This is a guest post by Randy Hames, CEO of Edgewater Studios in Sugar Land, Texas.
Welcome to the 21st Century! In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re already a decade in. And here’s something to think about: Did you know that media has changed more in the first decade of the 21st Century than it did in the last fifty years of the 20th Century?Radio has become more and more automated and impersonal, and big network TV viewership is plummeting in favor of narrowly targeted cable and satellite networks and highly specialized on-line sources such as Netflix, Hulu and Crackle. DVRs are steadily eroding Madison Avenue’s power with big-dollar ad-buys, except for live-action programming that consumers prefer to watch in real-time. Door-to-door delivery of hard copies of local newspapers is quickly fading, and more people get their current events on-line, every day.
These changes are most dramatically revealed in the explosion of social media, and its impact on what and how people digest information and entertainment. YouTube, Facebook and Twitter are loaded with audio and video media, and up-to-date devices as sophisticated as tablets or as common as cellphones can easily deliver these items to customers whenever and wherever they desire. Many younger people have grown up expecting the newest and latest trends updated on a day-to-day, or even minute-to-minute basis, and are increasingly impatient for constantly “fresh” material. The “Oh, I’ve already seen that” mindset has become pervasive and ubiquitous. More importantly, Millennials have become accustomed to hearing or viewing their content, rather than taking the time or attention required to actually read it.
As such, no business may have been more heavily restructured by these dynamics than the book publishing industry. Cozy, quaint bookstores have been replaced by Barnes & Nobel and Half Price Books, and Kindle and Nook have already shifted the book sales landscape toward e-books, but the “freshest” book distribution trend of all is undoubtedly the burgeoning audiobook market. What were once called “books on tape” can be downloaded directly to every device in the virtual world, and appeal directly to the multi-tasking, “Give it to me now” generation that eschews archaic 20th Century delivery systems. Older readers will nostalgically cling to the hardback books of their childhoods, but more and more, younger purchasers are gravitating toward innovative and time-wise methods to experience the entertainment and information they yearn to glean from their favorite authors.
Audiobooks are the answer – and they are most definitely the wave of the future. How to utilize this exciting and emerging opportunity is the quandary facing writers, publishers and rights-holders who may not have fully investigated or understand the seismic shifts in their craft’s sales techniques.
First and foremost, where does one begin? As with most products and services a quick Google search for “audiobook narrators and producers” will result in an encyclopedic list of websites touting their unique talents and invaluable experience. The uninitiated are often overwhelmed with the sheer volume of possibilities, and come away wondering how to gauge one “expert” versus another.
Do It Yourself or Hire a Pro?
Many authors want to personally voice their own manuscripts, but unless it’s a self-help book or personal memoir it is strongly suggested writers avoid taking on such a task. The process is much more difficult that it appears from the outside looking in, and only those who are especially talented at public speaking will find it anything less than tedious, time-consuming and daunting. The overall cost can also be a factor, since renting professional studio time can be prohibitive.
Instead, employ the services of a professional narrator and producer, with experience in the audiobook genre. (Read that last line again, and emphasize the word “experience.”) Shop carefully for the correct narrator and/or producer. The right voice can enhance the text tastefully, but the wrong voice can just as easily butcher it. Listen to as many narrators’ audiobook demos as possible before choosing one, and make sure he or she is not just a home studio, part-time wanna-be. Many fine narrators work out of home studios, but not everyone who has mastered the basics of an audio software program is a professional narrator. Don’t offer the project to the first compelling voice that appears. Ask for a list of audiobooks the narrator has already voiced, and get references from the authors of those books, but don’t pay much attention to the reviews given by consumers. As a wise man once said, “Everybody has a right to their own stupid opinion!” The “Comments” section is always a poor and extremely small sample share, and rarely reflects anything more than the individual poster’s perception. Remember, less than 1% of the people who’ve bought the audiobook will bother to post a review.
Another sage advised, “You write the book – we’ll produce the audiobook.” If you’re dealing with an experienced narrator and/or producer (and that’s a big if) they will be far better equipped to create an appealing audiobook than the writer, publisher or rights-holder. At the same time, competent and professional audiobook creators will instinctively want your input on certain aspects of the manuscript, and collaboration should be a part of the process. Avoid micromanaging them. Let them do what they do best.
The book’s genre will also dictate who your narrator should or should not be. Self-help, historical, biographical or other narrative manuscripts can be easily handled by a voice-over artist, but works of fiction will require a voice-actor who is capable of creating subtle, understated but unique voices for each of your characters. A voice-actor should also be adept at “story-telling,” which is an entirely different skill set from straight narration.
It should also be noted narrators, voice-over artists and voice actors sometimes edit and produce their own productions, but in some cases they do not. Many voice talents will simply hire out studio time and pay professional audio producers to execute the technical aspects of the project, while they only voice the text. This can significantly add to the budget of the finished audiobook, and it’s often more cost-effective to hire someone who does it all from their own personal studio.
Which brings us to the subject of pricing. There are plenty of voice talents and producers who will forge “Royalty Share” deals with authors, publishers and rights-holders who want to avoid up-front investments, by providing a percentage of audiobook sales on the back end. However, in order to own all the rights to an audiobook production one should expect to pay anywhere between $200-$500 per finished hour (gold standard voice actors can charge much more). “Finished hour” simply means the amount of time the audiobook runs after all the editing has been completed, not the amount of clock time it takes the narrator to actually voice the text. Some deals may be a combination of the two, reducing up-front costs per finished hour, with a lower percentage of sales. Most audiobooks are voice only, and productions that involve music and/or sound effects can be considerably more expensive.
Sales and Distribution
The final step in the process is to upload the finished product on the various audiobook sales platforms. There are dozens of websites, but some of the most prominent are Audible.com, Amazon.com, BarnesAndNoble.com, GoodReads.com, AudioBooks.com, AudioBookStand.com and of course, iTunes.apple.com. Competent and experienced producers will maintain their own accounts on many of the websites, but rarely will they be aligned with all of them. Believe it or not, some customers still prefer CDs, so print a few copies to accommodate the technologically challenged among us.
Good luck, and we’re always here to help at Edgewater Studios. You can find us at www.edgewater-studios.com.