More than two years ago I decided to experiment with producing an audiobook edition of To Carry the Horn, the first book of The Hounds of Annwn. Many new authors were having success with audiobook editions, and I wanted to get some experience with the market and the process.
I looked at the primary partner at the time (and still), ACX, where most people went for this service. The process was well-laid out and very thorough. They offer voice actors who charge by the finished-hour of recording. There are ways of having some of that cost subsidized. It's a very clean, seductive marketplace, bringing authors and voice performers together and distributing the results.
I went through the audition process and located a couple of promising voice actors but then I… stopped. You see, the costs to produce an audiobook are quite high.
Excluding your own labor to write a book (by far the largest expense), the out-of-pocket costs for producing ebook and print editions can be very moderate indeed. If you can do much of it yourself, you can keep the costs of a new book's combined ebook and print expense to well under $400, maybe under $200 if you can do your own covers. That includes distribution costs (worldwide).
Audiobooks, however, have a cost-per-finished hour. For good voice actors, who do their own studio work, that can run $100-$400/finished-hour, and To Carry the Horn is 14.5 hours long. Worse, ACX makes the assumption that this is much too difficult for people to figure out on their own, and charged (at the time — terms may now be different) a large royalty for the privilege, and required a 7-year exclusive contract. I am allergic to exclusive contracts, but they were right about the laziness factor.
My finger was literally hovering over the go-ahead button when ACX made a new announcement that cut the rates for the publisher even further, and that was the last straw for me. I spent the next couple of months learning how to do this myself.
I found a local music recording studio in my rural area, bought some scripting software to help turn my laptop into a teleprompter, and studied up on my Welsh pronunciation. All of my readers who complained about unpronounceable Welsh names should feel pleased with their revenge, as I was obliged to render into pleasing sounds all those unspellable nouns.
In a prior life I'd done a stint as a public radio folk music show host, so with my mellow announcer's voice I spent much of a week in studio, reading my book into unforgiving microphones. It was hard work, but lots of fun! The producer was good, I corrected a few typos that showed up even at that late date (read your books out loud when proofreading!) and — presto — I had an audiobook in CD and MP3 form. Terrific!
My ultimate cost worked out to about $100/finished-hour, and I owned the result free and clear.
So why am I only making this announcement now?
Distribution. GACK — that was a nightmare. I worked with a couple of firms that promised to be worldwide distributors (in audiobooks, that means they distribute to the handful of audiobook distribution channels, the way Ingram distributes to print channels), but they weren't ready for prime time. As in: hobby businesses, no staff, no technology, no infrastructure. I even toyed with the notion of trying to take over one of them and create competition for ACX but I don't have deep enough pockets. (I used to do that sort of thing with software businesses.)
So it languished. Every now and then I would glance up on my shelves and see the CD-box for the originals, think about what I paid for them, and wince.
And then I discovered AuthorsRepublic. That's exactly what I was looking for. They cover all the obvious audiobook channels, they deliver an acceptable royalty (similar to print yields once you price the audiobooks higher than print, which is why everyone's prices are so high), and there's none of this 7-years-of-exclusivity nonsense. The process of working with them was straightforward.
This only covers the MP3 (streaming) edition for now. My assumption that everyone also needs CDs seems to be wrong — that's a minority position associated with physical product costs (like print vs ebooks) — but if it looks as if there's a demand, AuthorsRepublic can also handle CD distribution.
I don't have huge expectations for sales, though my beta listeners are pleased with the quality. We'll see. At least this edition is out there now to support my ebook and print editions. And there's plenty of time for it to build an audience.
I chalk this up to professional education — the knowledge of how to do this, how to maximize the return, and so forth — that was what I wanted to achieve. Mission accomplished.
If you're interested in listening to samples, follow the retailer links here, or just listen to the first five minutes of the opening: