Indie authors have the advantage of really being in control of both their own author business as well as the creative side of the process. For people who enjoy both the business/marketing side of publishing as well as the creative side, it’s a dream come true. Now, there are more opportunities than ever to engage in new avenues of self-publishing. While many indie authors focus on e-books for standard e-readers like Kindles and Nooks, a number have ventured into self-published audiobooks in recent years. Depending on whose statistics you believe, audiobooks are a growing segment of the publishing industry, especially in certain genres like romance and thrillers.
Audiobook publishing for the Indie Author
There are pros and cons to all of these services in terms of their pricing policies, the accessibility of their files on various audio-players, etc. However, in terms of legal rights in the audiobooks, the standard contract terms employed by a number of these services make that aspect of the job pretty easy.
Digital eBook vs Audio
I’ll talk a little about how pricing works below, but wanted to first make a note of why it’s important for people venturing into audiobook territory to understand the difference between a digital e-book (in written words) and an audiobook in terms of the people involved in the production and distribution of the book. If you’re an indie e-book author already, you’ll know that you retain all copyright in your work when you launch it on, say, Kindle Direct, and that Amazon will take a royalty for its distribution services, but won’t own any copyright in your work. Once you start moving into audiobook territory, you introduce another player into the equation: the voice actor/narrator who reads the book. If you want to narrate your own books, this isn’t a problem, but if you hire a narrator, you’ll need to be sure that you and the narrator understand your respective rights and responsibilities. As an indie author, it will be important for you to ensure that the narrator doesn’t claim any copyright in the work.
This is how it works with Audible, by way of example …
Audible makes it easy to find a narrator/voice actor whose work you like, enter into a standard form contract with that person, which includes the provision of sample chapters by the narrator and a certain number of revisions. Typically, under the standard contracts, the actor provides the narrated voice files on a work-for-hire basis, meaning that person either gets a flat fee for their services or a cut of the royalties or a combination of both, but doesn’t obtain any rights in the work.
If you’re contracting separately with an audio narrator outside of Audible or another of the established services, make sure you have an agreement where you, as the author, retain all the copyrights in the work. Even if you use an established online service, you should at least try to understand the contract terms and decide whether they work for you, both in terms of what, and on what basis, you’ll be paying your narrator, and what rights, if any, the narrator will get in the work (presumably none except the right to payment for their work).
The distribution/production platform (e.g. Audible) will also likely take a cut of the profits or a flat fee, but shouldn’t take any copyright in the work. They may, however, set standard fees for selling audiobooks. This is different from the way e-book pricing usually works. Amazon, for example, usually allows authors to set their own prices on Kindle Direct publishing, but Audible uses set pricing standards, based on the length of the recorded book. Audible also has set terms for distribution of your work. The term the work must remain on sale is seven years. This model is different from Kindle Direct (for e-books) which allows authors to withdraw books with five days’ notice.
As long as you understand the relevant pricing policies, and other standard contracts terms, and find a narrator you like, you shouldn’t have too many legal problems launching your indie audiobook career. Just make sure you pick a narrator and distributor whose contract terms work for you.
NOTE: The usual disclaimers apply to this blog post. Nothing written here is intended as legal advice. If you need formal advice, you should consult an attorney or other expert.
Jacqui is teaching a webinar next week!