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Spotify Audiobooks: What Self-Published Authors Need to Know

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.

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How Do Spotify Audiobooks Work?

Audiobooks available on Spotify are available for sale. Currently, they are not included in any of Spotify’s subscription programs for music and podcasts. Whether that will change in the future is not yet known.

Prices for audiobooks on Spotify will vary from book to book, depending on the book’s retail price and any agreements Spotify has with major audiobook publishers or distributors. Authors who have self-published their audiobooks on Findaway Voices and Spotify establish their own book prices. Spotify users who purchase audiobooks have access to them forever.

In contrast, on the ACX, Audible, and Amazon universe, retail audiobook prices for self-published audiobooks are determined by the length of the audiobook. For audiobooks from major trade publishers, prices may be determined by agreements between Amazon and the publisher or distributor. However, Audible is primarily a subscription program that allows readers access to a limited number of audiobooks per month, determined by the subscriber’s subscription level.

Will Spotify Audiobooks Impact Existing Audiobook Markets?

Audiobooks continue to experience significant growth. Audiobook revenues grew 25 percent in 2021 (Publishers Weekly), which was even higher than the 12 percent growth in 2020. A Pew Research study found that audiobook consumption grew from 14 percent of the population in 2016 up to 23 percent in 2021.

It is difficult to yet determine if Spotify’s offering of audiobooks will expand the overall market or just shift readers from Audible to this more flexible a la carte purchasing format. If it just shifts readers, we might see flatter growth. If non-audiobook readers flock to Spotify, we may see additional industry growth. Because Spotify launched this toward the end of 2022, I’ll be anxious to watch audiobook stats in the years ahead.

While the growth in audiobooks is impressive when considered on its own, it still is the smallest book format segment, bested by consumption of eBooks at 30 percent and print books at 65 percent of the population in 2021. Print books still rule the publishing industry.

As well, audiobooks are a pretty small segment of the U.S. publishing industry overall. In 2021, Statista reported that audiobooks were a $1.6 billion market. The overall publishing industry is $33.3 billion (IBIS World).

While the new Spotify offering will make audiobooks more accessible to a wider audience, audiobooks have a long way to go to tilt the publishing industry overall.

ACX and Findaway Voices Pricing and Royalty Schemes Explained (or Exposed)

Aside from the fact that Spotify provides a new selling venue for authors, self-publishing an audiobook on Findaway Voices opens up wide audiobook distribution possibilities to Amazon, Audible, Hoopla, Scribd, and more. Logically, one would think that the more outlets, the more sales. This is not the case, at least right now.

Audible is the dominant audiobook platform for readers. I’ve seen estimates that Audible alone dominates 41 percent of the audiobook market (bstrategyhub.com). The remaining players and there are dozens of them, split up the rest. If libraries are a target market for you, Findaway is the best choice.

Logic would also suggest that it doesn’t hurt to be on more selling venues. Here’s where that fails. If you already have self-published audiobooks exclusively on ACX and Audible, you get a 40 percent royalty share. If you decide to go non-exclusive and also self-publish on Findaway, you’ll only get 25 percent royalty on ACX, Amazon, and Audible.

Findaway also touts that authors who self-publish with them get 80 percent of the royalties. This is a tricky statement. It’s 80 percent of Findaway’s royalties, not 80 percent of the retail price. Findaway takes a 20 percent distribution fee for every sale.

Here’s the example they show on their website. Say you set your audiobook price at $10 on Findaway. If Findaway has a 50 percent agreement with a retailer, Findaway will make $5 on that audiobook’s sale. They will pay you 80 percent of their $5 cut or $4 for that sale. That’s 40 percent, just like it is on ACX and Audible with an exclusive arrangement.

Be aware, too, that Findaway’s example of 50 percent retailer share is not the same for every retail partner they work with. It could be higher, maybe 60 percent, which means lower royalty dollars for you. Whatever the final cut that Findaway earns, they will take a 20 percent distribution cut before paying you.

But here’s the downside of ACX. You cannot set your audiobook’s price. So your 40 percent ACX royalty could be 40 percent of whatever ACX decides to charge for your book. Your book price is based on the length of the book. A 1–3-hour book will be $7 to $10 currently. It’s not clear what length-based pricing tiers are in that range. By contrast, the good news for Findaway is that you, the author, set the price for your audiobooks.

Exclusivity Issues With ACX and Findaway Voices

Findaway only has a nonexclusive arrangement with authors, meaning that authors can self-publish their audiobooks on Findaway and anywhere else they choose. On ACX, there are both exclusive and non-exclusive agreements available.

If you decide to change your exclusivity agreement with ACX to nonexclusive to take advantage of these new opportunities with Findaway and Spotify, there is a procedure you need to follow. See ACX’s support for how to do that. Currently, your book needs to have been for sale under the exclusive arrangement for 90 days before making the switch. Note that exclusivity agreement changes on ACX are only available for pay-for-production or DIY self-publishing. Changes to royalty agreements with production professionals or narrators are not allowed.

To switch back from non-exclusive to exclusive on ACX also requires this 90-day period. But here’s the biggest problem with the switch in this direction. If you want to go back to an exclusive arrangement on ACX, you can no longer offer your book on Findaway at all.

Switching back and forth on exclusivity arrangements can be quite a hassle. Carefully evaluate the benefits and downsides before switching.

Should Authors Jump to or Add Findaway Voices to Their Audiobook Publishing?

For me, it’s very early in the process for clearly determining whether it makes sense to take a royalty hit by publishing on both ACX and Findaway Voices to get the Spotify distribution. I am completely torn over it, but here’s what I’m considering.

Spotify is dominating music streaming these days. Early 2022 reports note that Spotify has 31 percent market share for music, while Apple Music has 15 percent, and Amazon Music has 13 percent (The Verge). In the podcast space, which, for me, is closer to the audiobook market, Forbes reports that Spotify has a 31.7 percent market share as of September 2021, with pioneer Apple—whose iPod device is the reason we call them podcasts—now lagging behind at 26.9 percent.

We also have to consider that the Audible subscription commitment may turn off some potential audiobook readers. Even though readers can buy audiobooks a la carte on Amazon or Apple Books to listen to on the Audible app, being able to buy audiobooks on a la carte basis and listen to them on an all-in-one audio streaming app like Spotify is appealing. Plus, you own forever access to the audiobooks you purchase on Spotify. It’s similar on Audible for any audiobooks you actually purchase. Those are yours to access forever. But those you listen to with the Audible subscription are not.

But does forever audiobook access even matter? I looked at my lifetime stats for my audiobooks on ACX: 51 percent are Audible member listens, 42 percent were discounted book purchases from Audible members, and about 8 percent were a la carte purchases on Amazon or Apple Books. I think you can see why I’m torn. My own stats are about 50/50 when it comes to subscription versus purchase listening for my books.

Findaway also has a $100 royalty payout threshold; on ACX, it’s $10.

I have been very happy with my audiobook publishing experience on ACX. As well, the integration with my presence on KDP and Amazon for my Kindle eBooks and print books has been positive.

I’d love to hear about your decision process with this new opportunity.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2022 Heidi Thorne