Audiobook publishing: where to begin

Audiobook publishing

Jo Forshaw is a consultant specialising in audiobook publishing. Having previously tinkered with audio as an agent, retailer and programmer for Oneword Radio, she ran the audio publishing team at HarperCollins, growing it from 60 abridged titles to 500+ unabridged recordings per year and driving projects like Total Audio and the RNIB partnership to ensure all readers can access books on publication. Follow Jo on Twitter @audioguvnor

It’s the new rock and roll, or it’s the thing that’s going to save digital. Or it’s a blip. Whatever. I think it’s more than that. Audio is reinventing publishing, taking books into new territory with a neat little magic trick that means you can read stories without your eyes being tied to a text. Let me be your Debbie McGee as we run through some audio basics.

For whatever reason you’re considering audio – excitement about a whole new product line, a fancy for future-proofing the business, dreams of cracking open a new market or giving the marketing folk a swanky new asset that isn’t a …ta dah! cover reveal – getting your head around the ‘what’ and ‘how’ is the first step. Here are the 4 headers I’d think about.

1. Title selection

The most efficient and productive way to publish audio is simultaneous to other formats, but don’t let that put you off – it can be a mountain to climb. Dip a toe in and start with a focused selection of key back-list titles and big hitters from upcoming frontlist. Depending how comprehensive you want the publishing plan to be (and how much cash you’ve got) I’d recommend simultaneous to print / e where possible so you maximise the PR/marketing campaigns and use audio to sing about other editions. And don’t ever forget – audio is a long-haul game. Go in for short term and you’ll get your fingers burnt.

2. Recordings / costings

Full unabridged recordings are the basic entry level to audio, with either the author or an actor reading on case by case basis. Non-fiction can work particularly well with author’s voice but don’t make the rookie error of presuming the author will be cheaper (i.e. free) – actors are prepped and experienced and can save time when you’re paying for a very expensively kitted out studio and tech-savvy knob-twiddlers. Likewise, big-name celebs may get you a news item in The Bookseller, but they are tricky to pin down, often don’t have experience and can cost you dearly in time and money. Make the studio your closest colleague – they will save your skin more than once.

A straightforward 120,000-word title will cost about £2500. One the most invidious myths about audio is ‘it’s expensive’. No, it’s not – you’re just unfamiliar with this spend. For what you get, it’s unbelievably cost-effective.

3. Internal process from metadata and record creation to delivery of files

Don’t try to learn how to record audio in one go – lean on someone who knows what they’re doing and you can focus internally on getting processes in shape. Don’t waste time reinventing the wheel. If you already publish ebooks, follow those existing protocols and align audio into your critical path. Add in a few audio-specific details – narrators, duration not page extent and a resized jacket and you’re away. Do spend time educating the rest of the business – I spent years at HarperCollins being seen as some kind of crank but now everyone from editorial and production to marketing and PR is eager to – and should – be getting involved. From help casting to flagging audio on press releases, every part of the company needs to care and invest.

4. Route to market – distribution deals and retailer relationships

Until very recently we were locked into a weird dystopian world with one retailer (Audible) supplying the other (Apple). And nobody else. 2018 brings a ton more opportunity – Storytel, Bookbeat, Kobo, Google, and Spotify have all set up shop, and there’s a raft of different models being tested – a la carte sales, subscription plan, all-you-can-eat streaming. Deal direct. Deal with aggregators. Deal with library platforms.

The demand for audio is there. If you want to do the best for your authors, and for your readers, you need to be publishing on audio.

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