I am currently in the middle of a promotion of the audiobook editions of my Victorian San Francisco Mysteries: Books 1-4 ($1.99), Pilfered Promises ($1.99), Scholarly Pursuits ($2.99) and Lethal Remedies ($3.99).
I wouldn’t have been able to do this promotion if I hadn’t made the decision to shift my audiobooks from being exclusive to ACX (Amazon’s audiobook production and distribution arm) to being non-exclusive and distributing through Findaway Voices. This shift meant my audiobooks would still available on Amazon and Audible, but they would now be available on a whole host of additional venues. Findaway Voices currently distributes books to over forty partners, including Audible. Three years ago, I discussed the reasons for making this shift in this blog piece and this seemed like a good time to provide an update on how this shift has worked out for me.
While I had a number of reasons for making this shift, I knew that it represented a financial risk since it meant the royalty percentage on all my audiobooks distributed by Audible would go from forty percent to twenty-five percent. Therefore, I’m pleased that my sales through Findaway Voices the past three years have more than made up for the loss in revenue with Audible. In addition, distributing through Findaway Voices has helped me achieve a number of the goals I set for myself when I made the shift.
First, I am no longer dependent on ACX to get my books to listeners, and my sales to libraries are now a significant part of my sales.
In the three years since I stopped being exclusive with ACX and started distributing through Findaway Voices, only twenty-nine percent of my total audiobook sales were Audible sales. Instead, I now sell to a variety of stores, including AppleBooks, Bookmate, Chirp, eStories, GooglePlay, Nook, Scribd, and Storytel. In addition, twenty-five percent of my sales through Findaway Voices have been to libraries through Bibliotheca, Overdrive, and Hoopla.
Audible sales still make up fifty-one percent of my audiobook revenue. This is due, in part, to the higher prices Audible charges for audiobooks and also the number of my non-Audible sales that are to libraries and through discount promotions, which generally garner me lower revenue per sale. As I experiment more with tweaking my regular prices and looking for additional promotional opportunities, I believe the proportion of my revenue from non-Audible sales will continue to increase.
For those interested in the problems that can be caused by dependence on a single source of audiobook sales, check out what has been called AudibleGate, when a change in policy by ACX about returns had a sudden profound and negative effect on author revenue.
Second, I can now determine the prices for my audiobooks (except for Audible, which still insists on setting prices for all audiobooks they distribute.) This has opened up a number of promotional opportunities through Findaway Voices, especially through their partnership with Chirp.
On Audible, all my full-length novels cost $24.95. In contrast, I have priced my novels with the other retailers at $11.95. More importantly, I have been able to make the first books in my two series cost only $4.99 for non Audible sales. In this way they are acting as loss leaders for these series.
Findaway Voices also provides 100 free codes for each of the audiobooks I sell. For the past two years I have raffled off two of these codes with each of my newsletters. This is a simple method of adding value to my newsletters and encouraging my existing fans to give my audiobooks a try.
Even better, Findaway Voices makes it easy to temporarily discount audiobooks for up to thirty days at a time through Chirp, AppleBooks, and, as of this week, Barnes and Noble. Findaway Voices handles lowering then upping the price, which makes the whole process very smooth. I have been doing these discounts every month for the past year, and I do see a spike in sales for the books temporarily discounted. – primarily through Chirp. For example, in this past November, my revenue from sales of my novel, Pilfered Promises, tripled from the previous month when I discounted its price from $11.45 to $1.99, and my revenue for Maids of Misfortune quadrupled when I discounted it from $4.99 to $0.99 in December.
Third, the partnership between Findaway Voices and Chirp, the audiobook promotion arm of BookBub, has opened up new opportunities for indie authors to market their audiobooks to a broader audience.
As with Bookbub’s success with ebook promotion, the success of Chirp appears to be, in large part, due to the size of their pool of people who have signed up to get a daily email listing a selection of discounted audiobooks in specific categories.
Unfortunately, this success makes it more difficult to get your book chosen if you are an indie author, since books by traditionally published authors—often from their back lists—appear to be predominant.
For example, in 2019, when Chirp was first rolled out, I had two books immediately accepted. Then, in the next year and a half, I got eleven rejections in a row. I didn’t get a book accepted for promotion until I submitted boxed sets. I had a Chirp featured deal in August, 2021 of Caelestis Series, my science fiction boxed set, and the second deal I got is the one I am currently running with my boxed set, Victorian San Francisco Mysteries: Books 1-4.
I have heard similar experiences from other indie authors.
In fact, as I write this post, of the top ten books in the mystery/thriller featured deal category on Chirp, five were single books by traditionally published authors (Louise Penny, Nora Roberts, Harlan Coben, Lisa Gardner, Sandra Brown, and Janet Evanovich).The three books on that top ten by indies, mine included, were boxed sets.
On the other hand, I assume that the fact that Chirp has been able to offer great deals on books by well-known, best-selling authors, has been one of the primary reasons it has been so successful in attracting listeners. None of the other audiobook promotions I have tried with other sites have garnered near the number of sales I have gotten on Chirp. It might be frustrating to have to compete with traditional publishers, but I really can’t complain when my book shows up prominently featured next to mysteries by authors like Louise Penny or Janet Evanovich.
Until this January, while Chirp was still building its membership, it didn’t charge to run these featured deal ads (just taking its regular cut of the royalties.) I had three featured deals with Chirp under this earlier arrangement, making from between $540 to $1073. The lower amount was for a 99 cent deal, the higher amount for a $1.99 deal.
This current deal, however, is under a new arrangement, whereby Chirp charges the author by taking an additional percentage from each sale. As a result, instead of making $0.90 on each sale of my featured deal, I am making $0.70. Personally, I like this arrangement better than the BookBub featured deal for ebooks where you have to pay a set amount ahead of time, with no guarantee that you will break even, much less make a profit.
So far, with 18 days left in my featured deal, the boxed set has already sold 1222 copies, making me $855.40 in revenue. In addition, with this promotion, I experimented by discounting the next three books in the series: Pilfered Promises ($1.99), Scholarly Pursuits ($2.99) and Lethal Remedies ($3.99). I used the regular marketing tool through Findaway Voices I described above to temporarily discount them for the same 30 day period (at no additional cost.) So far, I have sold 344 copies of these three audiobooks, with an additional revenue of $495.00. I am also experimenting with running occasional paid ads through Bookbub, targeting Chirp listeners, to see if that will help maintain my sales of the discounted books for the remainder of the promotion.
Summary: One of the key reasons I wanted to shift from being exclusive with ACX/Audible was the same reason I chose to be an indie author…it gave me more control. Now I can determine where my audiobooks are sold, at what price. I can also experiment with different marketing strategies, the goal always being to attract new listeners. Given that audiobooks are currently the fastest growing segment of the publishing industry, it is worth it to me to spend the money and time to ensure my books are available in this format.
Before I shifted from selling exclusively with ACX/Audible, audiobooks were only 7% of my total book revenue. In the past three years, when I have been non-exclusive and distributing through Findaway Voices and using Chirp as a promotion tool, that percentage has risen to 10%. That might not seem like a large jump, but it is certainly going in the right direction, and I am satisfied that making the shift was the right decision for me.
I would love to hear from readers who have used Chirp, or other non-Audible retailers, as well as from authors who have made a similar decision to mine, to sell their audiobooks widely.
M. Louisa Locke, March 28, 2022