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Why are Audiobooks so expensive? Or are they…

Audiobooks are expensive. Everybody says so. But why are audiobooks so expensive? What goes into making an audiobook that makes it so pricey? Let’s take a look at the costs involved in producing this specific book format and see why they tend to cost you more than print or ebooks.

At the end of this blog post, we will also take a quick peek at why exactly some audiobooks are free and how that can work!

Why are audiobooks so expensive? Background image showing a woman listening to an audiobook and looking thoughtful.

Why are Audiobooks so expensive?

A book has a certain baseline cost. The author wants to be paid for the many, many hours they have put into their work. Then there are rounds of edits, cover design, and also marketing, so readers will actually find out about it! That’s already several people, including the original creator, who need to make a living.

When we are talking about audiobooks, there are even more people involved and that’s really at the core of why audiobook production costs are so high.

First, there’s the cost of the narrator. A good narrator can make or break an audiobook and it’s crucial for indie authors as well as big publishers to pay for a narrator who can do the job well. For a 9-hour audiobook, a narrator will need 9 hours at a minimum, obviously, plus easily another 9 hours because they might have misread a line, there was a siren outside the recording booth, they used the wrong voice for a line of dialogue, or had to cough. Established narrators usually get paid per finished hour, while newer narrators might be willing to work for a royalty share.

Secondly, you will need a sound engineer and sound editor who work to ensure that the audio is of high quality and that there is no sneeze, cough, or wrong line in there anymore. In some cases, this is the narrator themself, but either way, this is a lot of work that no one can afford to do for free! Just think, when the finished audiobook is 9 hours long, a professional will need 9 hours plus many more to listen to the entire unfinished audiobook and cut out any unwanted bits and pieces.

So, we have a minimum of 27 hours now for the narrator and for edits, but in reality, it’s many, many more to account for reading mistakes, editing, and perfecting the sound quality. And all of this is done by professionals who need expensive equipment and need to… you know… live off of their work!

And finally, there’s the proof listener, who makes sure that everything is correct before it goes out to the public. That’s another 9 hours.

And this is only your run-of-the-mill audiobook with one or two narrators. When one of them is a well-known celebrity, or when the audiobook is done with a full cast of voice actors, maybe even with sound effects, things can get a whole lot pricier very, very quickly. Plus, we didn’t even account here for an audiobook producer who is not the author themself. Casting voice actors, possibly renting a recording studio if the narrators don’t record in their booths at home… audiobook production takes a lot of coordination. And as you can see, it can always get more expensive!

The most commonly cited number is $300 to $400 per finished hour of an average audiobook which puts the production cost for my example 9-hour audiobook at $2700 minimum. For the publisher, there will again be marketing costs now because the audiobook audience needs different advertisements in other places than the ebook and print crowd.

And after all that, Audible, Audiobooks.com, and other audiobook stores take their share to sell the audiobook on their platforms, usually at least 60%. Yes, audiobook creators receive less than half of what you pay for the audiobook! And with that, they have to pay for all the many professionals and all these hours of work before the author earns anything.

Related article: How do Audiobook Creators get Paid?

However, audiobooks are gaining more and more popularity and are losing the stigma of being “not real reading”. What that means is that an audiobook sells a higher number of units. And whenever something is sold a lot, it’s possible to lower the price, because the bottom line still looks good enough. That means, these days, you can find many cheap deals or even free audiobooks. And the various audiobook services are in competition and try to outdo one another with better deals and subscriber benefits. So, let’s look into that…

Related article: Audiobooks vs Reading Ebooks/Print

Why are some Audiobooks free?

We just discussed how expensive it is to create an audiobook. So, how can some audiobooks be free? Does this mean they have horrible quality and were produced on someone’s iPhone?

Well, there is LibriVox which is a project by volunteers to turn books in the public domain into audiobooks. While the productions here aren’t done professionally, people are very passionate about their LibriVox contributions and it’s a project worth checking out! But you can also find professionally narrated and produced audiobooks for free.

In some cases, “free” means only that they are without any further cost for paying subscribers and it’s part of a platform’s strategy, e.g. Audible offering audiobooks in Audible Plus, or Amazon in Kindle Unlimited “Listen for Free”.

But there are also many websites and communities that offer professional audiobooks for free in exchange for reviews. This falls broadly under the marketing umbrella. An author is new to audiobooks and wants listeners to notice them. So, the author gives away free copies of their audiobook to listeners who then go on to write reviews on Audible. Other Audible customers are more likely to notice a book if it has 20 or 30 ratings and if they can read reviews where people honestly share what you can expect from this audiobook. That makes this strategy so popular with many indie authors and audiobook reviewers can choose from a great selection of titles to find hidden gems.

Related article: How to get Audiobook Review Copies

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Why are some Audiobooks so cheap?

When audiobooks are cheap this is again down to marketing. Either an author offers their audiobook in a time-limited deal, for example on Chirp, so more listeners will take a chance on them. Or in the case of Amazon Whispersync, the company is happy to subsidize the Audible book when a customer buys an ebook.

So, again, while audiobooks are expensive to produce, it doesn’t necessarily mean that a free or cheap audiobook is of bad quality. But if you are the cynic type, just look where the author or the audiobook service benefits from you getting the product for free or in a deal.

Personally, I’m happy to share deals and help authors reach a bigger audience. Just like I enjoy getting audiobooks for free in exchange for writing a review. This benefits both the audiobook producer / author as well as us listeners!

I hope I could answer your question “why are audiobooks so expensive”. A lot goes into the creation of this wonderful book format. And if you want to know more about how authors are paid for audiobooks, check out my blog post about audiobook royalties and how to best support your favorite audiobook creators.

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