Over the years I’ve championed many different ways of making money with Amazon, from selling used books to self-publishing on Kindle.
So when I heard about Amazon’s latest ACX platform I had to investigate further and I’m glad to report it has HUGE potential.
So what is Amazon ACX?
ACX is short for Audiobook Creation Exchange. It is part of Audible, which in turn is owned by Amazon.
Audible is an audiobook sales platform which sells digital audio editions of books, newspapers and magazines, original programming, and TV and radio subscriptions. The division has actually been operating in the USA for three years but only opened its doors in the UK this spring.
In simple terms ACX is a system designed to make producing and distributing audiobooks easy (or certainly a lot easier than it used to be). The idea is to encourage the development of audiobooks – partly of course to give Audible (as well as other platforms) more titles to sell.
Now, here’s what could be very exciting about Amazon ACX…
To get involved and make money from it you do not need to have any writing skills or experience. You do not need to have any previous audiobook or technical experience or know-how. You do not even need to have a book to start with! In many ways ACX is a way that almost anyone can get involved in audiobook publishing.
What’s the audiobook market like? Is it worth getting involved in?
Audiobooks have been around for a while of course. Talking books for the blind have been around for a long time and foreign language courses on cassette tapes (remember those!) were very popular as far back as the 70s. But it’s always seemed to me they were a fairly small scale niche product.
But like much else technology is changing the audiobooks business. Today audiobooks are just if not more likely to come as a download than on a CD. And that has opened up a massive new market for them. Because audiobooks can now be bought and downloaded instantly anytime and from anywhere on a computer, tablet or media player and most important of all a mobile phone – which almost everyone has nowadays. So in just a few short years, the slightly clunky old-fashioned audiobooks business has transformed from being a quite small, restricted niche into potentially a very big market indeed.
There are quite a few reports that suggest the audiobooks business is expanding fast as a result. For example, the Audio Publishers Association in the USA say $1.2 billion of audiobooks were sold last year, with sales rising 30% in just one year, up from only $480 million of sales in 1997. ACX is being used to create 1,000 new audiobooks every month now. Very interestingly, ACX say that currently while about 100,000 books are published in the USA alone each year only about 5,000 are produced in audio versions, so there is a huge untapped resource of books waiting to be published as audiobooks. Research firm IBISWorld say that audiobook sales are predicted to grow 17% every year until 2018 at least.
As I said, ACX is designed to make audiobook production straightforward. The platform itself is intuitive and designed for non-technical people to use, so you can learn as you go along.
This is something you can work from home. You will need a PC and an Internet connection but you won’t need a recording studio or any special equipment. You won’t need any staff as you can recruit any help you might need with audiobook production through ACX itself. As you can hire these people on a royalty share basis you won’t need much capital either.
I think this is a project that would probably work best as a part time/sideline opportunity initially. Though longer term it could possibly be a full time business.
What you will need is an eye for spotting an opportunity, a bit of persistence to see it through, and to be well organised.
Before we go any further let me explain a little more about how ACX works. It’s NOT a marketplace for audiobooks (Audible and Amazon provide the marketplace for selling them in). Rather, it is a meeting place where those who have a book and want to publish it as an audiobook and those who offer audiobook production services can meet up and do deals. As ACX say it is also about opening alternative channels of access, collaboration and income.
Within that there are many different ways it can be used. Authors can use it to find someone to ‘audiopublish’ their book. Publishers can use it to create audio versions of a book. Very importantly agents can use it to get involve in the process (more about this later). ACX are also promoting themselves extensively to producers – meaning narrators, studio engineers and studio professionals with the capacity to produce ready-to-sell ebooks – as a place to find customers for their services.
So moving on now, let’s take a look at how you could make some money from Amazon ACX. There are broadly two ways – either by publishing your own audiobooks or becoming an agent in the process:
Creating and selling your own audiobooks
Actually, I think this is a relatively small part of the ACX opportunity – the agency or brokerage approach will be easier for most small entrepreneurs – but I will just run through how it works to help give you an idea if it could be for you.
ACX makes it possible for you to create and publish your own audiobooks, put them up for sale on a variety of digital publishing platforms, then earn a commission on every copy sold.
Maybe you’ve thought about writing a book in the past, or have a great idea for a book of your own. But are put off by the idea of actually writing it, editing it, laying it out, printing it, distributing it and so on. Well, with an audiobook you don’t have to. You can ‘speak’ your book (or have someone else narrate it for you) instead. The same applies if you already have a book or some kind of written material of your own which could be made up into a book. You can speak it instead of printing it and become an audiobook publisher.
Your audiobook can be either fiction or non-fiction on virtually any subject. If you decide to publish your own audiobook I’d suggest you choose something you’re knowledgeable about and preferably passionate about, or perhaps a story based on your own experience. This will make it much easier to produce and also a much more appealing product to buyers. It would also be a good idea to do some research on your subject to make sure it’s something people will be interested in buying.
Tip. Although you don’t need to write as such to create an audiobook I’d suggest you either script your book or draw up some notes to guide you before you actually record your book in audio format.
Using public domain material. If you’re interested in creating your own book here’s a sideline opportunity you might consider. By using public domain material you can take some material that has already been created by someone else, turn it into an audiobook, sell it and keep the proceeds for yourself. It sounds as if it is something that wouldn’t be allowed but, in some circumstances, it is!
Public domain material is basically written content that has been created by someone else but which is not subject to copyright rules. That means that anyone can reproduce and sell it by whatever method they like, including as an audiobook. Generally any previously published book enters the public domain 70 years after the death of the author. Also, some (but not all) official Government information is public domain.
So you could look for a public domain fiction book (thousands of better and lesser known classic novels are now public domain). Or you could look for an old non-fiction book – ideally something on an evergreen subject like golf techniques or history – and then republish it yourself as an audiobook.
There are some sites on the Internet which act as libraries of public domain material, both written and audio. Try Project Gutenberg at www.gutenberg.org and LibriVox at librivox.org.
Tip. If you opt to audiopublish a public domain book I’d suggest you search and see if the material has already been published as an audiobook. If it has there is probably nothing to stop you publishing it too. But, ideally, you want to make sure it has good sales potential and that there is not too much competition from existing publications.
How to Make Money With ACX as an agent
You see, ACX offers you the chance to become an agent or broker in the whole process of creating audiobooks. That is, finding existing books that have good potential and setting up a joint venture with the author or publisher. Then converting them into audiobooks, selling them through Audible and other platforms, and sharing the proceeds.
In fact, ACX positively encourages agents to get involved and do this.
There are a couple of big advantages of doing this: Firstly, you don’t need to write or even have a book of your own in order to make money with ACX as an agent. Secondly you aren’t limited to just the number of audiobooks you can create yourself. You can draw on a virtually unlimited pool of existing and new paper books and potentially publish hundreds or even thousands of titles in a year making for a much bigger business!
Who will be interested in using your agency services?
I don’t think it’s any exaggeration to say that every author and every publisher out there could potentially be interested in an agency service like this. Whilst it’s true that publishers and authors can use ACX to create audio versions of their books a lot of them won’t have the time, know-how or inclination to do it, and would find a professional agency who could help them with it very useful. Most likely small and medium-sized publishers will be more interested than larger ones.
Tip. Currently only those based in the USA and UK can use ACX. So consider offering your agency services to authors and publishers based in other countries, who can’t use ACX direct.
Why should they be interested? Quite simply, producing an audiobook version of an existing book means extra money for no extra work for a publisher or author. It’s not the same as producing an audiobook from scratch. Because all the work (and expense) will have been incurred when the paper version was published.
Producing an audiobook won’t cost them any more or involve any risk whatsoever yet it could make them valuable extra revenue from selling the audiobook. Plus valuable extra publicity for their paper books. It really could be a win-win situation for everyone.
How to Find Suitable Books for Audiobook Publishing
Having said that you can audiobook publish just about any existing book I suggest you try and be quite selective – rather than publishing just everything and anything. You want to try and maximise the amount you (and your joint venture partner) will make from publishing the audiobook version. Here are a few pointers:
- Your audiobook should have the potential to sell in volume. It shouldn’t be too niche or specialised. If a paper version has already been published you can check whether the sales of that have been good or not.
- Your audiobook could be fiction or non-fiction. Popular fiction probably has slightly more potential to achieve high sales
- The books need to lend themselves to an audio readership. Books that rely on illustrations and photography and reference books DON’T make very good audio titles. While books that are text rich DO make very good audio titles, as they are easier and quicker than reading.
Tip. The following types of books often make great audiobooks: Novels. Plays, poetry and drama. Children’s books, especially books for pre-readers. Educational and some academic books. Biographies.
- It needs to be practical and viable to convert a book to audio. You don’t want the book to be too long as it will be time consuming and expensive. (ACX say that on average, most performers narrate at about 9,300 words per hour.) Yet you want it to justify a worthwhile cover price.
Tip. It might be a good idea to choose a subject or collection of related subjects to specialise in – something you have a knowledge of or interest in would be good.
How to find suitable titles: This bit is fairly simple, thanks to Amazon. Simply go to Amazon.co.uk. Use the search box to search the ‘Books’ category for titles, authors and subjects of interest. You then get suggestions for books you could look into more closely – and also be able to see if a downloadable audio version already exists or not (in most cases not). It might also be worth visiting a bookshop to look for suitable books, as it’s often easier to browse physical copies.
Draw up a shortlist of books which you think would make good prospects and keep adding to it.
Contacting potential partners… and doing the deal
The next step is to contact the publisher or author of the book and ask if they are interested in a joint venture. It is very important that the joint venture is with whoever owns the audio rights to the book.
If the book has already been published in a paper or ebook version then it may be that the paper publisher also holds the audio rights. Alternatively these may still rest with the author. It depends on the original publishing contract.
Contact the publisher from the details in the book and ask if they are interested in an audiobook publishing joint venture. If they don’t hold the audio rights ask if they will put you in contact with the author.
Stress why the publisher or author ought to be interested in publishing their book as an audiobook:
* It will generate more sales in a fast expanding and underexploited market.
* It will make them more money. Simple.
* It will also help promote their other, paper-based books.
When you find an interested publisher or author you can set up your joint venture. ACX doesn’t in any way control what sort of deal agents can have, so it can be whatever you agree with them. It would probably be fair and sensible to suggest a 50-50 split of the royalties received (more on this shortly).
Signing up to use ACX
It’s very simple and free to get started with ACX. All you do is go to www.acx.com, provide some basic information and sign up. (ACX is only available to US and UK residents at the moment.) If you already have an Amazon account you can sign up with that. However, consider whether it might be better to have a separate one, or even several ACX accounts so that you can keep work for different publishers separate (which is permitted).
The ACX site is intuitive and non-technical (the technical side of things is handled by your producer/narrator). Think of ACX as a forum for meeting suppliers and a project management platform for your books.
How to Create Your Audiobook
There’s much more detailed information on how everything works on the ACX site. I’ll quickly run through the basics here:
- Sign into your ACX account. Provide some details about the book you wish to audiopublish. If the book is already for sale on Amazon as a paper version or ebook (many already will be) many of the details will be automatically filled in for you.
- Confirm that you, the publisher or the author – whoever your joint venture is with –holds the audio rights to the book. (Double check to make sure.)
- Decide whether you are going to narrate and produce the book yourself or hire a producer/narrator to do it – this is the easiest option when you start.
If you wish to narrate and produce your book yourself this is quite possible with ACX although you will need a little technical know-how. You can use standard audio software like Audacity to record your book yourself. The recording must meet ACX quality standards, details of which are on their site. You could also use a microtasking site like Elance or even Fiverr to find people to help you. Doing it yourself is likely to be cheaper than hiring a narrator/producer but take more organisational work.
- Set up a Title Profile on ACX. This should describe your book and include a 1-2 page excerpt from it which serves as an Audition Script. The idea of the Title Profile is that it advertises your project to producers/narrators who are offering their services to produce audiobooks. Interested producers reply and audition for the job by narrating your Title Script and providing some samples of their previous work.
There is a wide range of different producers/narrators on ACX with a wide range of different voices and styles and including professional and semi-professional people. So be sure to think about and specify what sort of person you are looking for – male, female, young or old and any particular type of accent you think would work best.
- Review the applications you receive and choose a producer/narrator and set up a deal to turn the book into an audiobook. You can do this formally through ACX by sending them what is known as a Production Offer through the site.
You can either work with a producer on a royalty basis, normally paying them 50% of the royalty you receive on sales, or alternatively pay them a flat fee for their work. depending on what both you and they prefer. Working on a royalty basis means you do not have to pay anything upfront to produce the audiobook.
- Audiobook production. Once a deal is agreed your audiobook goes into the production process. This should take (according to ACX) about 3-8 weeks.
The producer is required to send you a ‘Check In’ when the first 15 minutes of your book is complete so that you can check how it is progressing. Then, when the complete book is recorded you have a chance to review it and ask for any changes to be made before it is finalised. When you’re happy with the audiobook it can then go up for sale.
Distributing and selling your audiobooks
The simplest option here is to have ACX act as distributor for your audiobooks. Giving ACX exclusive distribution rights (they ask for seven years exclusive rights) in this way also entitles you to a higher royalty level.
ACX distributes your audiobook through Audible, Amazon, and iTunes. Audible is perhaps not all that well known in the UK at the moment but is growing fast. More importantly it will be available in the iTunes Store and on Amazon itself (which links into Audible) which of course are much better known all around the world. Audible is the exclusive provider of spoken-word audio products for Apple’s iTunes Store.
The alternative is to appoint a separate distributor. OverDrive.com is one alternative – they supply audiobooks to Waterstones amongst other retailers. Or you could sign your book up individually with other audiobook marketplaces. There are a growing number of these although most are small and not all that well known at the moment. Although this approach will take more work the advantage is that you will usually be able to earn a higher royalty.
While your audiobook will make some sales simply as a result of being listed on these platforms you will maximise sales if you do some additional marketing. So decide with your publisher who is going to do this. (If you do the marketing it would be fair to expect them to share the cost of it.)
As an audiobook is a digital product ACX suggest you use social media extensively – including methods like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, setting up a blog and creating a profile on sites where your book is sold, particularly on Amazon for example.
More ways to maximise your sales: Another opportunity you should consider is to create an ebook version of whatever book you’re selling. This will not only generate extra sales – ebooks are already even bigger than audiobooks – but it will allow you (in some but not all cases) to take advantage of something called Whispersync.
This is a very neat little system from Amazon where readers can switch seamlessly between reading the ebook version of a book on Kindle and listening to the audio version of a book on Audible.
How much could you make with ACX?
I’m going to be brutally honest here …. it’s kind of difficult to predict how much you could make from creating audiobooks using ACX. There are so many variables: It depends on how much your audiobook costs, how many copies you sell, and how the revenue is shared out between the different parties involved. Plus of course it’s all fairly new and so quite a fast changing market.
Interestingly, many audiobooks seem to sell for more than the corresponding printed book or ebook – suggesting people are prepared to pay a premium for books in audio format – so it holds potential to be a high added value type of publishing. When an audiobook sells on Audible the selling price is likely to range between $7 for a shortish book under one hour right up to $25-35 for a book of over 20 hours. (These are Audible figures by the way.) A less popular book could sell just a few thousand copies where a popular one could sell hundreds of thousands of copies.
It’s also worth noting that ACX currently pay you a $50 ‘bounty’ if you encourage a new reader to sign up to Audible and download a book. Apparently some authors and publishers make more from this payment than they do from royalties.
ACX pay what they call a royalty on all sales, where they are the exclusive distributor, at a rate of 40%. If you use another distributor ACX pay a reduced rate of 25% on copies they sell. While this doesn’t seem a large amount on the face of it (it used to be higher but was reduced earlier this year) ACX handle all the selling and distribution once the book is created. You have no other ongoing overheads other than whatever marketing you wish to do. This can be shared out between the book owner or author (if any), you as the agent and the producer/narrator either equally or in whatever proportion you agree. The alternative is to pay the producer for their work upfront rather than pay them a royalty share, which might be worth considering once you are established and have a book you’re pretty sure will be successful
It’s impossible to say whether ACX will become the next Kindle, but given that it is backed by Amazon I really wouldn’t bet against it at all.
Just a couple of points to bear in mind: ACX probably makes producing an audiobook as easy as it ever can be. But it’s not entirely without effort. You’ll need to put some effort into choosing the right books, doing deals, finding good producers and marketing if you want to make a real success of it. Also remember that, as with any Amazon-based business, you’re building a business that is totally dependent on Amazon. If they change the way ACX works in future, or their royalty rates, it would directly impact your business.
Lastly, does the uncertainty over what you could make using ACX dampen my enthusiasm for it? No, not at all. Part of the attraction of getting into a dynamic new opportunity at the ground floor is that, while you could make less than you expect, you could also potentially make much, much more.