While advances in technology have made audiobooks more accessible to your average listener, they can still be costly to purchase. Even with all the audiobook subscriptions and services out there, an audiobook can cost twice or even three times as much as an eBook. The New York Times bestseller “Educated” by Tara Westover, for example, costs $14 on paperback while its eBook version is $24, although you can get a subscription for about $14.95/month on somewhere like audiobooks.com which gets you an audiobook of any price.
To find out which audiobook service or subscription is right for you, check out our post: Best Audiobook Service: 8 Of The Best And Which To Choose
Why are audiobooks so expensive? There are a lot of factors that influence its price. While an audiobook may not have to worry about the cost of printing compared to physical books, the price can be brought up by production costs. On average, the cost of publishing an audiobook is around $300-$400. For an audiobook with a running time of 10 hours, the production costs needed to bring that book to the store near $4,000. Why? These production costs include the following:
Narrators and Voice Actors
Narration and voice acting are as crucial in audiobooks as the story itself. A good audio narrator should be able to bring the story to life and keep the audience engaged as to what happens next.
Because of its importance to the success of the audiobook, reputable publishers often hire experienced narrators. Some publishers may even hire celebrities to voice their audiobooks, which can further drive the cost up. There are also instances where the audiobook has multiple narrators to portray the different characters in the book. These can add up and be quite expensive.
According to the voice talent website Voices.com, the average rate for audio narrators is $125 per hour and around $500 per finished hour. So for professional narrators or those with a sizeable fan base, this can increase to $300 per hour or more. Narrators or voice actors who are also members of a union such as SAG-AFTRA will also have a minimum rate per hour.
Editors and Sound Engineers
While the audio narrator is responsible for putting a voice to the story, it is the job of the audiobook editor and the recording engineers to ensure that voice is clear and loud enough to meet industry standards. It is especially important for major publishers like Audible, which follows a strict set of technical rules before an audiobook meets the requirements to enter the Amazon Audible marketplace. If it doesn’t follow the Audible rules, then it is automatically rejected from the store.
On average, editors and engineers can charge anywhere from a range of $50 to $400 per hour, depending on their skills and experience. But while experienced engineers do cost a lot more, they also tend to work faster and make fewer mistakes, saving production time and money during the process of making the audiobook.
While audiobooks of bestselling titles don’t have much trouble getting sold in stores, a standard audiobook may find itself in a harder position due to competition from a lot of other titles in the market. In the United States alone, around 50,000 audiobooks are being produced each year and rising. So, to cover the costs of production, publishers tend to bump up the price of the audiobooks based on its sales volume.
The running time is another factor that can affect the cost of an audiobook. So even if the cost of production are lower, the price of the books will still skyrocket the longer it runs.
Publishers usually have a price scale based on the length of the audiobook, ranging from $7 for completed works that run for less than an hour to upwards of $35 for those that run for 20 hours or more. Major publishers also tend to set a cap on the minimum cost an author can charge for their work, which increases further depending on the length of the book.
Publishers also usually rely on a marketing team to sell to customers. Marketing efforts may be in the form of ads, special offers, or promotional events both in social media and in real life to let potential listeners know about the audiobook. So, part of the price you pay also typically includes the cost of promoting it. This additional cost is why self-published authors tend to do their promotions themselves to cut down the cost of the book.
Getting your audiobook carried by a major publisher is the goal for many authors, but having your work published by one can also come with extremely high royalty costs. Audible’s production arm, for example, can charge anywhere from 60% to 75% of the profit, depending on whether it is published exclusively on Amazon’s Audible store or distributed in other stores. The remaining share of the profit goes to the author of the books, which in turn is affected by whether the author chooses to pay for the production cost upfront or have a profit-sharing agreement with the producer. Self-published audiobooks, however, typically do not have this issue and thus tend to be cheaper but at the cost of having a smaller market.
The cost of an audiobook may seem very expensive when compared to printing and publishing a hardcover book, but given the production costs involved in making one, it may seem fair to have it compared to a movie or TV production instead. And with the million-dollar budgets allocated to an average feature film, the price of an audiobook doesn’t seem so farfetched at all. Also, unlike physical books, an audiobook has a unique, almost cinematic experience to them that makes it worth the price.
While understanding ‘why are audiobooks so expensive’ may not bring its price tag down, there are several ways that you can save on your end. Waiting for and taking advantage of discounted audiobooks, for example, can help you save on your favourite titles. Most platforms regularly hold discount promotions for this purpose. Subscribing to memberships that offer licensing rights instead of physical ownership like Scribd can also help bring the cost of listening to an audiobook down. And some apps have subscriptions which means you pay a fixed monthly fee for a fixed number of audio books.
In the end, whether it’s worth it or not will depend on what you’re looking for. I hope the details in this post will help you understand everything better. The best thing to do right now would be to take a trial and see if audio is your thing or if you prefer ebooks or the physical book!