I just finished recording / editing an audio version of my book, The User Method, and so far I've been severely unimpressed with the amount of audiobook knowledge and guidance out there. It seems that... nobody knows anything about audiobooks. Not about how many sales to anticipate, whether or not its even worth doing, how long it takes to record, how much you can make, how to upload them to Amazon, etc... nothing. Or they make up some useless opinion-less article about how making an audiobook is "worth it" because, who knows, maybe President Obama likes to listen to them, so that would be nice for him to have a copy.
So here's what I've learned so far. First, whether or not it's worth doing at all. Then, how long it takes. And finally, how to distribute. I'll make all the important stuff bold so you can cruise through this if you're low on time, or, like me, have like seven tabs open at the same time with different answers to the same question.
1. To Audiobook Or Not to Audiobook
I hate unfounded opinions. So here's some data, fools. The below shows number of reviews for a few books per book format. This isn't sales. But you have to believe it gives a reasonable indication of sales.
Conclusion: If you're tight on resources, Audiobooks are so not worth producing.
(This data set is an aggregate of five business books: The Lean Startup, Zero to One, Rework, The Hard Thing About Hard Things, and Good to Great.)
Here's what really gets me. ACX, which seems to be the only way to get an Audiobook on Amazon and Audible, offers either 40% or 25% royalties to authors. And that's if you produce the auiobook yourself. If you get them to do the reading for you, you get half that (20% or 12.5%).
So, for the grand privilege of doing the enormous amount of work it is to write a book, produce an audiobook, and then market and sell it, Amazon "pays you" 12.5% to 40% of total revenue. Wow, thanks Amazon. What a great deal.
Well, at least they wrote a few chapters for me.
Oh wait. No they didn't.
But they did help edit the book.
Oh, no they didn't.
But they did write a press release when I launched to drive a few sales, right?
No. No, they did not.
So what did they do? They hosted the files, and when someone clicked download, they delivered them. Dropbox and Google Drive do that for free. Amazon charges 60% to 87.5%. And then they make it sound like they're doing you a favor by paying you a "generous" royalty.
Actually, I think it's the other way around, Amazon. I'm paying you, you morons.
And they don't let you price your own book!
Second Conclusion: It's even less worth it to produce an audiobook than I had originally thought. (Throwback to my original thought: If you're tight on resources, Audiobooks are so not worth producing.)
2. How Long Does it Take to Produce an Audiobook?
I've read all kinds of blog posts talking about how it's sooooo easy and it only took them like 2 hours to record their entire book.
When's the last time you read a book in two hours?
In my case (29,000 word book), it took something like 50 hours. Here's why:
First, it just takes a while to read out loud. Especially the kind of out loud that's going to sound good in audiobook format, with spacious pauses between sentences and such.
Second, you'll mess up occasionally. (Or maybe on every sentence.) You'll pronounce something wrong, forget to breath in before a sentence and find yourself wheezing through the last few words, or not drink enough water and your mouth will make some gross dehydrated smacking noises as you read. So you'll have to redo some (or a lot) of it.
Third, if you don't have a professional studio - and I mean seriously professional - you're going to wind up with a bunch of unwanted noises you never anticipated. The trash truck outside backs up right in the middle of your chapter. The heater or A/C turns on (every 30 minutes, dang heater). Someone upstairs decided to tear out their carpet and install tile right when you start recording. You get up to grab some juice from the fridge to cut down on the dry smacking sounds your mouth is making, and right when you sit down to start recording again, the fridge's compressor turns on.
So, you'll just have to wait.
Conclusion: All this adds up like you wouldn't believe and the result is that it just takes a long time.
The more I've thought about it, the more I realized I have nothing to say about distribution yet. Basically, ACX is the only way to go. More on that as I figure it out.
Conclusion to End All Conclusions
In sum, I can see no defensible reason for producing an audiobook. I'll update this with actual sales data from my book once it's all said and done, but so far... I don't think it will be worth the enormous effort it required to produce.