Making audio books: a sensible investment?

For a while now I’ve been thinking about doing an audio book, but only recently began to gather all the relevant information about how much it would cost, to decide whether I can afford it, and whether I would ever get a reasonable return. The basic sums are relatively simple: at a commercial recording studio the going rate seems to be around £190 per hour of recording, and I’m told that at 90,000 word book would take around 9 hours. So it’s a lot of money to invest up front, and that’s before the costs of actually getting to the studio. The studios I’ve checked so far are in London, Oxford and Manchester, many hours from my home and I’d have to stay somewhere too. All the studios in Cumbria seem to be devoted to music rather than the spoken word.

The next factor in the equation would be to research the market for the price of downloads and/or CDs, to see how many I would have to sell to get the investment back, or at least not lose an unreasonable amount. Preliminary enquiries confirm that download and CDs cost a good deal more than other formats, but even so I’d have to sell a lot to recover the outlay. I’ve already concluded that self-publishing for me is an enjoyable hobby that just about pays for itself, but only just, and it’s always a risk for those of us who are not prepared to go exclusively to ebooks. If you want to produce a ‘real’ book of commercial quality, there are costs that you cannot guarantee to recoup, and the same goes for audio books.

I’m not planning to pay for an actor to read the story: that would no doubt put the project financially beyond my reach, but also I really want to read it myself. I have a northern but not specifically Cumbrian accent, but I could probably get away with it. More than that, I don’t really trust anyone else to capture the sense of some of the text. I’ve listened to many audio books, usually on long car journeys, and been very struck by how inappropriate and ill-considered some of the reading has been. Too ‘actorly’, if that’s an intelligible word. If I’m choosing an audio book to listen to I always go for the author’s own reading if I can get it, and feel I could do a better job reading my own words. Alice Walker reading ‘Jazz’, or Vikram Seth reading ‘A Suitable Boy’: both have wonderful voices and listening to them was a joy.

There’s more research to do before I make a final decision about whether to do it. Apart from the money, there’s the time to consider. Reading thirty or so chapters to the right standard would require rehearsal and practice that would take far more time than the actual recording. I have a tendency to be impatient and look for shortcuts, but if you want quality there aren’t any shortcuts. What else might I do with the time that this project would take? Start thinking about the next book? Spend more energy seeking out promotional opportunities for my existing books and the new one ‘Cruel Tide’ which is due out in November? Sort out all the images from our trip to Antarctica and Patagonia that I promised to show to my friends and neighbours? We got back from there in March and it’s July already. And I also have hundreds of slides from a solo trip around China in 1986 that I really want to digitise and share, and that task alone would take hours of rather tedious work. Maybe it’s my age, but I feel the passage of time very acutely: it’s a very precious commodity for me and I always want to spend it wisely. Of all the things I could be doing, is making an audio book the best choice? I’d love to hear from anyone who’s done it, to pick their brains and experience.

 

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