This is the second of a two-part series on the current state of audiobooks. If you missed Part One, you can read it here.
The audiobook marketplace is growing, but is it the right fit for you?
Audiobooks More Accessible to Indie Authors
The audio world is becoming increasingly indie-friendly. It is open to new titles, as demonstrated by the rapid expansion in recent years. Some books translate better than others to audio formats: Certain types of fiction (especially mysteries, romance, thrillers, and even erotica), narrative nonfiction and how-to or inspirational titles are among those that work best.
Audio is growing internationally, too. In India, for example, large businesses both locally and from the United States are moving in to develop what is expected to be a massive audiobook market.
Michele Cobb, executive director of the Audio Publishers Association (APA), said in a recent article that “Audio publishers are constantly mining the coffers of agents and publishers to find their next great title to record. If a title is not picked up by an existing audio publisher, however, it does not mean the title cannot make it to audio. Authors and book publishers have the option of doing it themselves, through a number of roads. Audiobook production studios across the country are available to assist, and they will help with casting, recording, directing and mastering an audio production. They are experts for a reason.”
At a basic level, creating an audiobook is easy: Find a microphone, attach it to recording equipment and start talking. Some authors have experimented with simply speaking aloud about a given subject—maybe with help of an outline or script—and foregoing the print or eBook version altogether. Podcasts and other audio files are already available for sale at places like iTunes. But most audiobooks are based on books that are also available in print or eBook formats.
Three years ago BookWorks ran a three-part series on recording an audiobook, covering the basic equipment involved, handling credits and other technical considerations, and editing audio files. A May 2015 BookWorks article highlighted three different avenues that could help authors get the job done: Common Mode Studio, Booktrack (soundtracks and ambient audio) and ACX (Amazon platform).
The Nuts & Bolts of Audiobook Production
Along with audiobooks' rise in popularity has come increased expectations. Just as readers won’t put up with frequent typos in print books, so they won’t tolerate poor sound quality or amateurish narration in audiobooks. Most authors will find professional help near-essential in elevating their audiobooks to commercial standards.
Sound engineering is a professional field unto itself, with its own jargon and set of criteria. ACX, for example, lists these among their requirements for audiobooks submitted to their service:
- be consistent in overall sound and formatting and be comprised of all mono or all stereo files
include opening and closing credits and a retail audio sample that is between one and five minutes long
- contain only one chapter/section that's shorter than 120 minutes and the section header must be read aloud
- have room tone at the head and at the tail and be free of extraneous sounds
- measure between -23dB and -18dB RMS and have -3dB peak values and a maximum -60dB noise floor
- be a 192kbps or higher MP3, Constant Bit Rate (CBR) at 44.1 kHz
Such requirements are a good reason to invest in professional audiobook production done in a studio. In the digital age, this can range from large established facilities to smaller (and possibly more affordable) hi-tech home studios.
Odds are that you will need help with narrating the book too.
Some authors do narrate their own books, and it can work. ACX even offers some encouragement for author narrators, noting that “You know your characters, your story or subject, and your words better than anyone else. Narrating is a creative way of expressing your thoughts to listeners, just like articulating them on paper is a way to express yourself to readers.”
Still, there are good reasons most commercial audiobooks feature trained narrators. (Narrators can be found through many of the audio-related websites mentioned here, including ACX and Audible.com.) Karen Commins, an experienced professional narrator, writes, “a good narrator will make the performance transparent and SEEM like the easiest thing on earth … just like talking. However, good narrators usually have completed professional training in voice-over and also have thoroughly prepared the material they are reading by researching pronunciations and determining characterizations before they ever walked into the recording studio.”
She also suggests, “audiobook narration requires a different skill set than commercial voiceover or theatre acting, though either or both disciplines are very helpful toward becoming a successful narrator. A great way to start developing these skills is to record for the blind and/or volunteer for LibriVox.” LibriVox is a free service in which public domain books are read aloud by volunteers and turned into audiobooks.
Amazon’s ACX service is set up to simplify some of the technical issues. It works most easily for authors seeking professional help getting their text turned into an audiobook, and ACX does assist with getting books placed on Audible and other retail sites. Its website says that as of this month, “We have 2,842 titles open for auditions [by narrators], 34,804 producers to choose from, and 58,727 audiobooks on sale at Audible, Amazon, and iTunes.”
Narrators can be found in other places as well. Voices.com has a large collection of them, with audio samples available for listening. The Audio Publishers Association also has a list of studios and technicians available for helping authors develop audiobooks.
If you can get past the hurdle of creating an audiobook to professional standards, the actual distribution of the files may be an easier task.
Many options exist for sending audio files out to the world. An array of substantial organizations, including library providers like Overdrive and Findaway and commercial retailers like Audible, iTunes, Audiobooks.com, Barnes & Noble, and TuneIn, are in exactly that business.
Audible, which is an Amazon company, is the elephant in the audio distribution room. (Remember the audiobook survey in Part One of this series; Audible is the single largest source for audiobooks buyers.) Like many other companies selling audiobooks, it uses a subscription model: “For $14.95/month, you'll get one monthly credit good for any audiobook. You can buy additional audiobooks for 30% off the retail price, access daily sales with audiobooks as low as $2.99/each.” The corporate connection means easy access to the Amazon store as well.
A new service, launched in November 2015, also has strong potential benefit for indies. Called Author’s Republic, it is a project of Audiobooks.com and has been described as a “Smashwords for audiobooks.” Indies can use it in addition to other providers; AR points out on its home page, “Already selling your books through ACX? No problem! You can keep your current ACX account, and we'll handle selling them everywhere else.”
Sanjay Singhal, the CEO of Audiobooks.com, said that "There are a lot of places to sell audiobooks, but until now, there was no easy way for authors to access them. Services like Smashwords and Draft2Digital have done great things for eBook distribution. Now, Author's Republic is doing the same thing for audiobooks."
Self-publishing authors may find cracking the brick-and-mortar bookstore field a tougher proposition, though it can be done. New options emerged for enabling indie audiobook producers to move into independent bookstores with the arrival of libro.fm. That site describes itself as providing a curated list of audiobooks but also said, “we want to ensure our favorite indie stores continue to flourish too. We have a number of exciting collaborations with independent stores, authors, and publishers lined up for the future . . .”
Audiobooks may not have been a mainstay for indie authors in the past, but advances in technology and easier access to audio production have opened the way for indie authors to get in on the action.
Readers & Writers: I look forward to your feedback, comments, and critiques, and please use BookWorks as your resource to learn more about preparing, publishing and promoting self-published books.
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