. They host your files - whatever you upload. You can link to your website in the description, and it also has an embeddable player.

Soundcloud. Free, with premium options. Hosts your sound files and makes them embeddable. If you go over their limits, some of your tracks become hidden. (Premium un-hides them.) Internet Archives widget probably a better deal. However, this is more socially-connected - but you can't promote a buying link (unless your item is on iTunes or GooglePlay where you can search through an app.)

CD Baby. A one-time fee for them to burn and warehouse your CD. That's about it. No MP3 downloads of individual tracks that I can find, although they enable this for music. You're apparently able to promote somewhat, although all the FAQs and descriptions are for bands and music.

Kunaki. They simply burn and dropship your CDs (and DVD's) for you. Recently, they enabled a service where they'd collect your price, take a split, and ship the disc, with the rest of the money going into your PayPal account. But you have to sell one of each disc every 180 days, or they delete the files.

iAmplify. These deal with video and audio downloads. They don't check quality per their FAQ, but can remove content on their own prerogative if they want to. Premium ($250/year) gives you your own page to sell your stuff. They have an embeddable ecommerce widget to sell directly from your site page. You get 70% of direct sales, 40% of affiliate sales (yes, an affiliate program, so your listeners can make money by selling your stuff.) Only pay publishers every 90 days, Affiliates get paid monthly. (I see that you can also sell re-curring payment memberships here...)

OverDrive. This is the one which should be gotten into, as it serves libraries and many retailers with CD's. Apparently the only real competitor to Amazon/Audible. More research to do here, as this is a direct line to retailers for ebooks as well as audiobooks and even videos. Per their blurb: "OverDrive is a leading multichannel digital distributor of eBooks, audiobooks, music, and video." There will be a follow-up post to this one, as it looks very promising. No apparent quality check on submitted content. - says they deal in all manner of digital downloads. Exclusive gets you a 70% commission, non-exclusive 65%. Will also print books and cards for you. They seem true to their gamers roots, but the fiction site would apply for digital distribution of your fiction audiobook.

Spoken Books Publishing - only want professionally-mastered audiobooks submitted. Here's where the 11,000 words = one 72 minute CD. They make money from both recording and also mastering your CD.

eBookIt! While these guys are essentially another Lulu (although not as well organized) with epub conversion, POD, etc. they also do digital audiobooks. They submit to Audible, Amazon, and iTunes for you - for a cut of the royalty. Books must be of Audible-acceptable quality.

CreateSpace - this is a dead end. Will only allow 72 minutes of a book (one CD's worth.) Basically no support for audiobooks - but could get your CD onto Amazon. (Forum link is dated, but I haven't found a better explanation.) There is also creating DVDs on demand, but that emphasis is for films.

Self-mastered, self-sold.
  There are many places who will master and duplicate your CD for you. Then you will need to sell and deliver them. Amazon Advantage will take a certain number and sell them for you on Amazon (you do the sales copy writing, natch) and they take care of fulfillment. Kunaki can also burn and ship them to Amazon on your behalf. Otherwise, it's having stacks in your garage and you deliver them as you can. Ecommerce, and all that. Takes the fun out of it, a bit.

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Boiling down this stew...

The stand-outs above are iAmplify and OverDrive, since you can get started right away. Right now, these seem to be the only real alternatives to Audible/Amazon/iTunes. OverDrive should be able to get you into B&N and anywhere that does digital downloads. Like your ebook, you'll have quality issues unless you are an excellent editor. Going through Podiobooks Mentoring program would be advised. iAmplify looks cheaper, but has an affiliate program. No bundling that I can tell.

It would seem that the time you spend with Podiobooks in improving your delivery would be one of the best investments you could make. With multiple books, you could then DIY any number of these and upload directly to ACX and anywhere else.

As covered earlier, if you want to pay for professional recording, then this would make things much simpler. Your book goes right into Audible/Amazon/iTunes and you can also submit it to OverDrive and anywhere else. If you're already overloaded with titles screaming to get out of your head and onto paper (and you have a day  job to cover expenses) then it might be better to have someone else do the recording - particularly if  your book is moving up the Kindle ranks.

While you can get away with submitting almost anything to iAmplify, I'd want to only submit professional quality to OverDrive - because of where its going to wind up. Your reputation on B&N and other major retailers would suffer if there were a high volume of returns - and could affect your regular book sales. Regardless, the work you do should always be your best. And later work should continue to set the bar higher.

If you are simply doing the audio book for promotion - or to include as a bonus in a package or bundle on LeanPub or an affiliate site like JVZoo or PayDotCom, then quality isn't so much an issue as authenticity. Plus, you'll just get better as you keep doing them.

Your approach to this (the end result you want) and your resources, will determine which of these above you should use.

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Notes on Public Domain and PLR

My business model currently has expanding the number of titles I publish by using these types of existing content. For Public Domain, most of the true bestsellers are already available on Librivox and others. The time you spend to make new recordings may not be worth it. While bundling these might be viable, you'd also probably want to encourage donations to Librivox to support their efforts (plus make substantial dono's of your own.) You'd have to wonder why someone would pay you for a single download instead of going to Librivox to download them there for free - but at least you can give them an offer... Ethically, I can't see going through this hassle just to make some profit - better would be to give a sample and encourage their donations.

Finding public domain books in niches and then creating audiobooks for them would be very valuable in niches. The audiobook would be your copyright, regardless  - books in the public domain converted to audiobooks would be copyrighted based on the performance, as any audio rights were also forfeit.

PLR would fit nicely into audiobooks, since many of these are short reports (unless you combine them - which is an editing nightmare of it's own, since the writing styles vary.) If you are re-writing these, then you have every reason to create an audiobook and reap the profits. Creating a one-file audiobook to match the content would set up nicely as a package or bundle. Some more recent PLR already come with audio and video files, so this is worth looking into.

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Final thoughts. 

For the professional product, get someone to master them for you. Hunt around to find quality at low prices. I was found by Archangel Ink and found them completely reasonable, so I bit. Route: ACX/Amazon/Itunes/OverDrive

There are some other products where I will do some combination of PLR or own recordings, or existing public domain recordings (depending on original source.) Route: Leanpub/Affiliate sales sites.

In other cases, I'm going to start podcasting my blog posts, which will then eventually become an audiobook as well as ebook. Routes: 1) Internet Archives/Soundcloud/iAmplify/Leanpub, 2) Podiobooks mentorship -> ACX, etc.

The training route would be to start podcasting your blog posts first, while you upgrade your equipment and home studio. Migrate to Podiobooks mentoring and eventually you can submit to ACX directly and you'll be on the High Road to profits from there on out.

[Update: Publishing audiobooks through Findaway Voices is another option. Larger, non-exclusive distribution.]

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Your thoughts on this would be appreciated. Leave a comment if you can.
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1 comment:

  1. As a note, when you're doing special reports with podcasting as a duo, consider CDBaby and/or CS to get your short audio up there along with that report...