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Audiobook Royalties: To Share Or Not Share? An Indie Author & A Professional Narrator Answer The Question

Audiobook Royalties: To Share or Not Share? An Indie Author & a Professional Narrator Answer the Question


headshot of Anna Castle

Historical mystery writer Anna Castle examines the appeal of the royalty share option for audiobooks, with the help of her books' narrator, Joel Froomkin

Ready to make an audiobook but unsure how to manage the financial split with your chosen narrator? Is royalty share the best way forward for you?

Historical mystery writer Anna Castle interviewed professional narrataor Joel Froomkin, service provider for her own audiobooks, on how royalty share works from the narrators perspective, in this eye-opening post.

We authors post our title information, audition pages, etc, and we state whether we’re looking for royalty share or paying up front; if the latter, we select a price range per hour. But how do narrators choose which projects to accept and what are the factors that would persuade them to accept the royalty share option rather than requiring an upfront, one-off fee for the voice artistry. Here's what Joel told me when I put that question to him.

headshot of Joel Froomkin

Professional audiobook narrator Joel Froomkin shares the narrator's perspective into what makes a viable royalty-share deal with an indie author

It’s basically a numbers game.

Royalty share is a gamble.

  • I have some colleagues who have a gift for choosing the right projects, but it isn’t easy. Usually, if a project is a strong royalty share prospect, the author will want to pay you up front because they know it’s going to sell. We look at several things:
  • Most important are the existing sales numbers and the numbers of reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, particularly PAID e-book sales. (Because of this, sometimes a new release can be a risky royalty share venture. It may be best to wait until the book has a track record.)
  • We also look at the author’s social media presence and how many followers they have on Twitter and Facebook.
  • We look at how they market their existing work.
  • If they have any previous audio, how have those sold? If they only have ten reviews and their audio has been out for a year, then it probably isn’t going to be a good financial gamble.

If you want your book in audio very close to its initial release, expect narrators to research the reviews/sales of your previous titles.

Up-front Production Costs for Audiobook Narrators

Many authors aren’t aware that we have up-front costs to produce the audio. An editor charges $75 per finished hour and a proofer usually charges $25.

So, before an eight-hour book even goes on sale, it can have COST US $800 to create.

With royalty share, the narrator is making about $2 per sale (prior to the current Romance Package debacle.) The industry estimate is that one hour of finished audio takes six hours to produce, so to make even minimum wage we have to sell a lot of copies.

It is very easy with royalty share to LOSE money from the up-front expense.

What Makes a Good Deal

If the author believes the title will do well in audio (estimate $4 per sale), they’re more likely to make their money back and see a long-term profit by paying on a per-finished hour basis.

Audio is a long game. Because people use monthly credits, you don’t get those release-day surges in sales.

photo of a microphone on a book

(Photo by Arthur Miranda via unsplash.com

But, if the book sales are strong and the author has a healthy readership, then royalty share can be a great collaboration and be worthwhile for both parties.

Keep in mind that the union minimum for audiobook narration is $250 per finished hour. That’s how we calculate the risk.

  • An eight-hour book would be $2,000 in a per-finished-hour contract.
  • In order for a busy narrator, who is in demand, to justify taking on the royalty share project, they have to look at that $2 royalty return.
  • In order to earn that union minimum, the book must sell 1,000 copies.

With some titles that’s perfectly do-able. With others, it’s going to be a real challenge. We all have royalty share titles that have sold like twelve copies… and we have per-finished-hour titles that we WISH had been royalty share!

LOL. It’s like going to Vegas.

#Indieauthors - wondering how to pay the #narrator of your #audiobook? Read these useful insights into how to persuade a narrator to do a deal with you - by @AnnaCastl & @JoelFroomkin Click To Tweet

From the ALLi Author Advice Center Archive

Author: Anna Castle

Anna Castle writes two historical series: Francis Bacon mysteries and the Professor & Mrs. Moriarty mysteries. Writing fiction combines her lifelong love of stories and learning. Find out more at www.annacastle.com>.


This Post Has 3 Comments
  1. Hi Anna,
    There’s a lot of confusion about ACX royalties, so here are the facts:
    My book, The Goldendoodle Handbook, retails at $24.99 on Audible. I’m on an Audible-exclusive contract.
    I contacted ACX to question royalty payments and this is their reply:
    ALC – a full price, non member retail sale – $24.95 x 40% = $9.98
    ALOP – a 30% member discount cash sale – $24.95 x 70% = $17.46 x 40% = $6.98
    AL – a member credit sale – $24.95 x 52% = $12.97 x 40% = $5.18
    Hope that’s helpful,

    Good luck!
    Linda Whitwam

  2. What an interesting post. My narrator contacted me about the royalty share project I’d posted over a year before (my first book) and has so far narrated 3 titles. This year she’s narrating the fourth and I’ve offered her a fee-paying arrangement as I can now afford it. I could see from my ACX earnings that royalty share isn’t a good deal for narrators. My biggest earnings from ACX was when they were discounting my audiobooks, but now that I’m fairly successful on the ebook side my audiobooks are all priced too high to be attractive and my sales have tanked. I’m hoping that going wide on audiobooks will help.

  3. I quite agree. It’s consideration like these, as an author, that made me do a “narrated-by-author” via a local music studio for my first experiment. (The experience and resulting product are fine, but I’m unlikely to sell 1000 audiobooks of a title — I just don’t think trying to con a professional narrator into taking that chance with me is fair. Especially not for an entire series.)

    I’ve decided the only way for me to economically produce audiobooks for all my titles is to buy the gear (which I did – one-time cost circa $700) and use the “narrated-by-author” approach and my own music experience with editing recordings to (very slowly) produce my own audiobooks in my spare time (hah!).

    *Gear suggestions: https://hollowlands.com/2017/02/narrating-and-producing-your-own-audiobooks/?utm_source=lk&utm_medium=cm-3

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