Written by: Robin Erwin, Ingram's Digital Retail Sales Manager
FOMO is real, y'all. Fear of missing out on the boom of audiobooks, fear of missing out on a new audience, fear of missing out on sales. Anytime FOMO appears the best advice is to stop and ask yourself, are you really missing out? The audiobook boom is real. New reporting by the Audio Publishing Association and Edison Research shows the upward trend continues. Yet, the question remains: Does every book need to be audio? Or can every book be audio?
Before we get to the question of 'if' a book should become audio, stop and ask a completely different question: "Do I have audiobook rights and what territories do those rights cover?". The US has the largest base of sales today, even as growth in Europe is starting to take off. Without US rights, are there enough sales to cover the investment? What about the language used to create the audiobook? Do you have the rights to the English version, yet not the German language rights? Often, the author or agent will separate the audio rights from print rights, and may separate the audiobooks rights based on language. Read contracts carefully before investing in production.
Next, does a backlist, current, or forthcoming book need an audiobook format? One rule of thumb suggests that if a book has sold or is forecasted to sell 3,000+ in print/ebook, then it is a good candidate for an audiobook. The forecast that works for print is not an exact fit for audio. While newly released titles have front-loaded sales, audiobooks tend to have a longer shelf life and can see continued sales for up to five years. If a bestselling backlist title is still seeing sales, it has potential.
A good book will sell no matter the format, and sales of a not-so-great-book are, well, not so great regardless of format. Still, some genres do better in audio than others. All flavors of Fiction are popular with listeners, yet Mystery/Thrillers/Suspense rise the highest. Non-fiction is more nuanced with categories like Biography and History leading the pack, and Self-Help unselfconsciously in second place. Yet, well-narrated Humor continually surprises. While the digital natives of our time, children, are listening, audiobooks geared toward children are still catching up to adult sales. And in the uncertain world of COVID, where distance learning is the norm for many, there is growing opportunity for educational texts too.
As important as the sales of the print format or the genre may be to the decision-making process, the real test is how well a book can translate into an audiobook. Here are some questions that can help shine a light on when creating an audiobook reduces the enjoyable experience that a book reader might have, and when it may increase it:
- Does the book rely on images, photos, or illustrations to enhance the reader's experience? The question seems to suggest a straightforward rejection of audiobook production. Yet there are ways to maneuver around the missing collateral. The publishers may provide download links to these essentials and bring the reader into a new online space to learn more about the book. Another option is to have the narrator explain the graph, map, or photo in detail. The question is one of resourcefulness, creativity, and yes, cost.
- Does the text include difficult to pronounce names or places, or extended sections of a non-native language? Sci-Fi/Fantasy in print may create words or names ‘incapable of pronunciation by the human voice.' The same work coming from a human voice may take the reader out of the story. A block text of Latin next to the translation may help illuminate the reader of a history book, yet the lack of a visual may cause confusion in a listener. Both situations are where a gifted narrator is not just an asset but a necessity.
- Is the audiobook reading time too short? Here the concern is not the reader's ability to enjoy the book as intended. Instead, it is the consumer's mentality of feeling cheated when paying the same price for an hour-long audiobook as a four-hour-long audiobook. The cold reality is the costs between the two are not very far apart. A suggestion to overcome the hesitancy is to bundle several audiobooks together, or to price adjust – shortform audio that is easily consumed is a growing market, emulating the podcast.
- Is the audiobook too long? The longer the book, the more hours of production time is needed. There are listeners, like me, who love the 56-hour audiobook extravaganza, yet the cost may be prohibitive as the amount of studio, editing, and narration time drive the cost up. The sweet spots seem to be in the four-hour to the eight-hour range to cover the cost and meet pricing expectations. Yet, short-form is finding a new niche as Voice devices become more widely used.
The elephant in the room is cost. Tune in to the next blog post where we will explore the topic more fully. In the meantime, take another look at your catalog of titles and think about which ones make the cut and are ready for a new life as an audiobook.
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