Why Are Audiobooks So Expensive? 6 Factors For Their High Price

A phone, an Earphone, Text: Why Are Audiobooks So Expensive?

When you notice the insanely high prices of audiobooks, you can’t help but wonder what makes them so expensive. After all, they are just some audio files.

Unlike physical books, they don’t even have to print multiple copies of them. Just produce it once, and you are done with the production work for life!

Then, why exactly are audiobooks so expensive compared to e-books and prints?

Well, the basic reason why audiobooks are so expensive is attributed to  their production cost, which is often very high. On an average, the ‘cost per finished hour’ of an audiobook is about $300 to $400. So, even if an audiobook is just 10 hours long, on an average, it would cost about $3000 to $4000 to produce it.

However, this can vary a lot depending upon the fame and personality of the narrator(s). In many cases, publishers hire famous actors and celebrities to make the audiobook more popular. This can increase the ‘cost per finished hour’ of the audiobook to as high as $1500 or even more.

For now let’s just talk about the first category of the audiobooks mentioned above, that is, the one that has an average ‘cost per finished hour’ of about $300 to $400.

What makes their production cost high?

Making an audiobook involves the work of many professionals and obviously, each one of them has to be paid. Apart from the Narrator(s), there are recording engineers, audiobook editors, and mastering engineers who play a key role in producing a high-quality audiobook. And this really soars up the overall cost of production.

Here are 6 important factors that are crucial in determining the price of an audiobook.

1. Narrator(s) or the Voice Artist of the audiobook

In audiobooks, narration quality is as important as the story itself! It is the narrator that brings the book to life. A good narrator is crucial in keeping the listeners riveted.

So, it is understandable that narrators with more experience, talent, and fan base (in case of famous celebrities) charge more for their work.

Sometimes, multiple narrators are hired to do the different characters of the same book. In that case, the cost naturally goes up.

2. Professionals like audiobook editors, recording and mastering engineers

Recording and Editing Studio with Audio Engineers

These professionals play a very important role in clearing the quality check of the audiobooks.

For instance, Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX), An Audible owned company which is a marketplace for professional narrators, authors, agents, publishers and rights holders to connect and create audiobooks, has some very specific technical requirements for audio quality. You can check the audiobook submission requirements for ACX here.

If these requirements are not met, the audiobook may be rejected. And that means the audiobook won’t be available for sale on Audible, Amazon, or even iTunes.

Audiobook editors, recording and mastering engineers make sure that the audiobook standards and quality check is passed smoothly.

3. Sales volume is comparatively low

When you see the sales volume of popular audiobooks, they are definitely doing great.

But for other average audiobooks, it really becomes difficult to keep the sale up when there are thousands of audiobooks produced each year (About 50,000 audiobooks were produced in 2017 in the United States alone)

So, each sale matters when the sale is low, not just to make a profit, but first to recover the production cost itself.

4. Length of the Audiobooks

Even if an author wants to keep the price of his audiobook low, that may not be possible.

As for pricing, Audible sets a scale of pricing based on length of the audiobook. So, even if the production cost was low, and the author decides to start with a low price to increase sales volume, Audible’s pricing policy may not allow that.

Here’s how Audible normally sets the price of the audiobook based on their length:

Length of the Audiobook
Under 1 hour
Under $7
1-3 hours
3-5 hours
5-10 hours
10-20 hours
Over 20 hours

5. Promotional cost recovery

Whether it’s an e-book, a physical book, or an audiobook, it is not going to sell on its own. Some promotional work has to be done to let the readers or the listeners know about the availability of the book.

So a part of the price may also include the recovery of the money spent during promotions.

6. Audible and Publishers’ royalty

The royalty share of Audible is usually very high. If the audiobook is produced through ACX, where all the production cost is covered by ACX (An Audible owned company), then Audible’s share can reach as high as 60-80%.

Remaining 20-40% goes to author depending on whether the author wants to pay the production cost upfront or share the royalties with the producer. (You can know more about Audible’s pricing policy from here)

These were some of the factors that influence the price of the audiobooks.

If you still think these factors do not justify the high price of audiobooks, then I can assure you that you are not alone. I have the same feeling myself.

Though I have Audible’s Gold Monthly membership plan and I’m really impressed with the service so far, I would still love to see the prices go down so that I can increase the number of audiobooks consumption.

I did a good bit of research before writing this article, and as per my speculation, I really feel that prices can be lower. Audible’s royalty share for instance, is huge. And the sad part is Audible has a monopoly over the audiobooks market.

And so, if someone can reduce the price of audiobooks, it’s Audible, or to be more precise, Amazon. (Amazon acquired Audible in 2008)

Let’s just hope that with increasing audiobooks listeners, Audible finds a way to reduce their share over the price and help the users get a cheaper access to their favorite audiobooks.

Though some Audible membership plans and offers can save good amount of money, it is still not feasible for everyone in the long run.

In the comment section below, please share your thoughts on the pricing of audiobooks. Are the prices justified? What possible solutions do you suggest to reduce the prices? I would really love to know your opinions.

19 thoughts on “Why Are Audiobooks So Expensive? 6 Factors For Their High Price”

  1. No
    It really doesn’t cost much more than a hard copy book or a cheap movie.
    Its extortionate because Audible, Sribd etc are just greedy.

  2. I think the market for books and podcast is very good now. The price going down will be what attracts more people to the market overall will help more authors established and less well known make a living. Perhaps they could do away with the big budget narrators as I’m sure there are plenty of people with a good warm reading voice. Sure it’s nice to hear certain people narrating a book you like now and again but I don’t think it always essential. Plus I think they need to draw younger people into the market for books as I really believe audio has a strong future and the best way to get them into books…

  3. I would imagine making feature length film, like the Harry Potter series, must cost less than what it takes to create an audiobook, under your logic of course!

  4. By far and wide, the best thing any audiobook listener can do to support the market is to buy from any retailer except Audible.

    Behind the scenes Amazon is attempting a monopoly by forcing audiobook creators into exclusivity deals so their competitors have nothing to sell. They do this by stripping royalties down to 25% for any audiobook producer who wishes to sell elsewhere.

    When you bear in mind that a high quality audiobook with a well-known narrator will cost in the region of £9,000 to produce, if the audiobook is sold at £10, Amazon takes £7.50 of every sale while the audiobook producer fights to pay back that £9,000 investment at £2.50 a book.

    At the point that the audiobook producer breaks even and has yet to make any money whatsoever (i.e. at 3,600 copies sold) Amazon will have made £27,000 from that single audiobook simply for hosting on its store front.

    Think about that: Amazon makes almost thirty thousand pounds while the person who made the product makes nothing.

    On other retailers, the royalty is 40% and much fairer on the writer and audiobook producer. At 2,250 copies, the audiobook producer will have broken even. And the retailer will have made £13,500. It’s still not great, but it’s better.

    In short, don’t buy from Audible. They are destroying their competition, the audiobook producers and the writers in one fell swoop while making extortionate amounts of money.

    1. Thanks for the really clear explanation. I felt that way in my gut, but now I have solid facts on which to base my decision!

  5. My main issue is that I drive so much, that I tend to listen to a very many audio books per month. This is not feasible, as it would cost me 200-300$ a month. Literally anything is less expensive, except for perhaps cocaine. I have no problem with a set monthly subscription to access their selection, and I would keep that just like I have netflix, likely for decades. Since this is unaffordable I instead do not use their services, and they are costing themselves much money. I suspect it is because their royalty model has to try to make every book profitable, even when it would normally not be, so they artificially inflate all pricing, so in the worst case they recover their costs. Even though many books make an excessive profit, that profit is already ‘taken’. A netflix approach would be much to their benefit long term.

    1. Hi Jordan,

      It’s not the case that Amazon are artificially inflating the prices so that they break even. They take 75% of every non-exclusive sale. It’s the writer and the audiobook producer that gets screwed by pricing, not Audible/Amazon. See my comment for an explanation of the behind the scenes model. GGx

  6. Price is not my complaint. If I go to a bookstore and buy a hard copy or a CD of a book it is mine. I can share it with a friend because I have paid for and hence own that copy. I purchase a overpriced audible book and I am unable to share it? I am not suggesting that that I should be allowed to give it to the world. That would destroy the business. I do believe I should be allowed to share it with at least one other person and can understand why that person should not be allowed to pass it on. The technology that would allow that is available. There are audible books available from other company’s for much less and if am turning to them. Today I purchased a book for $5.00 that Audible wanted $20 some dollars for. The same narrator and the quality is excellent. Do explain this difference if you are able. Please do try. I would, and I am sure many others would also, like to hear the explanation. I will be waiting.

    1. Hello Daniel. I really understand your concern. I myself ain’t a big fan of Audible pricing. And I have mentioned that in the conclusion of the article as well.
      Anyways, if you want to share your Audible books with any ONE of your friend or relative, I think I do have a solution for you. You can do it using amazon household and it is totally legal!
      You can refer to this article: https://gladreaders.com/how-to-share-audible-books/

  7. In addition to handcrafting my books, I am just getting into narrating my own books and putting them on DVD as MP3 for blue ray. I’ve used them at home, and figured out how to make them available for phones. I have always enjoyed handcrafting and have been told I am a good narrator. I was searching to determine what I should charge when I came across this article. It was helpful because it explained why I should NOT charge very much.

  8. Audible might be dominant, but it has no monopoly. There are plenty of other audiobook suppliers, who could undercut Audible’s cash prices, so this is not about monopoly power. I think it is about the subscription based business model.

    The price for making a one-off purchase of an audiobook is indeed ridiculously high, but I think this is largely because Audible and the other suppliers all want to encourage customers to subscribe, so they get a steady income. If you buy an Audible subscription, the price per book in the US is $10-15. And if you use the regular 2 for 1 offers, that is $5-7.50. In the UK, the figures are about half that. That compares pretty well with buying physical books.

  9. The production costs of creating an audio book are miniscule compared to making a film. Undoubtedly the reason sales are low is because of the cost. Audible simply need to have a careful look at their business plan.

    1. I totally agree with you, Keith. But sadly, with Audible’s monopoly over audiobooks market, I don’t see the price getting lower anytime soon.

      1. Keith and Subodh, together I think you guys hit the mark much closer than this article. It is indeed monopoly pricing, and also probably a poor business plan because they are cutting so many people out of the market.

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