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Several years ago, self-publishing revolutionized the traditional and ebook industries. Now, new audiobooks publishers are taking over the audiobook industry -- which is the fastest growing format in publishing.
Audiobooks are no longer published only by major publishing houses, but they’re also being put out by smaller audiobooks businesses. Audiobooks businesses may publish their own works, works of other publishers or works in the public domain in audio format.
Who is this business right for?
Anyone who loves books may enjoy running an audiobooks business. The work makes books more accessible by putting them into a format that allows them to be enjoyed whenever the listener desires, even when driving or performing other tasks.
What happens during a typical day at an audiobooks business?
Work at an audiobooks business involves three distinct stages:
- Acquiring the audio rights to a book
- Narrating the chosen book
- Publishing and marketing the finished audiobook
Each of these stages comes with distinct tasks. When acquiring audio rights, business owners are in regular contact with authors, agents, and publishing houses. This is followed by hours of solitary work while the book is read and recorded. Finally, marketing requires communicating regularly with others while also analyzing data privately.
What is the target market?
With the proliferation of smart devices that can stream audio, the market for audiobooks is huge. Most people read occasionally, and an increasing number of people are preferring to listen to books.
How does an audiobooks business make money?
Audiobooks businesses make money by producing and selling audiobooks. Businesses may earn a royalty per book sold, a flat fee per book produced, or a combination of the two.
What is the growth potential for an audiobooks business?
An audiobooks business may be a small operation that produces just a few books, or it can become a large company that has thousands of titles available. Karen Cummins has a smaller audiobooks business with just over 50 books available. Brilliance Audio has offered audiobooks since the days of tape decks and is one of the largest businesses in the industry.
Podium Publishing offers a reference for how quickly an audiobooks business can grow. The company produced 200 titles in their first five years (and won several awards). This was an aggressive schedule and called upon the talents of multiple professionals.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful audiobooks business?
Audiobooks business owners should know how to record and produce good, clean audio. While this work can be outsourced, audiobooks businesses that don’t do their own recording offer customers little value and will have a hard time finding success.
Business owners who don’t have recording experience can learn by taking a class, such as the ACX Master Class or VOXpertise’s offerings. Recording Audiobooks and Recording Your Own Audiobook are two books that can also be helpful.
Additionally, business owners may want to develop skills as an audiobook narrator. Owners who aren’t adept at narrating can hire narrators, but this increases operational costs significantly. Owners who have narrational skills can earn a higher profit margin.
Owners can develop narrative skills by either taking an audiobook narrator class or studying acting. Audiobook Narration for Beginners and Edge Studio’s Audiobook Training are two businesses that offer audiobook-specific courses. Most cities have community colleges and acting groups that offer multiple acting options.
What are the costs involved in opening an audiobooks business?
The startup costs for an audiobook business are manageable, and it’s possible to start a business with very little capital if necessary.
First, the business must have a space for recording. Renting or building a recording studio is the best option, but also the most expensive. More affordable options include finding a quiet office or setting up a silent space in your home. Whatever space is used, there should be no noise from other people, appliances, fans, traffic or anything else.
Second, the business needs recording and producing equipment. This includes a computer, a microphone and recording/editing software. The microphone should be of the best quality possible, and it should be desk-mounted or come with a headset. A handheld microphone will make holding the script difficult while narrating.
Third, the business must have a narrator to read the work. Hiring a narrator may cost anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, depending on the reputation of the narrator and the length of the book being recorded.
Finally, the business must have audio rights to a book. Rights for the most popular books can cost five- and six-figure sums, but rights to many other books can be had for little or nothing. Business owners with limited capital can start by recording works of unknown authors and giving the authors a percentage of the sales, or owners can record their own works or public domain works. (Audio rights to public domain works don’t have to be purchased, but these books are harder to sell because they can be accessed for free.)
Finally, some cover art is needed. Business owners may hire someone to design a cover, or they can design one themselves. Because covers are small and simple, this is usually a minimal expense.
To have all of this professionally done for a 90,000-word work can cost between $3,000 and $4,000. A shorter book that’s fully read, recorded and produced in house can cost as little as $450. As a hybrid solution, business owners can outsource the narrating or some technical work for somewhere between these two costs.
What are the steps to start an audiobooks business?
Once you're ready to start your audiobooks business, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:
- Plan your business. A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. A few important topics to consider are your initial costs, your target market, and how long it will take you to break even.
- Form a legal entity. Establishing a legal business entity prevents you from being personally liable if your audiobooks business is sued.
- Register for taxes. You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
- Open a business bank account. A dedicated checking account for your audiobooks business keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
- Set up business accounting. Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
- Obtain necessary permits and licenses. Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
- Get business insurance. Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
- Define your brand. Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
- Establish a web presence. A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers. Get your first domain for only $0.99 with GoDaddy.
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Where can I find a business mentor?
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
What are some insider tips for jump starting an audiobooks business?
Finding independent authors who will sell audio rights to their books is possible but difficult. To get audio rights to multiple works easily, business owners should reach out to agents and small publishers. Agents may encourage their clients to sell audio rights, and small publishers often outsource audiobook recording.
How to promote & market an audiobooks business
How audiobooks are marketed depends on how the rights are obtained. Businesses that produce audiobooks for small publishers don’t need to worry about marketing, for publishers will take care of it. Books that aren’t from publishers can be promoted through Audiobook Boom, Audavoxx and AudioFile.
Regardless of who is running the marketing campaign for a book, reviews are extremely important. Therefore, it’s important to include a request for reviews at the end of an audiobook.
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How to keep customers coming back
An audiobooks business can keep customers purchasing additional titles by producing multiple books within the same genre. Listeners who enjoy one book will often search for other similar ones.
How and when to build a team
An audiobook business can be run as a one-person business if the business owner also does the narrating. Owners who hire a narrator will need to do so for each book. Narrators may be paid by the hour or a flat fee, and they can be found through local performing arts agencies.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a audiobooks business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
For information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
Maintain Personal Asset Protection
Don’t think that just forming an LLC, or any other type of business, will save your personal assets in case of a lawsuit or other matter by itself.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your LLC is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Two of the simplest steps that will protect your business, and yourself, are to:
Open a business bank account
- This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Get a business credit card
- This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.
Certificate of Occupancy
An audiobooks business is generally run out of an office and recording studio. Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO). A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.
- If you plan to lease a location:
- It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
- Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to an audiobooks business.
- After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
- If you plan to purchase or build a location:
- You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
- Review all building codes and zoning requirements for your business’ location to ensure your audiobooks business will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.
Audiobooks businesses should consider requiring clients to sign a services agreement before starting a new project. This agreement should clarify client expectations and minimize risk of legal disputes by setting out payment terms and conditions, service level expectations, and so on.
How much can you charge customers?
The cost of an audiobook can vary, but most are priced between $7 and $35 depending on length. Many customers, however, don’t pay the full price of an audiobook. A large number of audiobooks are sold through a subscription model by credit, with customers typically paying around $15 per credit.
What are the ongoing expenses for an audiobooks business?
The ongoing expenses for an audiobooks business are minimal. They consist of the narrating and production costs of future books, with minimal overhead unless a business has its own studio.
How much profit can an audiobooks business make?
The profit potential for an audiobooks business is significant. For reference, assume a business has books sold on Audible, which is one of the largest audiobooks retailers. Audible charges around $15 per credit, and pays a royalty between 25 and 40 percent on each sale.
Based on these numbers, an audiobooks business might expect to make anywhere from $3.75 to $6 per book sold. If a business has 100 titles available and each sells 30 copies per month, the business would bring in over $10,000 monthly.
How can you make your business more profitable?
Most audiobooks businesses increase their profits by publishing additional titles. Businesses may branch out into other genres in order to attract more listeners.