Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing

I Shrug At Audio Books

But I Am A Business Person…

I know, I know, all authors get all excited about audio books, and can quote the statistics about how it is the largest and fastest growing segment in the publishing world. And they would be right about the statistics. But as anyone who has ever taken a statistics class, those numbers can be used in all sorts of ways.

So let me give you some numbers, even real numbers in publishing seem elusive and difficult to get. Many reasons for this, not the least of which is that Amazon, the largest bookseller on the planet, does not release numbers. And traditional publishing often counts books shipped as a print run, not sold. Or even worse, books printed as sold.

So AAP estimates the following for 2019…

5.7. billion Paper sold worldwide

1.016 billion Electronic licensed

469 million audio books sold or licensed.

Notice the difference between the 6.7 BILLION and the 469 MILLION.

In the states, in 2018 there was an estimated 45,000 audio books produced.

In the states, in 2018, there was an estimated 675 million regular books produced.

Forbes estimates that in 2019 in the States alone there was an estimated one BILLION books sold.

And IBIS says that audio is about 5.8% of all books sold now.


Basically it means that one out of every 18 readers will buy an audio book. More than likely the number is tipped to audio book consumers who buy a ton of audio books and most readers who seldom listen to even one.

Now I have nothing against audio books at all. If you can figure out a way to add audio books to your cash streams, cheaply, more power to you.

But for audio books, there is now a famous test put forth by professional writer Scott William Carter called the WIBBOW test.

Would I Be Better Off Writing?

When looking at the time and cost for the return on audio books, for me, the WIBBOW test always wins.

For indie writers, the cost is just crazy high for the small amount of income you will get in. Back to the numbers above as to why. Just not that many people buy audio in comparison to book sales in general.

And even if you can figure out how to record it yourself and produce it yourself, the time spent is massive.

So for that reason I shrug at audio books. If you want to waste your time doing them, and have enough time and money to do them right, more power to you. A nice small cash stream.


Because I have noticed a nasty trend. Younger career indie writers are able to figure out the general costs of audio books and doing them right, so they think “Why Not Do A Kickstarter” to raise the money to do an audio book?

For younger writers, just getting a $500 to $1,000 Kickstarter campaign to fund is difficult and requires some skill and luck. You need every backer you can get. Every one. And it needs to be focused on the book(s).

But you go plaster AUDIO BOOK in the title and make a big deal out of getting money for an audio book and you cut your backers more than in half.

And then you go and actually ask for the cost of the audio book instead of what your reality might generate and the campaign is doomed to failure every time.

I spend a vast amount of time on Kickstarter in the fiction section, just studying campaigns, and a large percentage of the ones who fall flat, don’t fund, or get cancelled in the fiction category are audio book focused.

It just seemed like a good idea at the time to the writer.

But no, audio books have very, very little interest to your normal readers. Back to the statistics at the top. Billions sold vs thousands.

So now I am climbing off my soapbox and let you go back to your weekend. And if I have saved one writer the work and time on trying an audio book kickstarter, the rant would have been worth it.


  • Julie

    Thanks, Dean. I haven’t put any thought into audiobooks but it just occurred to me to wonder why there aren’t audiobook-specialist companies seeking to license writers’ work for audio, like movie and TV companies do for those formats.

    • dwsmith

      Julie, there are. Numbers of them, not the least of which is Audible. They license work straight from authors all the time. In that area, they act like a standard traditional publisher with better and saner contracts.

      • Julie

        Thanks, Dean, that’s very interesting. I suppose I’d been assuming that Audible would only deal with trad pub but of course it’s an Amazon company.

        Should indie authors sit tight and wait to be invited, as with movies and TV?

  • Johanna Rothman

    I roll my eyes when there are no ebook rewards for a Kickstarter. I only want ebooks. (Yeah, we know I’m strange.)

    However, I am pretty sure *my* (nonfiction) audio readers differ from my print/ebook readers. Sometimes, when the audio people contact me, they apologize for reading in audio. One of my nonfiction books sells more in audio than in ebook. I don’t understand it. I just accept it.

    I agree with you–focusing on audio for a Kickstarter doesn’t make sense to me, either. I need more to back a campaign. Ok, I gotta get back to writing. (Hehehe.)

  • Kathy Steinemann

    I agree with you, Dean, and so does at least one blind author I know — who prefers Braille to audio.

    Yes, I have purchased a few audio books and converted them to MP3s for long trips in the car. But that’s it. I’d rather read words than hear them spoken by someone who might not understand the intent of the writer. I want to be able to go back a paragraph once in a while, pause to think about what I just read, or search through a digital book for a name I don’t recognize to see if it has been mentioned before.

    Give me words on a page. Please.

  • Melaine Ryther

    I know this option doesn’t appeal to everyone, but I have used a royalty share with the narrator of my 6 audio books. It cost me nothing except a little time to proof the finished recordings, and the return is approximately 20% of my overall sales and the second largest chunk of my income overall. Four of my books are standalones (I write about non-fiction paranormal subjects) and two are compilations. The compilations sell the most. Sure, I would love all of the royalties from these sales, and someday I hope to be able to afford to pay a narrator up front to enjoy that benefit. But for now it’s an easy, passive income stream that I really appreciate.

    • dwsmith

      Melaine, not sure who you are listening to but we have and still do royalty share regularly. Only thing that makes sense on many things for most books. Kris’s major series are all done through Audible, and for a time we did our own in our own sound room. But we have always done royalty share.

      — Royalty share is no real cost, book is in audio, maybe three or four hours work total for you.
      — Do it yourself… Pay for narrator (thousands) and a ton more time and energy, maybe up to twenty hours easy.
      — Really do it yourself, recording and all… more time and money than I care to think about, plus learning programs to be able to do all the technical stuff and get it up to passable standards.

      If audio books had the audience or even a tenth of the audience of an electronic or paper book, some of above might make sense. But back to the statistics.
      Maybe someday.

  • Alison Holt

    I can attest to what Dean is talking about. I had a lot of my readers ask me when I was going to put my books into audio format. Since I’ve been taking Dean’s Kickstarter class, I thought, “What the heck.” Dean warned me not to do a Kickstarter for an audiobook, but since with the pandemic I haven’t had the opportunity to bang my head up against a brick wall, I did it anyway.

    The Kickstarter funded within the first 26 hours, but mostly because of friends, family and a few of my readers. It still has 16 days to go, but I don’t see a huge rush of people breaking the internet to get involved. I thought that since so many people wanted the audio, they’d back the Kickstarter to make it happen. Wrong.

    Basically, I learned two important lessons. First, if I do a second Kickstarter, it’ll be for a novel. Second, I’m not going to tell my friends and family about it because even though I appreciate it more than they’ll ever know, I don’t want them funding my career. I have a pretty healthy email list and a good amount of followers on my Facebook author page. Running a second campaign without friends and family will let me know if I can get my followers engaged on a book.

    Oh, I guess there’s a third lesson, too. Listen to Dean and Kris, cuz they kinda know what they’re doing 🙂

  • Kate Pavelle

    I’m one of the ones trying a Kickstarter to fund audio (4 days to go, $14 more to fund.) You’d think it will fund no problem, but it’s actually quite a nail-biter. These are tough enough times, and what Dean said about audio reflects my experience.
    So why audio? Inertia, and not having much of an imagination! I was amazed at the various types of campaigns that funded in the fiction category, and am taking notes.
    Even though I don’t listen to audio books unless we are traveling long-distance, my husband is an avid listener and before his cataract got fixed, that was the only way he could enjoy fiction. He got all his audiobooks from the library or directly from Overdrive. Three to seven years ago it looked like the narrations would pay for themselves within five years, tops. But nothing is a sure deal in business. Between ACX having changed some things, and with the current situation, only several of my audiobooks have paid for themselves and the sales are much slower now than ever before.
    Hopefully that will change, but I’m not holding my breath on how soon.
    I wonder whether this is one of the reasons Rakuten is selling Overdrive?

  • Barb

    I had considered (whenever I’ll be able to do a Kickstarter in this godforesaken country, don’t ask, Dean, but until I’m employed, it’s against company policy… so I’m hoping in an early retirement so I can start working on my writing career for real) using Kickstarter for audiobooks, but since my already meager sales have flattened to zero this year (as a foreigner, I use D2D and Findaway Voices), I probably won’t do it.
    So now I’m just waiting for the good idea for the next series (and that early retirement) to make a novel/series kickstarter with ebooks and paperbacks. Meanwhile I’ll use my days off Day Job after Sep.18 to catch up on paperbacks – I really fell behind with those! 🙁
    Thanks for the post! 🙂 I can’t stand audio, but I understand how they’re useful for the visually impaired (although my #1 fan uses Kindle’s text-to-speech and reads hundreds of books that way)… I’ll just leave more audio books to a future venture! 🙂

  • Jon

    I’ve been taking the Kickstarter course in preparation for doing a small book 1 “special edition” campaign in the lead up to a proper book 2 launch on Kickstarter to help offset the cost of the audiobook, and this was one of my worries – that people would just see audiobook and run away.

    Part of the reason for the book 1 campaign is to see how much audiobook interest there is; I’ll offer all formats, see what’s most popular, and adjust the book 2 campaign focus accordingly.

    A counter anecdote: the most funded fiction project that is live right now currently live (and number 2 most funded fiction project ever) is for Cory Doctorow’s new audiobook and will clear $200K. Just an anecdote but interesting.

    • dwsmith

      Yeah, and Cory has such a huge audience, if he actually did a book instead of audio, he would have gone to a million. And thus, if you have an audience like Cory, or Brandon, you can do audio books. But they sell so much smaller than any other form, it is a slog uphill.

      Kris and I do $10,000 to $25,000 campaigns for books. If we tried an audio book, I would be happy if we got to $2,000 and I doubt that would even happen.

      But give it a try. Makes no difference, actually, because a miss doesn’t hurt you, but just keep your ask in a reasonable area to have a chance of funding.

      • Jon

        Thanks Dean and good point about Cory’s existing audience. That’s obviously a huge factor.

        But I will additionally note that Cory is offering ebook only tiers for this campaign – $14 for the new book in ebook @ 329 backers vs. $15 for the audiobook @ 652 backers vs. $25 for ebook and audiobook @ 874 backers.

        In any event, I already paid for the audiobook for book 1, so it will be a good test.

        • dwsmith

          Test of what? Cory has a huge fan base. When you have something like his or Brandon’s fan base, you can do what you want and make it work to a certain level.

          The rest of us don’t have the base. And why is Cory charging $14 for an eBook? Holy smokes, that’s as bad as traditional.