Audiobooks: An Explosion of Sound!

Maria V.

From its humble beginnings in 1931, when the American Foundation of the Blind and the Library of Congress established the Talking Book Program, the audiobook has evolved into a major branch of publishing.

From its humble beginnings in 1931 when the American Foundation of the Blind and the Library of Congress established the Talking Book Program, the audiobook has evolved into a major branch of publishing. Technology has played a significant role in its development, starting in the 1950s when record companies began distributing albums for books. The invention of the cassette tape in 1963 allowed audiobooks to become more accessible. Fast forward to 2002, when CDs changed the market and ruled until digital downloads dominated. Back in 2009, approximately 4,600 audiobooks were recorded, and in 2021 approximately 74,000 audiobooks were recorded. Not only an explosion of sound, but of sales.
Audiobooks are the fastest growing aspect of digital publishing. US sales were estimated at $1.6 billion dollars in 2021—a 23% increase from 2020. The US is the world’s largest audiobook market. Back in 2019, audiobook sales surpassed eBook sales, earning 22% more money than eBooks. The growth in revenue is expected to continue at a rate of 20-25% per year over the next seven years. The numbers confirm that this is not a trend, but a viable income source.
Over 116 million people in the US listened to audiobooks in 2021. Listeners aged 18 to 29 years old make up 30%, with 30-49 year-olds coming in a close second at 27% and those 50 to 64 years-old at 22%. A 2022 Survey Monkey poll reported 73% of consumers listen to audiobooks while commuting; 33% while doing chores; 25% while exercising; 15% while at work; %5 while shopping, and 8% while doing other tasks.  
All this market information is great news for authors. Publishers and audiobook producers are actively seeking content. And the technology exists where independent authors can produce their own audiobook. Lots of options, but also lots of information and lots of confusion for authors. Where do you start?
If you have a publisher that is interested in acquiring your audiobook rights there are some things to consider. Do you already have a reader base? If so, then you might want to produce the audiobook yourself to earn higher royalties. If you’re a new author, then selling those rights may be for the best. Publishers can afford to hire top level narrators and have the distribution channels. Once you’ve built up a listener base, then you can decide if you’d rather produce your future books. If you sell your rights, try to be as involved as possible. Ask for narrator approval, and, if they don’t agree, have a list of narrators you think would best fit your protagonist. Also provide a list of pronunciations and be open to a phone or Zoom call to go over this list with your narrator.
For independent authors, you have a couple options as well. You can sell your audiobook rights to an independent publisher, you can do it yourself, or you can go hybrid. Just like the traditional publisher, the audiobook publishers come in all different sizes. The bigger ones like Harper Audio, Recorded Books, and Books on Tape will only accept submissions from agents. Then there are the ones like Brilliance Audio and Oasis Audio who prefer an agent, but will consider unagented submissions. However there are plenty like Audible Originals, Novel Audio, and Upfront Books that will consider submissions from everyone.

Read the entire article in the May 2023 issue of InD'Tale magazine.

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