My ebook publishing company recently released a delightful audio play by Jack Matthews. I even was the narrator who read the introduction (P.S. I was the worst part of the play).
You can download the mp3s of the play for your listening pleasure. It’s 67 minutes total. Until April 7, I am keeping the price of the audio play down to $1.99, but after that, you should be able to buy it for $3.99 from cdbaby and itunes. (For some reason Amazon prices it at $8.99 and I’m trying to rectify that).
Many, many people have told me that
- the economics of audio plays just don’t add up. It requires a lot of initial investment and production costs (You have to pay for multiple actors – not just one) , and is a tough sell just to break even. It’s the reason why audio plays are so rare. Audible has even fairly small offerings in that category (here are new releases) ; most are audio versions of plays which were actually produced elsewhere or “original cast” recordings.
- you can’t make any money unless you sell through Audible. Audible pretty much dominates the market and has a user-friendly app for the Kindle and other devices.
I find audio plays to be terrific, and BBC Radio featured lots of plays which I listened to when overseas. They are fairly easy to produce, and don’t require elaborate sets or lots of rehearsal. Staged readings are a lot easier for the actors, plus they are fine for most audiences. I always remind people that “The Honeymooners” and “I Love Lucy” began as radio series and later went to TV.
Paying the actors upfront is the biggest expense of production and adds to the risk. (I also offered mandatory residuals to the actors and author after 4 years even if I don’t recover expenses – something I considered very generous….)
One core value I have is an antipathy to Digital Rights Management (or DRM). Audible is nothing but DRM. They make up for somewhat by deploying apps on all the major devices. But basically the digital files are never yours. (Some may actually prefer it that way – it can be a pain to maintain all those files).
The bigger problem is the pitiful royalties Audible give to audiobooks which are not exclusive to Audible. Look at this Audible graph about breakdown of royalties for content creators:
For audiobooks being sold on Audible in low volume (i.e., 95-99% of all audiobooks), royalties are 25% if nonexclusive and 50% if exclusive. The percentages slowly increase with more volume, but basically Audible is screwing the content creator. One can argue about how much value Audible.com is adding. Granted, 10 years ago we wouldn’t even be able to have this conversation, but 50% is what I would consider to be the low end for the distributor’s split. And that’s what you get only if you grant Audible exclusive distribution rights.
To contrast, I can sell mp3s on cdbaby for $3.99 and make 91% if the consumer buys it directly from them. (CDbaby also distributes it to itunes and Amazon as well, but they charge 9% of whatever Amazon or itunes pay). For this month’s promotional price, I am using a DIY paypal shopping cart which – can also provide a 90% cut. I pay a one time fee to e-junkie for the shopping cart (usually $5-15$ a month).
That’s how the indie publisher can beat the big guys at their game. That assumes of course that you have a steady sales volume and that fans know where to find out about you. These are big assumptions. One key advantage Amazon has is prominence in search results (which is even more prominent than the author’s own site). If people just go to Amazon, they will never find out purchasing choices which are cheaper and better for the content creator. Another advantage that Amazon and itunes have cloud solutions. That saves the consumer the trouble of worrying about where the file is. (MY response is to keep all ebook purchases in Dropbox – it’s that simple!)
If I had only one suggestion to give consumers, it’s to check the author’s or musician’s website for the best deals before buying from the majors. Sometimes the website can also point you to vendors which give the content creator the highest royalty percentage or even the lowest price.
Another thing that worries me is learning that Amazon’s distribution system is trying to feature exclusive content. I was shocked to learn that some of its overseas ebook distribution deals only gave 70% if you agreed to give Amazon exclusive rights to sell the content (via Amazon Prime).
Amazon is a good company, and they offer a lot of good metrics and friendly tools and a user-friendly website, but if I faced the choice between being railroaded into exclusive contracts on DRM cloud with Amazon and leaving Amazon altogether, I would probably have to consider other options.
On a related note, I have been buying from emusic – an outstanding music service. Most of its mp3 prices are 10-20% cheaper than Amazon’s prices, and if you get a subscription, you get even more discounts. The only hitch is that emusic doesn’t offer a cloud solution, so if you lose the mp3 files after downloading them, you’re basically screwed.