On Digital Book World, professional audiobook narrator Karen Commins discusses all the things Amazon has done to move audiobooks further into the mainstream. It’s an interesting piece; I’d always thought of audiobooks as being mainstream already, since well before e-books were even invented, but as Commins notes, Amazon really has done a lot to make them more accessible to average people.
It started in 2007, when Amazon bought independent audiobook producer Brilliance Audio, which at the time produced 180 new titles per year but now produces 2,000. In 2008, Amazon bought Audible.com, which at the time had 60,000 titles in its catalog and now has around a quarter million. But perhaps most effectively of all,
Amazon Audible created the Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX) in 2011, a sort of open market to put publishers together with narrators for recording audiobooks independently. Commins notes that ACX is now responsible for 1/4 of the audiobooks available on Audible.
In 2012 Amazon started offering “Whispersync,” which would let readers switch between e-book and audiobook renditions of the same title almost seamlessly, and offer them a discount for buying both formats. Since 2013, Amazon has been offering the “Find Your Match” service to show users which Kindle titles they already own are eligible for discount audiobook upgrades. Also in 2013, Amazon’s acquisition of Goodreads gave it a powerful tool for recommending audiobooks as well as print and e-books.
In 2015, Audible launched its Onebook program, and expanded it in May, allowing people to share an audiobook in their library with up to 1,000 people, including an optional free Audible trial membership. The list goes on and on.
Not everyone’s been happy with everything Amazon’s done for audiobooks, of course—the discount Whispersync program has aggravated some authors and audiobook producers to the point where they intentionally try to break compatibility between the print and audiobook editions. Some also complain that, unless you’re one of the big publishers, ACX is effectively the only way to get an audiobook produced that anyone can actually find.
Apart from Amazon’s moves to promote it, audiobook production has also benefited from e-book and other digital technology making it easier to read, perform, and record audiobooks. And, of course, audiobook consumption has benefited from the fact that you no longer have to lug a suitcase full of cassette tapes or CDs along with you to listen to an hours-long audiobook production.
All in all, the digital revolution has made it even easier to listen to audiobooks—by comparison to the old way—than it has to read printed books. And that’s a pretty nifty thing, in my (audio)book.
(Found via The Passive Voice.)
(Photo by Jeff Golden, used under CC BY-SA 2.0 license.)
If you’re loaded with money, you might thank Audible. If you’re not, you ‘ll probably find the near monopoly prices far too inflated. I picked a recent book that was a guaranteed bestseller, Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman. Here are the prices:
As someone who tires of all the whining about “high ebook prices,”I feel the real robbery is taking place with Audible’s audiobook prices. That’s over 600% more for an audiobook whose sales would easily cover the cost of an audio productions. “Can you say r-i-p-o-f-f? I thought you could.”
I seemed to recall subscribing to Audible a few years back as a result of a free promotion. The prices were so riduculous, I soon left. For a time, Audible offered an occasional audiobook heavily discounted. I bought a few that way, but it making watching for those discounts so difficult, I gave up.
I’ve never been one to join in the vanity of chattering over the latest NY Times bestseller anyway, so I’ve adopted listening to free and inexpensive sources of classic tales now in the public domain. One option are those read by Librivox volunteers:
Another website repackages those audiobooks into formats I like better:;
Both have free smartphone apps that make searching for and downloading audiobooks easy.
I also listen to the free weekly Classic Tales podcast by the professional narrator, B. J. Harrison. I find he’s an excellent way to discover authors I might not have otherwise discovered.
As a professional, Harrison has books sold by Audible, but you can get a much better price directly from him:
Bypass Audible and you’ll save a lot of money. And if you simply must listen to Fifty Shades of Stupid hot off the NY Times bestselller list so you can discuss it with airheads, alternate that with an inexpensive or free tale from the sources above and cut your costs in half.
For thriller fans, I recommend one of the first such books and a true classic:
Riddle of the Sands is like Sherlock Holmes stories. After you read it, you’ll be forever disappointed that you’ll never be able to read it again for the first time, that you now know the riddle.
For a children’s tale that’s good for adults since in points out just how debatched and corrupt our culture has become toward children, I recommend:
For light humor, no one beats P. G. Wodehouse. You might start with Jeeves:
Besides, if you avoid Audible, you’ll get to thumb your nose at all the silly Amazon fanboys who think “Amazon Can Do No Wrong” and more recently “Amazon Pioneers Everything.” They’re worse that Brian Williams at telling tale tales.
Personally, I’m surprised none of them have nominated Jeff Bezos for the Noble Peace Prize. The standards for that one are rather low anyway. Since you don’t have to do anything to win, giving it to some who has done sometime, however flawed, would be a step up for the Prize.
If you want to really understand a company, look at how it treats its employees.
Audiobooks have always been ridiculously expensive compared to print books, because they have to pay the voice actors and audio production staff reasonable amounts for spending hours of their time and effort recording the stuff, plus the cost of the media it comes on. The publisher list price of the book-on-audio-CD version is $34.99—ten bucks more than the digital audiobook version.
So, you can’t blame Amazon for that. If anything, Amazon is doing what it can to cut audiobook prices by offering affordable e-book/audiobook combos that drop the total price to about that of a hardcover book.
I pay $229 a year to Audible for a Platnam Membership – 24 books. That’s about $9.55 per book. I’d call that a good deal. They have monthly memberships but I don’t remember the cost.
After ten years I’ve never had to pay the full cost for an audiobook. If I run out of book credits (which I do most years) I renew my membership early.
The price of audiobooks through Audible can be much lower than even what Greg indicates. I used to have the platinum plan as Greg mentioned, but I dropped down to the next lower plan which includes only 12 credits/yr with the cost per credit around $13. I almost always only use the credits when they are doing 2 books for 1 credit sales, which happen frequently.
My bigger source audiobooks is the daily specials Audible does (and they provide a daily email link so it takes no searching to find it). The price is typically between $3 and $5. Not every book is going to be of interest, but I seem to find one worth that price every 2-3 weeks.
Throw in the occasional audiobook downloaded through overdrive from the local public library and I would say my average audiobook cost is under $6. In fact, last year I never even used all 12 of my Audible credits, yet I still have 7-8 audiobooks loaded in my phone that I haven’t started yet.
Of course, this assumes you are willing to take potluck as far as what books you are going to read. If you are looking for a specific book, like the latest bestseller, then you are going to have to use a full credit per book, which will drive up your per book cost significantly.
Other specials at Audible are discounts when you own the Kindle version. Some times it’s a good discount like $1.99 or $2.99, but it can be upwards of $12.99 too – which is pointless when you’ve got credits.
Another special that they used to run is spend four credits and get $10.00 back. I found this especially good for the classics. The Kindle version is often $0.00 . I leveraged this into 3 or 4 essentially free audiobooks. I haven’t seen this deal recently. Maybe it was a money loser.
Hi, Chris! Thanks so much for discussing my DBW article with your readers.
After the article’s publication, I learned that although Audible is an Amazon subsidiary, it acts independently. Some of the innovations long touted as being from Amazon, such as Whispersync for Voice, actually have their origins at Audible. I plan to update the title and article to better reflect Audible’s role.
I also want to clarify one point in your article. I wrote that ACX is “a site created in 2011 by Amazon-owned Audible.” Amazon did not create ACX as you stated above.
Like you, I’ve always thought of audiobooks being in the mainstream. However, with a recent poll showing that only 12% of Americans have listened to one, audiobooks are really just now becoming popular.