Most book authors look at print and digital for their masterpiece, but fail to consider the opportunities audio can provide. If your book appeals to a niche audience, you might discover audio outsells print and digital combined. That’s what happened with the Horse Sense and Cents titles.
Saying this came from insightful strategic planning would be nice, but it was more dumb luck. In fact, the story didn’t start with a desire to create audio books at all. It began with a distribution problem on an existing product.
Matchmaker provides an unexpected answer
Almost a decade ago, Horse Sense and Cents produced a 9-volume CD package. The company wanted to sell it as a digital product. At the time, major online retailers didn’t let small companies sell MP3 book formats on their sites. Middleman distributors required high volumes and/or charged fees higher than the product value.
Then, a startup company came along that had already solved the distribution problem. ACX was established in 2011 to match authors & publishers with voice talent for recorded books. More exciting, though, they had established relationships with large internet retailers. Amazon, iTunes, and others guaranteed audio books created through the ACX system we be for sale on their platforms.
Of course, it helped ACX was owned by Amazon. We didn’t know it at the time. Most of their staff was floundering around with the rest of us trying to figure out how to make this initiative work. It didn’t matter. After six months of research hitting nothing but roadblocks on the distribution quandary, this little group of trailblazers had created the answer. To boot, creators could use the services of ACX, voice talent, and producers without upfront costs.
Getting Amazon to want to sell for you
The next break was happenstance. Amazon was pointing to the Horse Sense and Cents titles in the “You might also like” feature. That was without any paid advertising to support this promotion. The reason these titles got spotlighted was because there were no Audible competitors. That prompted a big shift in the book production strategy for the company.
Instead of starting with print and considering digital only after sales had peaked, priorities shifted to Kindle first. ACX requires books be available as a Kindle Edition to produce, or more importantly in this case, distribute. The goal was to put full focus on audio titles.
Of course, the window of opportunity seemed narrow with companies boasting huge marketing budgets putting out horse print books. That opening hasn’t closed yet. Amazon keeps pushing the Horse Sense and Cents books to anyone who has shown an interest in horses.
Since first discovering this promotional bonanza, we’ve set out to capitalize on holding top status as a tight niche audio product. This involved better strategic thinking based on a better understanding of why all this happened in the first place.
What can you do to own a niche on Audible?
While not everyone can own a niche on Audible, it might be easier than you think. There are, however, some keys to making this work.
- ACX is the best way in to Amazon & Audible and mostly the only way for small publishers. Some grumble about the high royalty share percentages ACX takes for every book sold, but a better way to look at this is you’ll be selling a lot more with ACX.
- The niche you select needs to be big enough to have an audience but small enough so there’s not a lot of competition. None is even better, provided there’s a ready market for your topic.
- There should already be a fair amount of purchase activity on Amazon with similar products. In the case of the Horse Sense and Cents audio titles, many other sellers had high demand for digital and print horse books. Similar items often get featured as suggested buys.
- Multiple titles help. Plan on producing at least two in relatively quick succession. Series are even better as they’re almost certain to appear in “You may also like” when one of your audio titles is purchased. Amazon will also often bundle series books with related purchases from other sellers. Other Audible titles you produce will show up as repeated suggestions to buy once someone buys one of your books.
- Vary the book length on the titles you offer, if possible. Members of Audible tend to go for the more expensive books (because they get a free one each month for their $14.95 membership fee). ACX does not allow you to set the book price, so you have to accept whatever price they come up with. This seems to depend mostly on book length, but also factors in how popular the title is (we’ve seen prices go up and down monthly). Those who aren’t Audible members tend to buy the less expensive books, especially if they’re newer.
- Voice talent will affect reviews, which can impact sales. Those available for royalty share generally aren’t as effective at narrating as the pros charging a hefty upfront sum. Most are adequate, though, for your typical non-fiction book. Listen to the auditions with your reader in mind before you choose to enter into a contract.
- Consider the ACX Bounty Program to help spur revenue while you’re promoting your titles. This can add up to far more revenue than book sales while giving you cash flow to build a brand.
If you’re producing an audio book in a competitive field, consider how you might be able to appeal to a niche audience. Perhaps you can write your self-help book in a way that speaks to the Christian market (and tag it that way)? Maybe your general small business issues & answers book is better crafted as a “how to” for starting a vending machine business? Do you have an issue you can focus on with vast appeal from a perspective that’s different than everyone else (think time management vs. The 4-hour Workweek)?
Competitive fields on Audible are extremely difficult to break into. Choosing a topic – or an angle – for your book that puts you in front of a tight niche audience can help you break through the noise. Now, go get to work on owning a niche on Audible!