A Revolution in Audiobooks

Throughout history, there are moments where forces align.

When technology, knowledge, and effort can shift the balance of power to the individual.

When the Yeomanry realize they aren’t just a block of archers for the king to muster in times of war, but armed peasantry able to exert that force against tyranny.

We don’t think of ourselves as the Yeomanry. We’re just the local villagers, happy with our plot of land where we can grow our crops and tend our herds.

One of those moments is upon us.

A time where if you join a collective effort, you will win your freedom or if we don’t act, we will lose more freedom.

This isn’t about politics or your vote.

This is about creators getting paid what they deserve for creation.

Now is the time where you, as an indie publisher, can wrestle control away from commercial interests that will subvert the use of your content.

If the creators are the happy peasants tending their fields and shepherding their flocks, are the tech companies are Kings?

No, imagine them as dragons. The Kings and knights looking to slay the dragons are our Government.

These are a few fantastic beasts that provide us with terror and wonder. We exist in the same world, but we don’t think or act like dragons. Dragons are doing dragon business, and from time to time they see that the peasants in the village are necessary to their plans.

Dragons have learned that your creative content attracts what they covet most – attention.  Dragons look to build the biggest piles of attention they can hoard. For the one with the biggest attention horde wins. In their war for control of other’s attention, no matter who wins; the creator loses control because our work is just used as bait.

The Stakes

Without your content, Big Tech can’t seduce people to use smart home devices or audio/podcast subscription services. They can’t create another monopoly that dictates terms of services and requires you to give up your legal recourse to arbitration.

Musicians are in this battle with streaming services, and audio publishers are scooping up rights to content at a torrid pace. The dragons know by 2023 that audiobooks will be as big as eBooks. They all want to sleep upon that attention horde.

The tech giants are in a market share grab for people’s ears. This is playing out in the buying of podcasts, music catalogs, and audiobooks. The markets are growing fast, and tech companies know it’s in the early innings that market share is monopolized.

When you dig deep into the music subscription services, the big labels are all shareholders or early investors. While musicians wonder where the money has gone, the owners profit from subscription fees, advertising, and selling user data. Creators get the leftovers, AKA royalties.

This leads to perverse situations like Kindle Unlimited, where content providers pay to drive traffic to the service, further eroding profit margins and reinforcing market share dominance of the service. Your work is little more than sharecropping.

We can already see how audio platforms are using credits to confuse an audiobook’s value or how they are pushing towards a subscription-based service.

This isn’t new. Large corporations that have aggregated access to consumers always keep individual creatives from joining forces. Keeping you alone and in the dark with only your fear informing your decisions makes you dependent on them.

Audiobooks stand to be a larger market for content creators than eReaders, exposing their work to a new non-reading audience at higher margins. We can’t let this go the way of music and ebook subscriptions.

I can attest to some of my clients seeing massive growth in business without writing more content. The release of the works in this new media has double revenues.

Standing up for what’s right for you

Your plot of land just happens to be in highly contested territory. The top tech dragons fly over, looking for content to hoard. Apple, Amazon, Google, and on-demand audio providers would like some of us to pick sides in their war.

You may think your interests align with those trying to define the future of audio. That’s a false assumption. They don’t seek to align with your brand or your community. They only want your content to attract the attention of listeners. The treasure they hoard is attention. They will monetize that attention and personal data. Your work is bait to get what they genuinely covet—a listener’s attention.

The Dragon’s Missing Scale

As the dragons battle to horde attention, they don’t think about the little guy (remember, your work is just bait for the actual prize). They are focused on their kind; those with dragon powers – limitless capital, and customer data access. They also attract the attention of those that seek to kill dragons, or at least want the fame of fighting a dragon.

Besides big tech being embroiled in a war for people’s ears, they have drawn the ire of government. All parties agree that there is fame in taking on big tech. If there is one thing that history has shown once the Government makes your business a focus of anti-trust, you have a long-term expensive distraction to deal with.

There isn’t the dragon’s fatal flaw. They can go toe to toe with the government and other dragons. They lack the capacity to create story.

It’s Always About the Content

Over time, story delivery systems change. The need for a story does not. I’ve shared my view on the meta-trends driving content growth, creating a golden age for content creators.

I caution you as a content creator thinking that your interests align with big tech just because it is the easier, softer way to earn a profit. That’s part of how you get lulled into submission, and your content gets devalued. Are you willing to throw it on the pile? It seems like the only way for us villagers to be prosperous and happy. If we pick a dragon and pledge our allegiance; it gives that dragon the power to beat the other dragons. Don’t forget it’s an oath of fealty, not an agreement between equals.

Divide and Conquer

They don’t need agreement from all content creators. Because of how cumulative advantage works in popular culture markets, they only need to win over the top five percent of audio producers in the top genres.

It’s less than ten thousand authors that are this shift of power. If you’re earning more than $10,000 a year from audio, then your part of the group that can tip the balance.

Just as a vital few control the content. Cumulative advantage has raised certain narrators and writers to superstar status. Holding these narrators’ time and pushing up production rates is another way that the dragons try to control the market.

The playbook is to give elite market makers, early preferential treatment on platforms. This will further their success, and mid-list authors will see that as the only way to succeed and follow suit.

They Will Play to Your Greed and Ego

The focus on the most famous content creators in the key genres can deliver another market monopoly. Science fiction, fantasy, LitRPG is where there is growth. I’ve got clients getting mid-five-figure to six-figure advance offers.

The dragons know if they win over the leaders, the masses will follow. Just like the bait listeners with our content, they bait content producers with easier access to listeners.

How to stage the revolt

As I said earlier, the time for revolt is now. The playbook is simple: don’t pledge allegiance to any one dragon instead focus your allegiance on your true master the customer. This is the only relationship that matters, as it is the source of all income.

Enough of the analogy and metaphor, let’s get into how you go about making sure you keep control of your content and shift the balance of power.

This isn’t about us unionizing, but there is a call for collective action. That action is for you to focus on your customer experience and sales differently for audiobooks.

Let me give you an example. Let’s say you currently depend on KU for 70% of your revenue. You may wonder how you can shift to a wide strategy? You may have even tried to make that shift with mixed results.

The reality is that the subscription service revenue is what it is. Those readers will read your content only in that service.

We are in the early innings of the audiobook market. This is where you can create a unique source of revenue from the same IP. Different customers with a higher price point. Now in your rush to secure profits you can fall prey to the easier softer path that path leads to another lobster trap.

Instead, look to your audiobook business as a new opportunity to grow your business with new customers. New channels, new behaviors, a second chance for a more prosperous and well-connected relationship with a customer.

So how do you do this…

 Produce your audio

Don’t revenue share, take advances, or encumber your audio rights in native language markets. Explore wide distribution so you can sell direct and widen distribution.

Don’t have the cash?

While audio has a higher capital requirement, there are ways to get the money you need to produce audiobooks.

Run a Kickstarter

This became easier with the introduction of the audiobook delivery options on BookFunnel. Before this, the big hang-up was getting the files to listeners. That’s solved, so if you have a moderate audience, you can run a Kickstarter to raise your narrator’s funds. Better still is that you can establish a direct relationship and find new customers. Win-win-win…

I raised $5,000 with my pen name, and more and more authors are using Kickstarter as a method of getting paid early to produce audio.

Here are some examples of what authors have done on Kickstarter

Ernest Dempsey Norse Directive

Malorie Cooper Rika’s Marauders

Michael J. Sullivan

JM Bannon

Yes, it’s work, but not having the capital is no excuse for not producing audio.

Treat Listeners Like Listeners

Listeners are a completely different segment. Yes, some are also readers, but most are not. This is a good thing! These customers come to you with a different viewpoint and understanding of value.

This means you need to have different marketing strategies and listening experiences. Different mailing lists, automations, you name it; you need to create a distinct channel and it should focus on getting as close as possible to your listener, so close that they are a customer.

Sell Direct

There is no closer relationship you can have with a listener than them being a paying customer. Let’s be clear even a purchase of your audiobook on audible or iBooks isn’t your customer they are customers of that platform. You’re just a vendor. The pieces are finally in place so you can sell your audiobooks direct. The open beta by BookFunnel provides a simple solution to deliver audiobooks.

The economics for audiobook sales are in your favor. A typical processing fee is $0.30, plus 2.9% of sales. This equates to 98% royalties on audio at a higher price point. Better still, PayPal and Stripe process payments in two working days. You get your cash ten times faster.

Using PayPal and BookFunnel, you can sell audiobooks right in your newsletter. I strongly suggest giving this a try, as it doesn’t require an enormous set up. This is a great test to see what existing customers what to buy direct.

Having your own store: You can follow this link to my sales page to buy the Advantage audiobook. In my case I use Kartra but you can do the same with WooCommerce and a wordpress site. Again, the audio files are delivered and played by BookFunnel.

Why am I so vocal in my support of BookFunnel?

A couple of reasons.

This is a tool that gives you ultimate flexibility on how you go to market. You can use tools like PayPal, Shopify, Selz, PayHip or WooCommerce with direct integrations, or through Zapier, you can integrate with just about any sales system. Here are a few examples to inspire you;

The biggest reason is Damon Courtney. He is committed to the indie author community and is a familiar face at conferences. He has the author as his primary focus.

If you don’t know who he is, here is my latest interview with him talking about audiobooks.

BookFunnel is our longbow. It is a powerful tool for the indie author because it has such an excellent reputation with our readers.

A large part of the reader base knows and trusts the product. The new App plays the audiobook and is an e-reader. There is already an install base of over one million. Readers are familiar with BookFunnel. By working on getting more and more listeners using the app, the easier it will be for the App to become the de facto listening device for audiobooks.

This isn’t about destroying the dragons. I own stock in several, and as a shareholder, I expect them to squeeze every penny of profit out of the market and get me my share.

They are own places where customers will congregate. This isn’t a call to ignore Audible or Apple. Just give your listeners other options. Also understand they will be distracted by those coming to gain fame through slaying or trying to tame the dragons (our Government).

It wasn’t too long ago that Disney could only distribute via cable companies. They had to unwind contracts to go direct. Today, the direct streaming service is saving their bacon.

Why shouldn’t you have a direct connection with your customers?

Here’s our little secret, while the dragons fly above, fighting it out with each other. We, the content creators, can use our ammunition (content) and strike that missing scale with our longbow (BookFunnel). This won’t be a direct attack. It’s not designed to slay the dragon, just get the dragon to respect what we can do.

More likely, this is one of those situations where they are so busy with what is important to them; hoarding attention, fighting with the fame seeking heroes, and they will miss out on the customer shift to a direct purchase and the ubiquitous use of BookFunnel as a listening app.

This reminds me of while the government was suing Microsoft over Internet Explorer. A small group of coder created a better browser (Chrome) that now dominates the market.

Am I making this into too much of a thing?

That’s for you to decide.

My position is that if the indie community locks arms and unifies on treating the maturation of the audiobook market as an opportunity to drive direct relationships, the industry will be better served and more sustainable.

What does this new world look like?

In this alternative world, there are still dragons. There will always be dragons. The difference is that they have a new respect for the village of indie content creators. They understand that when we unite, we can shift the market in ways that help us and get us closer to our customers. They know that we hold the ammunition.