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

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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 because of 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.


Currently, Amazon is offering 4 Free Audiobooks to new Audible members, during the free trial. You will get 2 Audiobooks of your choice and 2 from the Audible Originals! You can keep those books for lifetime, even if you cancel your trial membership!

Here’s the link to the offer page!

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.

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

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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. Subodh Sharma

      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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