The Question of Revenue Share

At VoiceOver Extra, James Adams, CEO of BeeAudio production house, brings up the troubles with a new move to revenue share in the audiobook business, where publishers (like iambik) pay narrators through revenue share, rather than flat up-front fees.

James identifies three major problems with revenue share:

James Adams1. narrators should not carry the risk for a book, publishers should
2. royalty payments in James’ experience have been very low
3. uncertainty of the value of any given audiobook (see #1 above), and the inefficiency of the audiobook publishing process

A commenter adds a further point, I think worth noting as well:
4. if narrators have no say in marketing, then they have little control over the business side of the audiobook

I think James is right about a lot of this, but the business is changing. I responded to his note with the following:

My Response on Revenueshare

I’m the founder of a new audiobook company – – that is working thus far completely on a revshare basis. I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on this.

First, I think you are right that given the choice between getting paid $X thousand dollars up front, and getting Y% of an uncertain sales figure, you’re probably better off taking the money up front.

Probably the ideal situation for a narrator is an X + Y = upfront + revshare.

The Audiobook Market is Changing

But I think, as some narrators have mentioned above, the industry is going to be changing drastically in the coming years. It’s going to face the same pressure that all content businesses face with the shift to digital, with two fundamental changes:

– growing supply (that is: more media on the market)
– declining prices

Now the hope is that it comes with increasing demand, but that remains to be seen. What is certain is that sales of digital audiobooks are growing at 25%, while hard copies are declining.


So there is no reason to expect that the audiobook market isn’t going to face all the hand-wringing and uncertainty that other industries – built on analog/bricks&mortar supply-chains – have faced with the move to digital, namely: price worries, and the realization that the traditional customer of publishers (bookstores), will be replaced by a new customer: listeners.

The result will be more uncertainty about the value of any given audiobook, and hence a growing hesitancy to pay our large advances, at least for everything that isn’t a sure hit.

Audible & iTunes

On top of this, Audible/iTunes now has a near-monopoly on digital audiobooks – and their terms with publishers are … not particularly favorable. So as the digital market grows, the squeeze happens everywhere. So: whither the audiobook business of the future?

The LibriVox Experience

My experience is as founder of LibriVox – where we built a big community of passionate amateur audiobook makers, and we’ve attracted a huge number of listeners – our site get 650,000 visits a month, and our most popular audiobooks have been downloaded more than a million times. These are free titles of course, but there’s something to the model, one we’re trying to adapt for commercial markets with iambik.

Working with Narrators at iambik

And in the case of iambik – we very much want to work with narrators and print publishers to market things together. We want to be efficient. And we want to be a great company to work with.

The big question is: will narrators make lots of money with us? Our bet is that if we focus on making it easy for narrators to do their work, and on paying close attention to the desires of audiobook listeners, we’ll be nimble enough to take advantage of the shift to digital, while finding new audiences. And that means a better chance of money for everyone.

Will we succeed? We shall see … I sure hope so, because one way or another, I think that revenueshare will be a big part of the future of audiobooks.

One thought on “The Question of Revenue Share

  1. As an audiobook narrator, I wanted to say that we are not entirely powerless. I record audiobooks on a royalty share basis and short stories / samples / other snippets on an up-front payment basis (because people are more willing to make a small up-front payment). This combination works well for both me and the authors and publishers with whom I work.

    However, I pick the audio books I record on a royalty share basis very carefully. I look at how well the book is being promoted and whether my own readership / audience (I am an author too) will like it too. Then when the audiobook is released, I can be fairly sure that the people who know and like my work will also like that project too.

    Of course there is an element of risk, but I love narrating and performing, so that is something I take into consideration too.

    Another advantage of the rev share model is that it helps relatively new narrators like me to build a credible portfolio. Recording a whole book requires commitment and stamina, so being able to demonstrate that, with a trickle of income from it in the background works well for me – and as time goes by, more and more audiobooks will be out there so I see it as a cumulative investment too.

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