Which Rights are Right?

Recently, we’ve been exploring the expansion of the audiobook with excerpts from our report, The Global Audiobook Market by Michele Cobb and Michael Desrosiers. When thinking about which titles and rights will work best in audio, it is useful to keep in mind that the increased profitability and sustainability of niche topics creates opportunities for publishing new and different ideas and storylines—or a growth in both common subject areas and in niche topics. Today, we provide some advice on how to maximize your audio rights.

Publishing Patterns

Establishing an audio publishing program is the first important step in maximizing your audio rights. You need to look at your available audio publishing rights and make a decision on each one. Will you publish yourself? Sell rights via a sub-licensing program? Make sure you have a plan for every right that you control. But first, figure out which titles are not suitable for audio at all.

Depending on your audio department budget, make sure that your highest regarded authors are treated with special care, even with outsourced audio. Release these titles simultaneously with the physical book. The next group of titles that are available to make in audio are now “for sale” in the rights marketplace. This will require reaching out to as many audio publishers as possible to generate some excitement for your rights. Even for the lower-end rights, which we would consider a brand-new author or someone with minimal buzz, you should be able to get some level of advance, or at least a no- advance royalty only deal.

Everyone understands a “bestseller” and this goes for audio as well. Great authors sell thousands of copies. Long-term success, however, means utilizing a breadth of titles to create a high revenue each year. This wider net of titles will all sell at varying levels; usually a few sell remarkably well, most likely over expectations. The important part is that they continue to sell throughout the years. Not to the levels of first release, but continued sales over an increasing number of titles keeps the revenue floor rising.

Finally, it is important to establish partnerships with audio distributors throughout your rights territorial universe. Establish some sales relationships that maximize all the rights you will be selling directly. If you own global rights, you need global relationships. These are still often established in the traditional manner—by travelling to international fairs and meeting with publishers and distributors specific to audio. Joining and participating in audio trade organizations will keep you in touch with the new entrants in the marketplace and new revenue models. You should also prioritize based on market sizes and your available rights. Establish rights for North America first (the world’s largest market) and then work towards European and Australian distribution where there is lots of overlap. If you outsource the entire audio rights program, then you do not need to establish these relationships yourself. If you do outsource the entire program, the ability of your partner to deliver around the globe is critical. Think about the different markets, retail and library, as well as digital audio and physical audio. Decide how to manage each subset of rights in your audio program: in-house, out-sourced, or a combination of both? The important take away is to understand what you want to do and manage that process and the rights accordingly.

Types of Properties That Do Well in Audio

When trying to decide which titles would do well in audio, it’s helpful to think about the genre, length, and topic of your titles, as well as possible sales channels and territories. Some books do not translate well to audio. For example, some titles are just too visual to make an audio successful, requiring either the listener going to a specific site to download the visuals or the producer providing them. This is not an impossible obstacle, but it can somewhat limit how the audio is consumed and can be costlier for the audio provider. Conversely, some genres do well regardless of geography and are “safe” to release into all territories. For example, mysteries, thrillers, romance, fantasy, and science fiction all do well in the global marketplace. With some fluctuations in degree, they are generally top sellers throughout the globe. Certain territories will have other top genres; for example, humour/comedy is a strong category in the UK, and children’s/young adult titles do well in Germany.

The length of an audio production is a consideration as well. The average audio is approximately seven to nine hours long. This fluctuates somewhat based on genre; science fiction/fantasy titles tend to be longer and children’s and humour titles a bit shorter. Listeners will pay attention to the “commitment” needed. An extremely long title will be a harder sell to the casual audio consumer, while a devoted audio- book listener may appreciate the extended listening experience. For example, often a fantasy title has long story lines and readers expect a longer read or listen. Shorter books will be equated more with podcasts (60–90 minutes) and must be priced accordingly. Several short titles may also be combined into one audio edition. For example, if you have an author who produces short romance titles, you can bundle three or four of them together.

Other factors affect the making of an audio include difficult names or pronunciation of words. This is more of a concern when selecting a narrator, but be aware that the more there are, the more difficult the audio creation becomes. Narrators must do research on pronunciation and accents before they start the recording process. If a title requires an extensive amount of research time, the narrator will often need to charge an hourly fee. This will inflate both the cost and the schedule. In addition, currently topical subjects that will not be in the news very long need special attention. These titles need to get to market quickly since the revenue-generating span might be very short.

What is the Right Marketplace?

It is important to get as much exposure for your titles as possible and the incremental costs of supplying digital files to multiple vendors in multiple markets are small. Audiobooks sell in both the retail sales channel and the library channel, but some will be stronger in one than the other. Cozy mystery titles are wonderfully strong library audios. Business titles, on the other hand, do much better in retail. It is important to know where your title will sell, and even more important when you are making the investment in a physical product. The different packaging requirements needed for different sales channels will require you to understand the demand for your physical products in both retail and library.

The same goes for geographic differences. Although most audio will sell throughout the globe, it is important to understand if you have an audio that will not work in a specific market. As with books, local subject matter is always difficult to export. That type of audio needs to sell in sufficient quantities in that one geographic location to be success- ful. If you can justify the investment based either on the home market or on one sales channel, you can always generate some additional digital revenue in other geographic locations, or other sales channels with minimal increased investment.


  • Start with the North American market
  • Examine your existing ebook chain
  • World rights titles have biggest potential so can guide backlist choices

The Role of French-Language Properties

Foreign language audio is a small but growing portion of the overall audio marketplace. This does not include foreign language learning, which is a distinct market. French- language audio in particular can make bigger titles successful. With approximately 80 million native French speakers spread around the globe, the combined audience supports a robust market that is bigger than that of the UK. In fact, it comprises about 25% of the US population, which supports an estimated $2-billion audio market. The four main countries with native French speakers are France, Canada, Switzerland, and Belgium with smaller pockets in Africa and the Caribbean. Marketing to these countries means that you will need to have audios with global rights and distribution partners that cover these countries. Global carriers can cover the smaller pockets. Distributors such as Audible, Findaway, and StoryTel will reach those main retail customers, but regional distributors will be required for complete saturation, especially the library market. French language audio is mostly found on domestic language sites. Consumers looking for foreign language titles in markets like the US face an especially daunting challenge in trying to find language- and country-specific titles among the ever growing list of available audios. These are all some of the major challenges for foreign language audio.

Want to learn more? This excerpt was drawn from our report, The Global Audiobook Market by Michele Cobb and Michael Desrosiers. Download the full report for more valuable insights on audio rights!

10/24/2018 | Digital, Export, Market Guides, Rights