Audiobooks in India were once a poor cousin of the physical copy. Never easily available the whole thing was rather messy to use. Not anymore.
A darling of the publishing world, the sales of audiobooks in India have had eight continuous years of double-digit growth as of 2020. Readers are listening to more books per year and so naturally, there has been an increase in new titles and everyone from Neil Gaiman to Barack Obama are making sure they release an audiobook version of their book along with the physical copy.
Although the market for audiobooks in India is nascent, major players such as Audible have entered the market recently because countries such as India & China are predicted to be high growth areas. In fact, this might already be happening in 2020, when affected by COVID, the market for audiobooks in India got a boost. So existing platforms are looking for local books and new platforms are looking to break in.
So, what exactly is selling?
As of 2020, listeners prefer the perennial favourites: mysteries and thrillers - no surprises. But this might change. Children’s books are predicted to be an area where year-on-year growth could be as high as 40 percent in some markets. So it makes sense that if you are a newly published writer or even an established one with a book in any genre, you should think of getting an audiobook out.
But before you begin, here is a quick primer on the industry.
Audible, with a market share of 41% of the global market is clearly the dominant player. Being owned by Amazon, it naturally has a large captive audience that already prefers the e-commerce giant for online book purchases. Coupled with a subscription model where listeners can redeem a credit each month against an audiobook irrespective of its price helped Audible define pricing for the entire market. With its large collection, seamless integration with other Amazon products such as Kindle and Alexa, this is probably the first place your book might snag a reader.
To enable self-published authors, Audible has the Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX), a tool to get audiobooks produced. ACX is a marketplace that connects authors with narrators and producers who can help get an audiobook produced. On paper the process is simple enough: create a book profile for your book, audition producers and narrators, sign a deal, and start recording. For its part, Audible / ACX allows you to chose not to put any money into the production by signing up to the Royalty share program which shares royalties between author, producer, and narrator once sales start. Of course, you can choose also to produce yourself by paying narrators and producers for each finished hour of the audiobook.
It is important to remember that a royalty split deal makes you exclusive to ACX for a period of seven years. During this time your audiobook will only be available on Amazon, Audible, and iTunes. ACX also has programs such as the Podcast Development Program where authors can submit their story for a grant of possible commissioning fee of $10K. Audible further extends its support to new writers by highlighting hidden gems (well-reviewed but less purchased) books in its listener recommendations from time to time. Right now, ACX only accepts authors US, UK, Canada, and Ireland with a valid TIN. So if you are an author outside of these locations you will need other tools.
Also, a subscription-based service that offers a great range of books to choose from, the audiobooks.com app further distinguishes itself by offering some cool features such as multi-device syncing, bookmarks, and the ability to create notes easily.
They too have an ACX like service called Author’s republic. The site announces clearly what distinguishes them from ACX on the home page “Sell Audiobooks everywhere” it says in all caps. It accepts audiobooks from authors from all across the globe and gives them an option to list their books on a platform of choice for the price they chose.
Royalties could be as high as 70% and are irrespective of the prices offered by the distributor platforms. It sounds good until you realise that Author’s republic does not help you produce the audiobook, but expects you to come to them after you have the book ready. They review it to ensure minimum quality standards and then pass it on to the distributors of your choice.
Probably as well-known as Amazon they also have a subscription-based service that benefits by being both an e-book and audiobook platform. So they offer a listener cross-platform integration with a bundled e-book reader and have a pretty decent collection of books to choose from.
Through Kobo Writing Life, Kobo accepts audiobooks from new writers. What authors should know is that through their sister concern Overdrive Kobo has access to a large library network as well as having distribution deals with companies such as Walmart.
Libraries are an important source of finding new readers for an author because almost 20% of the listeners in the US mentioned they downloaded their audiobooks from a library. As for royalties, subscription-based sales might be around 30% while a-la-carte sales might earn up to 45%.
Scribd is a subscription-based service with a difference. While other platforms offer a book a month with a subscription, Scribd has chosen to become the Netflix of books. For a subscription of $8.99 readers get access to an unlimited collection of e-books and audiobooks.
For a discerning reader though, there might be a problem with the current size of their collection, which is not as great as Audible. But that is not to say that it will not grow, especially if customers prefer unlimited access over the Audible model.
There is little information right now on how new authors can upload their work to Scribd. For their eBooks, they request an author to register with one of the five approved publishing services if you want to get paid, but a similar note is not available for audiobooks. Of course, you can choose to upload to the Author’s republic mentioned above and then choose Scribd as a distributor.
Google Playbooks and iTunes
You didn’t expect the two largest IT giants to sit this one out - did you? They also sell audiobooks and probably are the first place for someone new to the market to try an audiobook.
Apple, through its Books app, offers users the opportunity to buy audiobooks a-la-carte. With a market price of about $10 each the books are reasonably priced but the collection limited. Plus once a reader buys a book from Apple that is locked into the Apple eco-system and cannot be accessed by other devices.
Google also has a books app on its play store that offers a-la-carte purchases for a reasonable price but Apple has a limited collection. However, since Google products are more widely available across Mac and Android platforms, a purchase isn’t locked into an ecosystem and is hence more convenient.
Apple does not list audiobooks directly from authors. You have to sign-up for one of their audiobooks preferred distribution partners to be listed. These distributors also help you create your audiobooks but might have terms and conditions you need to pay attention to. The good news is that Apple does list Findaway as one of their preferred partners. This is a popular ACX type tool for many new writers.
Google also does not offer authors production support. However, it is not clear if they do have a trusted partner program to upload the book. It is likely they do because non-verified audiobooks would have quality & ownership issues. In any case, for a new writer, it is probably a good idea to get into Google play via the Author’s Republic of Findaway.
I could go on and on. We haven’t covered book summary apps such as Blinkist or getAbstract because that would be more of a listener experience.
As a writer, you want to be listed in as many places as possible but that is not always a simple decision. You see, if you are a writer from India self-published on Kindle, Amazon tools such as ACX are not yet available. This means that you will need to record your audiobook yourself and then use tools such as Author’s Republic or Findaway to list them on some of the platforms mentioned above. But, unlike self-published e-books producing audiobooks, it is not a matter of writing a book and putting it up for sale on a platform.
You cannot narrate an audiobook on your laptop and expect these apps to take it up. They demand a certain minimum quality and that means you will need to get your book produced to a certain quality level. This is the place where most authors give up, but as I found out, it isn’t such a hard thing to do. Especially if you know where to go.