Over the past seven years, consumer interest in spoken-word content and audiobooks has risen dramatically. This increase has been well documented. In 2022, the “Edison Research Spoken Word” report found that the number of Americans who listened to spoken-word content daily had increased (26 million more in 2021 than in 2014, to be exact). Audiobooks played a major part in that growth, and audiobook publishers, including the audio divisions of the Big Five, have benefited greatly.

Simultaneously, over the past decade, self-published authors and indie publishers have increased their title output, yet many have found that audiobooks are not as easy to get to consumers as e-books and physical books. These content owners have to navigate a confusing ecosystem in order to get their audiobooks into the ears of listeners.

Authors and publishers must think carefully about who their partners should be to truly succeed in the audiobook market, especially given the healthy competition in the retail and library sectors. Apple, Chirp, and Spotify are just a few examples of outlets now competing with Audible, while Hoopla and OverDrive have led the growth in libraries.

When independent publishers and self-published authors enter the audiobook fray, they are often overwhelmed. Suddenly, they discover that they must become casting directors, proofers, marketers, metadata optimizers, and sales account managers for a format that is often completely new and unfamiliar to them. There are distribution platforms that give access to the audiobook market, but they’re no substitute for audiobook publishers’ years of experience.

When independent publishers and self-published authors enter the audiobook fray, they are often overwhelmed.

What is the best approach for publishers and authors to take advantage of opportunities in the audio market? I strongly suggest that they establish partnerships with experienced audiobook publishers. I have been on both the retailer and publisher sides of the audiobook industry, and I have seen that established audiobook publishers know how to position, price, sell, and market titles.

Success is best achieved in audio via a partnership between an author or an indie house and an audiobook publisher, such as Dreamscape, that lets each side do what they do best. Where the author and print publisher have amazing content, the audiobook publisher has the connections and resources to amplify that content in audio. And where the author has a platform and reader base, the audiobook publisher can provide additional marketing tips to gain visibility not only with listeners but also with key distribution outlets. It’s a matter of finding the right audiobook publisher.

Based on my experience working in the audiobook industry for close to 15 years, I recommend that indie book publishers and self-published authors look for these important characteristics when exploring new partnerships. While not a comprehensive list, it is imperative that potential audiobook publishing partners have the following capabilities:

● Knowledge of the entire audiobook production process, from recording to proofing and editing;

● A strong foothold in the audio retail market, with regular dialogue between the numerous accounts that merchandise and promote audiobooks;

● A strong presence in the library market, where about 30% of listeners find their audiobooks;

● Knowledge of how to price audiobooks in multiple sales channels, as it differs greatly from e-book and print pricing;

● Insight into marketing audiobooks, from full-scale
campaigns to social media conversations and promotional partnerships’;

● A program that can package and distribute metadata in a meaningful and optimized way that includes SEO capabilities;

● Insight about trends in the audiobook market and develop ways to improve their overall audiobook program.

Not long ago, the idea that publishers and self-published authors could align to help amplify the written (and recorded) word might have seemed at odds with many audiobook publishing programs. However, as the audience for audiobooks keeps growing and the marketplace keeps shifting, it is an obvious progression. Our passions are the same: creating great content for readers around the world. It seems only natural to become partners rather than competitors.

Sean McManus is the president of Dreamscape Media. He’s previously held executive positions at Audible, HarperCollins, and Spotify.