Audiobooks have afforded readers an alternative and more convenient manner of consuming written word of various types. Many readers now prefer digital narrations over printed pages because they can perform other tasks while listening to books. An audiobook is also a great way to widen your audience, especially if your ebook and paperback copies are already selling well. The increasing popularity of this medium raises the question: How much does it cost to publish a high-quality audiobook?
The answer depends primarily on the audiobook’s length and complicity and whether you intend to record it yourself or hire a narrator and audiobook producer to do it for you.
In this guide, we’ll tackle everything you need to know about the upfront costs of creating the average audiobook. We will also explore the different methods of production you can take to help you determine the option that will work best for you.
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Top 4 ways to create an audiobook
Aside from the content, audio quality significantly influences an audiobook’s popularity. For this reason, recording takes the most significant chunk of the production cost. You must take time and consider the factors in deciding which option is best.
Below, we list the different options for creating an audiobook.
Record an audiobook yourself
The most common misconception when you narrate your audiobook is that it will cost less because you can do it without paying a narrator and a producer. However, it may take a lot more to complete the production of your audiobook this way. Aside from the fact that you need to narrate your work, you must consider how much it will cost to get the necessary equipment.
So before taking the DIY route to narrate your own book, ask yourself these questions:
- Do you have relevant technical skills? Do you have experience in audio engineering and production? Suppose you know how to master audio files to meet audio production and distribution specifications. In that case, you’re off to a great start since retailers like Amazon, iTunes, and Audible only carry books with good-quality audio. But if you lack the technical know-how, you may need to think twice about recording your own audiobook.
- Do you have the time to learn? The learning curve associated with audio software and equipment is usually steep. It will take time to master their usage, so ensure you have enough will and time to study everything. Otherwise, weigh the required time against the fee you pay if you hire an audiobook producer and narrator.
- Can you keep listeners engaged? Even if you wrote a great book, that does not mean you have the performance ability to narrate it. If you don’t have the skill or voice talent to keep listeners engaged for a good few hours, it might be better to hire a narrator or professional voice actor who can.
- How much are you willing to spend? If you already own high-quality sound equipment and understand audio technical requirements, you may be able to record your own book cheaply. Otherwise, you must first determine your budget and research the total cost of the equipment you should invest in before taking this route. On top of this, you must also account for the fees charged by audiobook distribution services and consider whether you intend to record more audiobooks in the future.
What you need for DIY audiobook recording
You will need proper equipment and environment if you’re going to narrate and record your own audiobook. Here is a list of things you will need, plus their average cost:
- Large-diaphragm condenser XLR mic – $800
- Mic stand – $30
- Professional audio recording and production software (e.g., Audacity, StudioOne, Twisted Wave, Reaper, and ProTools) – $190
- Studio-quality, closed-back headphones – $100
- Pop filter to remove audible popping noises produced when the letters “k,” “p,” and “t” are pronounced – $20
- Soundproofing (acoustic foam, sound absorption materials, or soundproof recording box) – Cost will vary depending on brand and quality
- Audio interface – $200 for consumer-grade; up to $1,000 for professional quality
- A new-enough computer with at least 16 GB of RAM that can handle whatever software and plug-ins you plan to use – Cost will vary depending on specs
The good thing about the DIY method is that you have total creative control over the sound of your audiobook. However, remember that the work and expenses of recording your audiobook don’t end at production. If you choose this option, you will also be responsible for publication and distribution. So have a closer look at the costs before
Tip: A great way to keep the total cost down of making an audiobook is to buy secondhand equipment you can find on Amazon or eBay.
Record at a studio
If you want to narrate your audiobook, another option worth considering is recording at a studio with the help of a professional sound engineer. This method may end up being cheaper than buying your own equipment.
The engineer has to be someone with firsthand experience making audiobooks. A good one will be able to record and direct the session and ensure the output is as clear as possible.
Renting a music studio will cost you anywhere from $30 to $200 per hour. In major cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York, the rent will be around $150 per hour. But outside these areas, you’re likely looking at $40 to $80 per hour.
Once the recording of the audiobook has been completed, the post-production process begins. This is when all the editing, proofing, and mastering happen. The per-finished hour (PFH) rate for post-production usually starts at around $75 and goes up to $200.
The great thing about hiring a professional sound engineer is that you have experts who will ensure everything sounds good during the recording session. Plus, if you’re inexperienced, you won’t have to spend so much time navigating audio software and equipment you’re unfamiliar with.
However, remember that it may take several sessions before you finish recording your audiobook. Many audiobooks run for well over five hours, and depending on your diction, pace, and other factors, your recording time can be much longer, so you could still end up paying steep fees when recording in a studio.
Hire a narrator and producer
If the DIY and studio renting option is not for you, one alternative is hiring a team who can record and produce your audiobook.
An audiobook producer’s role is to record the narrator or voice actor, direct their performance, and ensure they read your book correctly. They’re also responsible for creating notes for the audio editor.
Having your book narrated by a professional is convenient, but finding the right one can be time-consuming. You must search for voice actors, review their portfolios, conduct interviews, and create a schedule. However, the possibility of lower costs and less stress makes this option enticing.
Here are several options for paying our own team of audiobook professionals:
Flat Rates and Per Finished Hour Rates
If you hire a celebrity to narrate your audiobook, they will likely charge you a flat rate and negotiate for you to pay a fee upfront, which can cost over $20,000. However, these types of agreements are rare.
The more common way of paying audiobook teams is based on per-finished-hour rates. The author and collaborator agree on a PFH rate, and payments are made before the book is published.
A less-known narrator might charge around $50 per hour, while a skilled narrator is likelier to charge fees up to $400. Generally, a narrator can read about 9,000 to 9,400 words per hour.
Currently, the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) scale pay for professional narrators is $235 PFH, with additional fees going to the voice actor’s pension and health fund.
To attract talented artists, try offering rates at the upper end of the pay spectrum. Spending a little more will ensure you get a high-quality recording, translating into more sales.
The most obvious benefit of following PFH rates is that both parties know approximately how much they will spend or receive. The downside is that you must have the money to pay narrators before publishing your book. The upfront costs can be overwhelming if you haven’t prepared a budget.
Some audiobook narrators are willing to work under a royalty share contract, wherein they will earn a specific percentage of the total book sales. Entering into an agreement like this means you will only pay the narrator once you sell your first copy.
To illustrate, say you go through Amazon’s ACX platform to look for an audiobook producer. ACX will then pay 40% royalties for any audiobook sold. Half of the 40% goes to the author, and the rest goes to the producer. All payments will be handled by ACX and processed every month.
Currently, ACX is the only publisher offering a royalty share option. Once you sign the contract, you will be tied into it for seven years, so you can’t distribute or sell your book via other channels during this period.
This system is potentially beneficial for authors who can’t pay for the upfront costs of producing an audiobook but expect to sell many copies.
The hybrid option involves the author and narrator agreeing to reduced PFH rates plus a royalty share, which can help reduce the initial expenses typically associated with the production process. Entering into a hybrid contract is ideal for authors with limited budgets.
The beauty of a hybrid contract is that you can attract good audiobook narrators without paying the standard flat rate fees, which means you get quality at a reduced price.
Under a hybrid agreement, the narrator will be paid a lower flat rate fee plus royalties. You can expect to pay between $25 to $100 per finished hour under such a contract.
Partner with an audiobook production service
Hiring a done-for-you audiobook service might be the best option if you have the budget. These companies will handle everything—preparation, recording, post-production, publication, and distribution of your book—and charge a flat rate for their work, ignoring the word count.
Some companies also follow a done-with-you model, which means they will coach you through the production process and answer any questions you may have along the way.
When you partner with a production service, an entire team will work on your book and ensure it sounds professional, saving you considerable time.
A turnkey solution will be the best option for many authors, but the catch is that it’s also the most expensive. The total cost can range from $5,000 to $7,000, but it will reduce your work to the bare minimum and remove any hassle. Plus, you can rest assured that you will get an outstanding product.
If you want to get the most out of the money you’re paying, consider Leaders Press in producing your audiobook. We offer very affordable rates for finished audiobook products, as well as different packages for every step of the publication process. Click here to find out more.
3 things to consider when choosing an audiobook production method
Here are a few key aspects to look into when choosing your audiobook production method.
Doing it yourself may seem like the best option if you don’t have the budget for producers, narrators, or audiobook services. But this method will most likely cause problems if you’re not a professional narrator and producer.
There is the risk of wasting time and money on equipment only to produce an audiobook that is not up to standard. So if you have a limited budget, an ACX royalty share deal and the like might be worth considering.
If you have both the time and the budget, hiring an audiobook publishing service is easily your best bet.
Return on investment
Earning back the money spent on developing your audiobook will take a while. As harsh as it sounds, the truth is that you aren’t going to make much profit from audiobook sales alone. The real money comes from setting up book funnels and using your books to sell higher-ticket offers.
On that note, ROI should be one of the things you should consider when making a decision.
Other audiobook expenses
The actual audiobook recording takes up a huge portion of your budget, but there are still other costs to consider:
Celebrity voice actors who work under hybrid contracts charge upfront flat fees and take a percentage of the profits. Publishing houses that provide done-for-you services may also want to take up the royalty share option for the total sales of your audiobook.
Although purely digital, audiobooks still need proper “packaging,” which means you’ll have to hire artists to create the cover of your book.
Advertising will help generate interest and sales for your audiobook, so this separate expense should also be considered.
Partnering with Amazon or similar marketplaces to sell your audiobook means these platforms earn commissions for every sale.
How much does it cost to make an audiobook?
There isn’t a straightforward answer to this question, as the actual cost will vary depending on the length of your audiobook and the production route you choose.
The method you go with will depend on your performance ability as a narrator, your budget, the equipment you already have (or are willing to purchase), and your preferred type of contract. But if you consider everything mentioned above, the cost of making an audiobook can be anywhere between $500 and $6,000.
Remember that your audiobook reflects who you are as an author, so don’t just settle for the cheapest option. Examine your skills, situation, and budget, and choose the one that will likely give you the best output for your investment.