The Guide to Publishing Audiobooks: How to Produce and Sell an Audiobook

The Guide to Publishing Audiobooks: How to Produce and Sell an Audiobook

by Jessica Kaye

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What You Need to Know to PUBLISH YOUR AUDIOBOOK!

The Guide to Publishing Audiobooks has everything you need to know to acquire rights, produce, publish, and distribute audiobooks to expand your audience for both fiction and nonfiction, and how you can increase your bottom line in the process. Multiple Grammy Award-winning audiobook producer and director Jessica Kaye shares invaluable knowledge garnered in her years as an entertainment and publishing attorney, and audiobook publisher, producer, director, and distributor. With her insights, you'll learn how to evaluate a potential audiobook project, obtain the rights for audio publishing, or self-publish your own audiobook.

This comprehensive, easy-to-understand guide shows you how to:

   • Create a high-quality production including best practices for effectively working with narrators, producers, directors, engineers, and sound editors.
   • Choose an appropriate narrator.
   • Understand and manage distribution in the digital age.

Plus, this guide includes examples of commonly used audiobook contracts and explanations of key industry terms so you can feel confident in your business dealings.

Whether you're an independent publisher looking to expand your business or an author trying to grow your readership, The Guide to Publishing Audiobooks is your go-to resource for navigating the audiobook industry.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781440354496
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/11/2019
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 230
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Jessica Kaye is an entertainment and publishing attorney at Kaye & Mills ( and a multi-Grammy Award-winning audiobook director. She serves on the boards of the Audio Publishers Association, the Southern California chapter of Mystery Writers of America (MWA), and Screamfest Film Festival. Jessica owns Big Happy Family, LLC, an audiobook distributor ( She created and co-edited the anthology Meeting Across the River (BloomsburyUSA, 2005) and contributed a story to Occupied Earth (Polis Books, 2015) and Culprits (Polis Books, 2018.)

Read an Excerpt


Why Produce Audiobooks?

At the time of this book's original publication in 2019, every year for the past six years, audiobook sales have been on an upward trajectory. They continue to be a bright spot in publishing, even as other areas slow down. The 2017 sales survey results released by the Audio Publishers Association, or APA, of which you will hear more later in the book, showed a 22.7 percent increase in audiobook revenue over the previous year, with an increase of 21.5 percent in units sold.

Audiobooks have made such an impact in their visibility that The British Library in London had an exhibit titled "Listen: 140 Years of Recorded Sound" that ran from October 6, 2017, through May 13, 2018. It was not about the spoken word alone, but that was a part of it.

So here you are, at the cusp of rising sales and increased publicity for the very thing you were thinking would be a smart addition to your business. Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity, according to some interpretations of the words of the ancient Roman Seneca. Echoing those thoughts centuries later, Branch Rickey has been oft quoted as saying, "Luck is the residue of hard work and design." Being in the right place at the right time is a more prosaic way of saying something similar. Those words apply to you, today.


The major publishing houses have been including audiobooks in their publishing programs for decades. The market has grown from the days of fighting for acceptance and shelf space in bookstores in the 1980s to being an economic bright spot in the industry today. As sales and awareness of audiobooks grow, many of the non-major (by which I mean revenue, not quality of books) traditional publishers (by which I mean publishers who read and edit and publish books in the old-fashioned way, typically by offering an advance against a royalty or, if no advance, a royalty from dollar one, i.e. from the first revenue received) have begun either producing audiobooks or licensing the audio rights they hold to third parties. The difference between these two choices is significant, but both can bring revenue and value to the publisher's catalog. Producing audiobooks for sale still carries many of the same risks as publishing books because of the attendant costs of production, whereas licensing audio rights to third parties brings in revenue without any corresponding hard costs.

If you work within a traditional publishing house, it is time to consider audio rights as a valuable subsidiary right.Subsidiary rights are explained in detail in Chapter 4. For now, know that the phrase means rights other than the primary rights which, in this case, are rights that derive from the initial book contract.

If you are selling audio rights, your buyer will typically, but not always, be an independent audio publisher. This is primarily because the major publishers want to exploit audio rights to likely bestsellers or near bestsellers, and they have a great many of those types of books in their own stable. If the rights you are offering are connected to something which has exceptional marketability, such as a tie-in to a major motion picture, you may be able to strike a deal with one of the majors.

I have mixed feelings about publishers who do not produce audiobooks but ask for audio rights in their publishing agreements in order to resell them to audiobook publishers such as Blackstone Audio, Inc. and Tantor Media. Yes, being able to sell off those rights helps to subsidize the publishing of books and also can be seen as value added by making the author's books available in another format, but it also may give more revenue to the book publisher than is warranted. If you are a publisher doing this, I suggest you offer your authors a 60?40 split, rather than a standard split of 50?50, to recognize that the audiobook deal is thanks to your efforts and connections, but also to recognize that this type of sale may take relatively little effort on your part, especially if you have begun licensing your company's audio rights regularly to one or more audio publishers.

Whether you plan to be hands-on in producing and directing, or to hire one of the many freelance audiobook producers and directors to create the audiobooks for you, or you hire an in-house team, or you simply acquire audio rights when acquiring print rights and, in turn, sell those rights to audiobook publishing houses, audio rights are assets that demand attention. You can boost your bottom line and add the new format to your library of titles, or dispense with that and license the rights to third parties. As with all the different aspects of your publishing program, if you find the right audience, you can add ka-ching to your bottom line.


The burgeoning of digital recording and distribution, and the consequent diminution in cost of production have allowed authors to transition to self-publishers without the stigma that self-publishing carried in past years. The companies that catered to self-published authors used to be called vanity presses — a pejorative term, at least in the eyes of those in the publishing business. These companies offered authors the ability to see their books in print, but with the catch that it was the author who paid for that metamorphosis from manuscript to bound book, unlike with traditional publishers. Often vanity presses were for works that were not well written, not well edited, and would not have been produced without the services of the vanity press. At other times, they were used for books the authors intended for a specific and limited audience, such as family members. In the past, as today, there were good books that never found a home with a legitimate publisher, just as there are countless talented musicians who never find a record label willing to produce and sell their music. Vanity presses allowed these authors to at least have copies of their books printed. By and large, however, to be self-published was formerly a means of last resort.

That is no longer the case.

A number of authors are turning to self-publishing for various reasons including having the revenue from book sales come directly to them, being able to choose the cover, the timing of publication, and the formats — e-book, hardcover, paperback, audiobook, enhanced e-book. There are also many writers who choose to self-publish because they tried their luck with agents or traditional publishers without the desired results. Some of you who have picked up this guide have already been published by a third-party publisher and now are thinking of doing it yourself. Some of you have already published books on your own and want to branch into audiobook publishing. Some of you have already published or produced audiobooks and want to get better at it and do more of it. No matter the reason you are considering publishing an audiobook, your goal should be to make it a good audiobook. If you don't want that, why do it at all?

And that's why this book exists: to serve as your guide to publishing a good audiobook. After all, your reputation and your sales depend on the quality of your work.

Now let's get you started.


Audiobook Industry Overview

In Chapter 1, we touched on the growth of audiobook publishing as a result of digital solutions for both recording and distribution. Well, just as digital tools made it easier to produce audiobooks, they also made it easier for consumers to access them. The confluence of the increase in numbers of digital audiobooks being published along with the near ubiquity of electronic devices such as phones, laptops, and tablets, and the decrease in the price of audiobooks because they no longer required manufacturing, packaging, and shipping, have combined to propel sales upward.

Libraries began adding digital audiobooks to their offerings and retail download sites proliferated. People were listening to audiobooks in the car, at home, on the move because the audiobooks were on their hard drive, mp3 device, or accessed via an app on their phones! All of this tremendous growth in portability without diminution of quality has built the juggernaut that is the audiobook industry.


Spoken word storytelling likely has been around for almost as long as humans have been able to speak. It predated writing and printing. Perhaps some of your earliest memories are of someone telling you a story.

Despite its early origins, for many years the idea of the spoken word as a replacement or even a complement to the printed word was a little shocking, at least to the bookselling community. For years, when anyone asked what I did for a living, my answer usually brought two responses: "What is that?" or "Oh, you mean for the blind?"

In The Untold Story of the Talking Book, author Matthew Rubery made this observation about the origins of the audiobook:

Yet it is equally important to note that recorded books were never meant for people with disabilities alone. It is a misconception that recorded books began as a format for blind readers before being taken up by a broader readership in the second half of the twentieth century in the form of audiobooks. From the outset the audience for recorded speech reached well beyond those with disabilities. Edison's hypothetical audience included "the average reader" lacking either the time or the inclination to hold a book. His statement is one of the first to characterize reading as a secondary activity intended to accompany other pursuits. More important, it endorsed the professionalization of reading by insisting on the increased "amusement," "enjoyment," and "profit" to be had from listening to a trained reader. There is no idealization here of the silent reader's ability to voice texts for himself or herself. Even if audiences were already reading, Edison implies, they were not reading very well.

Generally speaking, the current audiobook industry has its roots in the 1980s, when bookstores such as Waldenbooks and Barnes & Noble somewhat grudgingly gave shelf space to the format. Denise Buzy-Pucheu was the audiobook buyer for Waldenbooks in the late 1980s, and she confirms that the chain was unwilling to dedicate much shelf space to audiobooks and was especially unwilling to give much unabridged audio a chance because the price point was high.

"Unabridged was considered more for the library and institutional markets because of price point," she said. Back then, she added, "It was a combination of shelf space [and] trying to get the consumer to purchase the medium, since most audiobook customers were those driving long distances in cars. No one was advertising audiobooks, even in holiday catalogs. Subliminal audio did well at certain times of the year, notably during the first quarter, when people made New Year's resolutions. Old-time radio (OTR) did well at Christmas. [As f]or general audiobooks, mysteries and audiobooks based on bestsellers did best."

Those of you who remember those days and listened to audiobooks back then might have preferred or abhorred abridgments and, either way, wondered why they existed. They existed in large part because, other than for short books, an unabridged production would have taken up more shelf space than bookstores were willing to allocate to this nascent format. The recordings were on cassette tapes then, and that required large packages, which were bulky and heavy and expensive. They were expensive because both the packaging and the cassettes themselves were costly to produce. The stores wanted to put more tried-and-true items out for sale; audiobooks were risky business.

It was primarily due to the bulk and necessarily high price of long recordings that abridgements were the dominant format for a number of years. That satisfied the buyers at the chains who could take risks on less-expensive programs that took up nominal amounts of space. Shelves with abridged audiobooks and a few specialty unabridged recordings began to appear in audiobook departments in bookstores in the 1980s.

That's a little bit of backstory to explain the landscape of commercial audiobooks. For a detailed look at the history of the recorded spoken word, I recommend The Untold Story of the Talking Book by Matthew Rubery (Harvard University Press, 2016).


When you sell an audiobook, or any type of book, to a retailer in the book trade, they receive a discount off the retail price. They have to get a discount because if they paid full retail price, they would not make any money when they sold the item to a customer. There are exceptions but for the most part, publishing industry discounts fall between 30 to 60 percent. When you get to the high end of the discount rates, more than 55 percent, you are either selling to someone who has superior bargaining power — a megastore, for example — or you are making what is known as a nonreturnable sale. Nonreturnable sales are just what they sound like: The customer is buying audiobooks that they are not allowed to return. This is a rare bright spot in the publisher's world: a sale that remains a sale. You give the customer a large discount, and they waive their right to return products.

If you are already a publisher then you know that book publishing is, for the most part, a returnable business. If this is new language to you, returnable sales mean that anything you have sold to a bookstore may be returned at any time, and you must credit the customer's account or even cut them a check. This can happen surprisingly soon after shipping the product to the retailer, or it can be months or even years later. For many small publishers, receiving returns makes the difference between being in the black, when you believe you are expecting payment of outstanding invoices to, instead, being in the red because of returns. Returns are the bane of the publishing industry, but it has long been this way, and although a few publishers take a stand against it now and again, it is still how things work. A clothing store may mark down a blouse that did not sell at full price but a bookstore can simply box up items that haven't sold and return them.

Obviously, many bookstores do have items marked with low sale prices. This is rarely because they have marked down a book in the same way the fashion industry or other retailers might mark down the goods they sell. When booksellers have sales on books, it's typically because they have discounted best-selling books in order to compete with,, and other online booksellers, or the store has purchased overstocks or remaindered books. As a publisher, you should understand the difference between these two terms.

Publishers have overstocks when their inventory on any particular title or titles far exceeds what is needed to fulfill orders in the foreseeable future. This could be as a result of overprinting, or it could be due to returns. For example, a publisher may have printed 10,000 copies of a book, anticipating that they will receive initial orders for 8,000 units, and wanting to have enough copies on hand to fill new orders or reorders. It may be that they don't have many reorders or new orders and so they have many books in inventory that appear to be unneeded. The publisher can choose to deeply discount the price of the overstock books and sell them off, simply to recoup their manufacturing monies and to avoid having books taking up space in a warehouse. Unless the publisher owns their own warehouse, they are likely paying monthly rental fees for the space in which they store their books. It is often economically more sensible to get rid of the extra books at a low price than to keep them on hand, hoping for a future buyer. Overstocks are not necessarily the end of the book's lifespan, but just a temporary housecleaning measure.

Remainders are similar in that they are sold to retailers at a deeply discounted price. Remainders are typically the books in inventory at the end of their publishing life. It could be that the contract for the book has expired; it could be that the sales of the title are low enough that the publisher is taking it out of print. When the publisher removes it from print, they need to do something with the inventory because they are either losing the right to sell the book or permanently clearing out a title that is no longer selling very well. In both cases, cutting the price deeply in order to get the product out of the warehouse, rather than not sell it at all, makes sense.

If you have ever bought books at a low price and seen a pen mark along the bottom, the side, or the top of the book, that book was remaindered or sold as overstock. That pen marking is one way publishers ensure that books sold for very little are not returned by someone claiming to have paid the wholesale or full retail price.


Excerpted from "The Guide to Publishing Audio Books"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Jessica Kaye.
Excerpted by permission of F+W Media, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

1. Why Produce Audiobooks?,
2. Audiobook Industry Overview,
3. Taking Audiobook Inventory — Is It Feasible to Turn Your Book into an Audiobook? Assessing Your Book's Potential for Audio, Including a Cost/Benefit Analysis with a Typical Budget,
4. Acquiring Audiobook Rights Including Jessica's Top 3 Rules for Audiobook Publishers,
5. Contracts They're Not Boring, They're Essential!,
6. How to Publish Traditional Audio Publisher, Self-Publisher, or Hybrid,
7. What Makes an Audiobook Sound Good? Narrators, Studios, and Engineers — Oh My!,
8. Nuts and Bolts How the Audiobook Sausage Gets Made (What Actually Happens in Preparing, Recording, and Editing Your Audiobook),
9. Getting Your Audiobook to Market and Marketing Your Audiobook,
10. More Legal Stuff,
Bonus Chapter,
Audiobook Publication Contract,
Narration Agreement,
Alternate Narration Agreement,
About the Author,

Customer Reviews