What audiobooks are and how they can help you as an Author

Audiobooks are gaining popularity and fast becoming a commonly-used medium of education and entertainment. The target market is constantly expanding, with both younger and older listeners enjoying the benefits of the audio format. The evolution of digital technology and related online platforms is making audiobooks more and more accessible, and at an increasingly affordable rate. So where does South Africa stand in embracing this relatively new medium of consuming books?



The audiobook has been around for many years and has evolved along with technology. From Books-on-tape, to Compact Discs and now digital Mp3 audiobooks. The principle of the audiobook essentially remains the same. A narrator will sit in a sound recording studio and read from a book into a microphone. The sound engineer will record the voice, edit it, mix and master it and produce the final product. Nowadays the final format is usually Mp3 audio files that can then be played back on numerous devices that can support Mp3 audio.



An audiobook is not just another format of a book. It’s a new product. There’s a massive amount of people who may not read a single book in their lifetime, but are obsessed with listening to their favourite stories and authors. Here are a few interesting figures released by the Audio Publishers Association that gives an indication of the rise in popularity of audiobooks:

– In 2009, the market for digital media was expanding enormously, and about 100 000 books were published, but not even 5000 of those titles were produced into audiobooks

– Audiobook production and sales have been on the rise. At the end of 2013, the Audio Publishers Association released a report on audiobook sales. Publishers who shared data indicated that 6 million more audiobooks were sold in 2012 than in 2011. Production of audiobooks had also nearly doubled within that year, from 7,237 in 2011, to 13,255 in 2012 (up from 4,602 in 2009).

Anthony Goff, vice president of Hachette Audio, says the following:
“Everybody has an audiobook player in their pocket at this point. It makes it that much easier for the masses to try it.”

Read the full article from The Wall Street Journal here:



Audible (www.audible.com) is easily the monopoly of the audiobook world. They are an Amazon owned company, and have over 150 000 titles for sale. Audible currently has an exclusive relationship with iTunes, i.e. to get your audiobook into the iTunes’ audiobook store, you have to go through Audible.

Overdrive (www.overdrive.com) is a digital library subscription service that holds thousands of titles, including educational media.

Ambling Books (www.amblingbooks.com). What I personally like about Ambling Books, is that that unlike Audible, they don’t employ DRM (Digital Rights Management) on their audiobook titles. We will discuss DRM in greater detail in an upcoming blog post, but DRM is basically software that encodes the content you are purchasing in such a way that it cannot be copied or distributed easily.



South African listeners have access to the audiobook retailers listed above however there can be limitations. A large percentage of audiobook titles sold on these sites have territory restrictions in place, i.e. the retailer knows you are buying an audiobook from South Africa, but the title in question is only licensed to be sold in the U.S and United Kingdom. This is a frustrating dilemma for many customers!



Getting an audiobook produced from scratch is a detailed and involved process. There are many factors and costs to take into consideration.


The Voice

The voice is what is going to leave listeners with a lasting impression of your audiobook. For this reason, it is always highly recommended that you employ the use of a professional voice artist. It may be tempting to record the audiobook yourself, but very rarely does this succeed, unless you’re a celebrity. Remember, a great author does not mean a great voice artist. A professional voice artist can be pricey, anything upward from R1000 per hour in studio, so try negotiate with them, offer them long term work, or a royalty percentage on sales from your audiobook.

Here is an example of a great voice artist who I get to work with on my projects. Terry is a drama and vocal coach at AFDA Cape Town: http://www.audioshelf.co.za/shop/product/mystical-realms/


The Recording Studio

These days a lot of people have a small home studio setup in their garage or closet. If done correctly, this can work, however if your recording room is not treated acoustically to remove unwanted noise and troublesome frequencies, your final product will reflect this. Retailers will not accept a sub-par recording, and therefore will hamper your opportunity to make sales. Recording studios and sound engineer fees vary, the main thing is to ensure the recording environment is optimized for recording voice overs.

Vocal Booth at Audioshelf HQ




Getting your completed audiobook uploaded on a major retailer’s shop is no easy feat. A single person cannot just submit their audiobook to Audible and expect them to sell it. In the U.S and the U.K there is an audio publishing company called ACX, or the Audiobook Creation Exchange (also an Amazon-owned company), that acts as the ‘middle man’ between individuals and Audible. (You can check out ACX here: www.acx.com). ACX brings authors, audiobook producers and narrators together in a giant database, where they can pick projects to work on. Unfortunately this service is not available in South Africa as yet, and there is no indication to when they will open this service up to a global audience.

Audible will only accept titles from international content suppliers, i.e. A South African audiobook publisher that can guarantee a large amount of content to be supplied on a regular basis.




Service More Customers.

If you have your e-book on Amazon for example, mention in the description that you also have an audiobook and add a link to where the customer can buy it. See the screenshot below, where Amazon will also automatically link the audiobook version sold on Audible to the eBook and other available formats.

Example of Amazon providing links to your audiobook on Audible



Exposure to a New Audience

Your target market will expand greatly. Listeners can now multitask, making mundane chores or tasks fun by listening to their favourite titles. Your audiobook will be easily accessible to anyone, anywhere.




Build Hype Early On

Once the audiobook has been produced and is up for sale, you’ll need to promote it. An important point to note is that there is no reason you can’t run marketing campaigns to create awareness of your upcoming audiobook before it’s complete. The audiobook production process takes time, up to a few months, so it would be wise to start building up some hype before it has been completed. Ask your audio producer to send you a short 5 minute sample from the beginning of your title which you can use as a teaser.


Social Media

If used correctly, social media can be a huge asset. However, posting a Facebook status to your friends alone is unfortunately not going to do much. Be smart about your posts and tweets. Refine your target market and put greater effort into breaking through to that group, rather than just throwing a wide net out and hoping you reel in customers. Follow relevant companies, publishers and fellow authors on Twitter and include them in your tweets. Ask questions, post articles and most importantly, have fun with it.


Promotional Blogs, Reviews and Competitions

Don’t be afraid to approach bloggers and reviewers to give your audiobook a review. The worst case scenario is that they will provide you with some constructive criticism. You can run competitions through social media, whereby you could run a competition where everyone who shares or re-tweets the link to your audiobook gets entered into a draw to get the title for free and the runner up gets a coupon that gives them 50% off the sales price.