Why Are Audiobooks So Expensive?

If you’re a bibliophile, you’ve probably noticed that paperbacks and ebooks are often cheaper than hardcovers. And if you’re a fan of audiobooks, you’ve likely noticed that the audiobook version of your favorite novel costs as much, if not more, than its hardcover equivalent. This leaves a lot of us readers asking: Why are audiobooks so expensive compared to other formats? Read on to learn more about why audiobooks are so expensive.

The Cost of an Audiobook Is Related to the Cost of Production

Just as hardcover books can range in length, audiobooks can range in length as well as production scale. The average cost per finished hour of production is around $300 to $400. This means the average 12-hour ebook has a minimum production cost of $3,600.

But that’s just the base for production costs. If a publisher chooses a celebrity narrator — like Reese Witherspoon’s narration of Go Set a Watchman or the star-studded narrative team behind Lincoln in the Bardo — production costs can rise exponentially. Sure, publishers don’t have to use big-name narrators, but well-known or highly skilled voice artists can definitely drive sales!

In Some Ways, an Audiobook Is More Like a Movie Than a Print Book...

Rather than compare the cost of an audiobook to a hardcover, paperback, or ebook, it may be more helpful to contrast the cost of audiobooks to DVDs. Like a movie for your ears, audiobooks start with a script and require a ton of preparation before production even begins. According to The Guardian, some audiobooks take up to 30 hours of prep time prior to production. Janet Stark, Senior Producer at PRH studios, spoke to working on the audiobook version of Gemina: “I’d have to say it was more like producing a film on audio. So many voices, evolving characters, sound effects, it all adds up to an experience I hope people enjoy.”

During production, some publishers pull out all the stops, adding multiple narrators or even a soundtrack. For example, the Lemony Snicket A Series of Unfortunate Events audiobook features a full cast — including Tim Curry, Jude Law, and Meryl Streep — along with an orchestral soundtrack and eerie sound effects. These elements definitely make audiobooks more engaging, but also contribute to a higher cost product.

… And That Means There’s a Big Team Involved

In addition to one or more narrators, the making of an audiobook requires a professional team of people. The process begins with an audiobook producer who coordinates the project from start to finish — casting narrators, scheduling the recording studio, and working with the rest of the crew. Among the other behind-the-scenes crew members are directors, production and audio engineers, sound editors, and even proof listeners, who ensure that the narration matches the text exactly. It takes all of these people to deliver the final, flawless product you hear, contributing to the higher cost of audiobooks.

With the higher cost of production, making a profit on an audiobook requires a higher selling price. Since the publisher only begins making money once the entire cost of production has been recouped (and the publisher also needs to pay royalties to the author of the book), it’s no surprise that audiobooks are more expensive than other book formats.

Understanding why audiobooks are more expensive doesn’t mean we can all afford to shell out the money to buy them. This is why Chirp works with authors and publishers to temporarily discount their audiobooks, featuring them on our website and sharing them in our daily email.

Learn more about how Chirp works, and sign up for free!