Audio Subscription Platforms for Authors
Audiobooks are a hot topic in publishing and have been for a while now. There’s no denying the year-on-year double-digit growth. Nor can we dismiss the success of the subscription business model popularised by Netflix, Amazon and Disney. Audiobook subscription platform execs see this growth, too, and have capitalised on it. One in particular: Audible.
If you ever watch TV, you’ve probably seen an Audible ad. Spend enough time on YouTube and you’ll inevitably hear a creator say, “This video is sponsored by Audible.” It also ranks highly in book-related Google searches and dominates many author conversations about audiobooks. In fact, so all-encompassing are Audible’s marketing campaigns in the US and UK that it often seems like it’s the only audiobook subscription platform on the market, or at least the only one that matters. But is this true?
Not exactly. Audible represents a majority share of most indie authors’ audiobook royalties, but that’s only because most indies promote their audiobooks in major Western markets where Audible has the strongest presence. Look beyond the US and UK and you’ll find it doesn’t dominate every author, genre and territory. Mark Williams of The New Publishing Standard has mentioned several examples of wide book distributors swallowing up market share in territories that Amazon and Audible overlook. Recent partnerships and globalisation efforts even suggest that these smaller providers won’t stay in fringe territories forever.
This is good news for wide authors, as it is for audiobook readers and the general publishing landscape. Competition improves service quality, customer experience and creator options, making it easier for more authors to make a living. Yes, focusing your efforts on one major retailer can prove lucrative in the short term. However, diversifying will work in your favour if you think long term. In today’s post, we plan to dive into a range of exciting audiobooks subscription platforms to help you consider all the options.
We’ve already mentioned it but it makes sense to share Audible information first to compare it with the other options. Audible is an Amazon company, so it has huge reach and deep pockets. From a reader’s perspective, an Audible subscription costs $7.95 to $22.95 per month, depending on their plan. And, as an author, you can only access it through Amazon’s backend ACX (Audio Creation Exchange) portal. Using that, you can create audiobooks either through their database of narrators, who accept a mixture of royalty splits and up-front fees for their time, or by uploading your own pre-made audio files.
ACX reaches Amazon, Audible and iTunes. On it, you can choose between two publishing options: exclusive or non-exclusive. The former awards you a 40% royalty and the latter 25%. Plus, you might get extra organic discoverability if you go exclusive, depending on how Audible’s algorithms are geared at the time. The extra benefits can be tempting, but it’s worth noting the recent Audiblegate controversy for which they allegedly misled authors and readers to pay lower royalties cheques. Working with ACX can be a fantastic experience if they push your books, but it’s worth approaching them with caution as your exclusive distributor for these reasons.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term “going wide”, in publishing it means distributing your books to all retailers, as opposed to being exclusive with Amazon companies. Many authors like this prospect because it enables them to diversify their income streams and pivot their promotional tactics if one disappears. On both sides, the costs are similar. Aggregators like Findaway Voices offer narrator deals similar to the ones you’ll find at ACX. Or, if you already have the necessary files, you can distribute through them or Authors Republic – or sometimes even directly to booksellers – reaching most leading audiobook retailers, many of whom offer subscription packages.
Kobo, Overdrive, Downpour, Scribd, Audiobooks.com and Hoopla are all examples that indies can access with ease. This selection offers subscriptions to readers for between $8.85 and $14.95 a month (or their currency equivalent) and provides catalogues of hundreds of thousands of titles. Admittedly, Audible might have a slicker user interface than some players. Readers will remark that they all offer different features and quirks, and are compatible with different devices. But the great benefit of being wide is choice. You can cater for all readers, no matter their reading preferences.
Generally overlooked by indie authors, Blinkist is a platform for non-fiction audiobooks. They are smaller than many author platforms, currently offering only 5,000 titles. Plus, they don’t have a traditional self-publishing portal. However, they are growing rapidly and have gathered lots of famous supporters in the self-help space thanks to a relentless YouTuber sponsorship effort.
For just $5.99 a month, when subscribing to an annual plan, they offer readers unlimited access to their titles, plus exclusive podcast content from authors, offline download capabilities and Kindle compatibility. This is an affordable price for a lot of content. Their true USP, however, is that all their titles are condensed summaries of full-sized non-fiction books. Each of the platform’s books is slated to be only 15 minutes long. Hence, if you want to list your titles there, you must:
- Publish non-fiction
- Condense your audiobooks to 15-minute highlights
As already mentioned, Blinkist doesn’t currently have a self-publishing platform. However, they are open to self-publishing enquiries via their support contact page. Blinkist might not be your biggest income stream, but it’s certainly worth exploring if you already have the content to adapt and want to become a big fish in a small pond.
Historically, Spotify has built its user base on music streaming. In recent years, though, they’ve diversified into podcasts, notably paying $200 million for the exclusive rights to distribute Joe Rogan’s podcast. Plus, they announced a partnership with audiobook provider Storytel in early 2021 and acquired the large wide audiobook self-publishing aggregator Findaway Voices in late 2021. These coinciding moves are all a part of Spotify CEO Daniel Ek’s plan to “become the world’s No. 1 audio platform.” Hence, it’s worth paying attention to Spotify.
Right now, they offer a range of subscription deals, from free to $15.99 a month. And while their focus so far has been on music and podcasts, there’s a high chance you’ll see an increase in audiobook content there soon, particularly if you self-publishing through Findaway Voices. Yes, the platform is dealing with constant controversies of its own, particularly in the music space, where it’s reported to squeeze royalty payments for musicians. However, Spotify is undoubtedly a customer favourite and will become a juggernaut for author discoverability in the coming years.
Like Spotify, YouTube isn’t known for audiobooks. Yet, offering much of its content for free to the average user, it has amassed a huge user base that stretches into the billions, a portion of which are audiobook readers. Creators, as you might already be aware if you watch YouTube content, often talk about gaining much of their YouTube money from their cut of ad revenue and private sponsorship deals. However, the platform does offer a plethora of subscription options for consumers, the most notable being YouTube Red.
Subscription pricing from YouTube ranges from $11.99 to $17.99 a month, depending on the plan, and YouTube creators get paid a share of the total subscription revenue based on how many “views” their content receives. In exchange, YouTube Red subscribers get to experience YouTube content ad-free and access YouTube Originals. The main benefit for authors, however, is that is allows users to turn off their phone screens or browse other apps while YouTube continues to play in the background. If you produce audiobooks and want to access the vast YouTube-viewing audience with your audiobooks, building an audience big enough on the platform to gain access to ad revenue and YouTube Red privileges is the best way to do it.
At this point, Patreon needs little introduction. However, if you don’t know, it’s a membership platform that makes it easy for artists and other creators to get paid. Exactly how you set it up to do that is up to you as the creator because Patreon offers a lot of flexibility. For instance, you could get your supporters to pay you either at regular intervals, regardless of whether you give them fresh content, or per creation, so you only make money when you give them something new – in this case, audiobooks.
Patreon has almost no organic discoverability when compared to other subscription platforms. But what it lacks in audience acquisition, it makes up for in engagement. Indeed, as a Patreon creator, you can gain a much richer relationship with your audiobook readers than you can on any other platform. You can communicate directly without experiencing throttled exposure, even if you upload new work infrequently. That’s refreshing when so many other platforms have algorithms that quickly “forget you” and stop showing your content if you take a break. Plus, as you can create extremely small tiers, Patreon can make you a viable option for readers who don’t have a big enough budget for general retailer audiobook subscriptions.
Building an audiobook fanbase on each new subscription-based platform takes time and energy. At first, you might not see many sales if your existing audience is made up of loyal Audible readers. However, just as not every author likes to produce exclusively for the Amazon ecosystem, many readers don’t like to shop there exclusively, either. Promote that you offer audiobook subscription content on other platforms and some readers will follow you there. It might seem like there’s only one voice in the audiobook space, but it’s actually a crowded room, and the conversations between background characters are getting louder every day.
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