Busting the Four Biggest Audiobook Myths

BY HANNAH GUY • April 1, 2021

Busting the Four Biggest Audiobook Myths

It’s only been in the last few years that audiobooks have proven to be a worthy—and often profitable—undertaking for many writers and authors.

It’s hardly surprising. Audiobooks provide a huge degree of flexibility for people on the go who don’t always have time to curl up with a good book. Audiobook keep us company on public transit, during walks, in the car, while we’re cooking dinner, while we travel, and for some, even while we’re working. Audiobooks also offer accessibility for folks who have trouble reading due to learning disabilities, issues affecting sight or hand control, and those who struggle with reading.

So what is stopping writers and authors from making audiobooks?

Well, for some, it’s simply too much work. For others, it’s an issue of cost. And still others are hesitant to get on board the audiobook train (toot! toot!) simply because they’re unfamiliar with the process. So let’s take a look at and break down some of the myths people have about audiobooks.

“No one listens to audiobooks.”

According to the Audio Publishers Association, sales for audiobooks for 2018 and 2019 rose by 16 percent and are growing quickly from year to year, making the industry worth a cool $1.2 billion.

And according to Publishers Weekly, readers (or rather, listeners) are consuming mysteries, thrillers, and suspense, and it’s not just older folks taking advantage. “More younger people started listening to books [in 2019], with 57% of frequent audiobook listeners now under the age of 45, up from 51% in 2019,” reports Jim Milliot in “All Signs Point Up for Audiobooks.”

The truth is that audiobooks—like podcasts—answer a need from people who want to just relax and listen, especially if they need their hands free to do other things.

“Think about it—we listen to podcasts in our cars and at the gym, portable high-quality Bluetooth speakers are abundant and everyone is listening to audiobooks,” writes George Smolinski in “How to Make an Audiobook.” “As a matter of fact, almost half of all Americans listened to an audiobook last year.” 

“I won’t make any money on audiobooks.”

People are buying audiobooks. But this fact is no guarantee that creating an audiobook will translate to income. For one, audiobooks often require an investment of cash, either for software and professional equipment or for a professional narrator. That said, it’s a growing part of the book industry, and more and more authors are complementing their physical and/or e-book sales with audiobooks.

But according to Karen Commins, this doesn’t mean that indie authors can skip the work in order to bring in the extra sales.

“First of all, understand that audiobooks are a long game,” Commins writes in “Audiobooks Are Not Easy Money.” “One author said online that she had ‘lost money’ because she hadn’t recouped her costs of audiobook production within a year. I wanted to tell her that she needed to view it with this mindset: her money was not lost, but it was used for a capital investment in her business. Capital investments often take many years to pay out.”

Commins adds that too many authors turn to audiobooks with an eye to fast-and-easy money. Which is not usually the case—ever—for indie and self-published authors. “When I say the book must be marketed, I mean you have to expend more energy and (probably) money than just posting about your book on social media or changing the sales price. Simply tweeting about the book or even the audio edition of it won’t do much, if anything, to move the sales needle.” 

“It’s easier to make my own audiobook.”

A lot of indie and self-published authors are used to going it alone. After all, you’re not only writing the book but editing, marketing, selling, and promoting it. Some authors even take on the cover design in hopes of making a few extra dollars. So when you’re used to the DIY approach, what’s stopping you from taking on another new challenge?

Well…nothing. But it’s not an easy road.

It is definitely cheaper to make your own audiobook, but it’s also not free. While you can create an audiobook with very little investment, most industry experts agree that authors require a minimum of supplies and tools for the job. You’ll need:

  1. A good microphone (most suggest you can expect to pay around $200)
  2. Recording software
  3. A computer
  4. Headphones
  5. A room that is quiet and soundproofed with foam, blankets, etc.
  6. A lot of time. A lot. (“It takes between five and ten minutes to record 1,000 words, depending on how fast you speak,” writes Bryan Collins in “How to Make an Audiobook Listeners Love.” “And expect to spend at least an hour recording and/or editing for every 15 minutes of audio. I narrated a 40,000-word non-fiction book at a rate of two chapters a day. It took me about three weeks to finish narrating my work.”)

But many professionals are reminding authors that recording an audiobook is harder than it looks. Yes, you can do it. But will it be of a good enough quality? According to Milliot, “Audiobook consumers place a high priority on quality of narration. Nonfiction and fiction listeners alike prefer a professional voice actor to the author as a narrator.”

In an article titled “Why Authors Should (Almost) Never Read Their Own Audiobooks,” Open Book Audio concurs: “Audiobooks...can start off as a solitary process, but like any art form, audiobooks can benefit drastically from the collaborative process. Narrators who know their craft, engineers who know how to work the recording equipment well, and directors who know how to coax a high-quality performance out of a narrator can turn a ho-hum audiobook into a masterpiece…a masterpiece that likely would not have been possible if everything were done by a single person.”

Professional narrators also know how to regulate their breath and voice, keep the pacing and tone even, eliminate the noises that we all invariably make when we speak, speak clearly, keep a consistent volume, and maintain acting voices—all while sounding pleasant and effortless. And that’s just the speaking part.

“If you don’t know your recording equipment, find someone who does,” the article goes on to say. “Compression, Limiting, EQ, Bitrates, Gain, Levels, Peaking, Dithering—if you don’t know what these mean, chances are that you’re not going to get the best quality audio out of your system. Have someone who knows what they’re doing help you set up and learn your system. Then, when you’re done, send your files off to a mixing/mastering engineer to get them to standard levels.”

“A poor-quality audiobook isn’t a big deal.”

The quality of your audiobook—the narration, the audio levels, the editing, and more—is going to be obvious to a listener very fast. Faster than a poorly edited book, in fact. Most websites that sell audiobooks offer a short sample so customers can decide for themselves if it works for them.

In short, you have about five seconds to grab someone’s attention and be judged outright. And it won’t matter how fantastic your book is or how much potential customers might have loved it. If the quality is poor, it’s going to affect your sales big time. And that is a very big deal.

As Open Book Audio reminds us, “If you don’t care enough to do the same level of homework on your audiobook as you did on the original book, then leave the narration to someone who…can provide you with a product worthy of your words.”


Hannah Guy lives in Toronto and is a professional writer and copywriter who specializes in books, books, and more books. Follow her on Twitter at @hannorg.

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