The Rise of Audible

I was recently scrolling on Twitter when I came across a tweet by Michael Patrick Hicks, in which he highlighted a major disadvantage for authors from Audible. He said that if someone returns a book on the site, then the author has to pay for that book out of their royalties. It’s sort of like if you went into Topshop to return something you didn’t like, and instead of Topshop paying for it, it would be the sales assistant who sold it to you that would have to. I know that’s quite a drastic example, but it was what I could come up with to explain it. I’ve always had my reservations about Audible, but maybe that’s just because I haven’t yet been converted to the world of digital books.

Audible is, according to Wikipedia, a ‘seller and producer of spoken audio entertainment, information, and educational programming on the Internet. Audible sells digital audiobooks, radio and TV programmes, and audio versions of magazines and newspapers’. It’s an online subscription service which enables you to receive 12 audiobooks per year included. According to their website, you can ‘swap an audiobook for whatever reason’ which basically means that once you finish with the book you can return it to be able to get another one. It is giving the consumer the impression that they can treat the site like an online library, as opposed to a bookshop in which whatever book they choose they have to keep. To be honest, I would be quite interested in researching book shop etiquette, but I think that’s for another blog post.

I was only mildly surprised when I learnt what year Amazon had purchased Audible. Because of the recent hype surrounding the company, I had assumed it was a recent purchase, but actually, they had purchased the company back in 2008. I don’t know about you, but I only really starting hearing about Audible when Amazon started paying almost every Youtuber to promote their brand. Audiobooks have always been around as well, they just came in the forms of tapes and CD’s and I can’t say that they seemed to be that popular. This decade has seen double-digit growth in digital sales, with total sales coming to $2.5 billion over the last 5 years. We’re probably going to see a rise over the next five years as well if I’m just guessing.

Let’s get onto my opinions on the pros and cons of Audible. One of the biggest pros of Audible is that it encourages more people to read, as it makes the whole process a lot easier. A lot of people I know who love Audible, like it because they can essentially read books anywhere. You can read whilst driving, going for a run, taking a bath and even cooking. As someone who finds it hard to follow audiobooks, I find that one of the forms of digital content I prefer is podcasts. Personally, I am a massive fan of the variety of podcasts that seem to be appearing. But anyways, another pro of Audible is that the popularity of the app has encouraged more Publishing companies to have an audio division of their book. The Big 5 in Publishing are working towards making a lot of their books available in audio form, which is very good for the people that enjoy that content.

However, there are cons in this business just like in most places. The Big Five, understandably, don’t want to relinquish the audio rights to their content, so the only way Audible gets their hands on the big authors is to put down a lot of money onto the table. I can only guess that this is why the price of Audiobooks on their website is so high. For example, in my research for this post, I found that Audible was claiming that without their subscription service the price for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling would be a whopping £17.99! I mean. Colour me bloody shocked. That’s an obscene amount of money, considering you can pick up a copy in Waterstones for £7.99. Of course, they advertised that with their subscription you can get this book for free, but what if you don’t want to subscribe? Is that really the price you would have to pay just to listen to a book instead of buying it? A quick search in google highlighted some possible answers to this. One was that the production cost was so expensive. For example, a 10-hour long book could cost between $3,000-$4,000 to produce. Let’s do some quick maths though. An American Audible subscription is $14.95 a month. If we put the price of the production at $3,500 then it would take 234 people’s subscription to cover the cost. On the Audible website, the book has 21,980 reviews. That equates to $328,601 if we are using the maths that everyone who wrote a review used their monthly allowance on that book. I know I am being generous with the numbers here, and that a lot more goes into it than just a simple production cost. But don’t forget people that they only have to pay that production cost ONCE before they can start to profit from it for all eternity. A physical book, on the other hand, will always have production costs from being reprinted. After all this maths, I found a handy table on that shows how Audible come up with the pricing of their books:

Length of AudiobookPrice
Under 1 hourUnder $7
1-3 hours$7-$10
3-5 hours$10-$20
5-10 hours$15-$25
10-20 hours$20-$30
Over 20 hours$25-$35

For me, those prices seem slightly unjust and without proper basis but that’s for each person to decide I guess. As someone who loves seeing the books on my bookshelf, I cannot see myself rushing to subscribe to Audible any time soon. But I am glad for all those that find it has replanted their love for reading by being able to listen to them. Like with most companies, they won’t get everything right no matter how much they try. But I would suggest if you’re looking to purchase audiobooks have a look at some independent firms if you have the means, and support authors who don’t have the funds as Audible do. Kind of like buying books from Independent bookstores instead of the big companies.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this post as much as I’ve learned from researching it. Until next time,


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