When this blog was only about three months old (and my self-publishing career was even younger), I interviewed science-fiction author Nathan Lowell, a man now making a living off of his ebook income, and a man who got his start releasing his novels as podiobooks. (For those new to the term, podiobooks are audiobooks that come out in installments and are available as free downloads for people’s mp3 players.)
After three years of releasing his novels that way, all entirely for free, Nathan jumped into e-publishing and became an instant bestseller. Why? Thanks to his podiobooks, he’d built up a huge fan base over the years, people who eagerly awaited each new installment in his audio stories. His fans accounted for those initial sales that sent him to the top of the science-fiction bestseller lists on Amazon and elsewhere, and at that point others who had never heard of him before saw his books and gave them a try. He’s been selling dozens (maybe hundreds) of copies a day ever since.
But, if you’ve read the interview, you already know about his story. You’re wondering if it can work for someone else. Someone who starts today, someone who might have done things in the opposite order (ebook releases first and then podiobooks). So, let me tell you how things are going for me.
How my first podiobook is doing
After that interview, I thought the podiobook thing sounded like a great idea, and decided to try it myself. It took me a while to get all the ducks lined up to make it happen. The first few episodes of The Emperor’s Edge Podiobook went live at the end of August. Now, in November, we’re up to Chapter 16 (out of 21 or so).
So far, there have been 25,000+ combined downloads of episodes (that’s a far cry from Nathan’s millions, but remember he got his start years ago and has an entire series of podiobooks out there). For the first month, mine was the #1 podiobook (as far as new subscribers go) in the Podiobooks.com directory, and it still pops into the Top 10 now and then.
About 1,500 people are following along faithfully, downloading the new episodes each week, and more people are finding Chapter 1 each week and just getting started with the book (about 500 new subscribers so far in November). The episodes have been downloaded in more than 60 countries so far (I don’t know about you, but I find it pretty cool to think of people listening to my story in India, Turkey, Japan, Finland, and other places that I’ve never been).
I’ve done a little to promote my podiobook (occasional posts on Twitter and Facebook), but not much. I imagine most of these folks simply came across it because they were surfing around, looking for some new fantasy to listen to.
When I did do my promotional blurbs, I was originally sending people to the Podiobooks page, so they could subscribe any way they wished, but I’m trying to promote its iTunes page now, since the Apple Store gets a lot more daily visitors than Podiobooks.com itself (I’ve had an iPod since the beginning, and I hadn’t even heard of Podiobooks.com before I interviewed Nathan). From what I’ve read, if I can get more subscribers through iTunes and more reviews there, the book will start showing up closer to the top in the Literature section of the podcast directory. (So, if you enjoy listening to fantasy, and want to help a gal out, please subscribe in iTunes and leave a review if you like what you hear!)
Has my podiobook helped me sell books?
I can’t say that my books have made any great leaps up the bestseller charts, but I have had folks let me know that they found me on Podiobooks.com or iTunes and went on to buy the books, not just The Emperor’s Edge but the following novels in the series as well. That’s good enough for me. I’m in this for the long haul, and I know the podiobooks (I’m planning to do my whole series) will be out there for years, inviting new listeners into my characters’ world.
I imagine that for everyone who sends me a note, there are more people who buy the book and don’t say anything about it. But even if people don’t go on to purchase any of the books, there are still benefits to having these folks as fans of the free stuff.
If someone with a couple hundred followers on Twitter posts, “Oh, yay, new chapter of Emperor’s Edge is out,” there’s a chance that one of their followers will say, “Huh, what’s that?” and check it out. That someone might be a kindle addict and go on to buy the ebooks.
And, as I mentioned, just by being subscribers, people help you out in iTunes, because the number of subscribers and reviews both play a role in visibility there. The easier your podiobook is to find over there, the more people will stumble upon it, and since there is a big crossover between book buyers and audiobook listeners, there’s a good chance that some of those people will want to buy copies to have forever.
Why a podiobook can be effective for book promotion and author branding
There are more things to think about than immediate sales. As you guys know, I’m a fan of giving things away for free. You can’t give everything away for free if you want to make a living as an author (or at least recoup your production costs!), but having free stories out there lets people try you out at no risk.
A podiobook, in particular, has some extra perks:
- The serialization aspect lets you create a long-term relationship with listeners – If you read a book in a couple of days or even listen to a book-on-tape over the course of a couple of weeks, it’s not the same as having something new from the author every week. If the story is good, you start to look forward to those new installments, and the book sticks in your head because you’re exposed to it again and again over time. Imagine if an author puts out a whole series with the same characters. You could be listening for years, and those characters could become like real people that you like to hang out with.
- iTunes – I don’t know if you’ve looked lately, but the iTunes store is a pretty popular place, particularly for people who want audio versions of things. Anyone who has sold anything online will tell you that it’s a heck of a lot easier to sell where the people are (eBay, Etsy, Amazon, etc.) than trying to build up your own marketplace (i.e. your site). Day and night, people are browsing iTunes, looking for new things to listen to. And once all the chapters have been published, your podiobook can remain online and in the iTunes store indefinitely; people could stumble across it four years from now and find out about you and your books for the first time.
- Less competition – A lot of work goes into creating an audio version of a book, and there’s a learning curve that many (most?) people aren’t interested in tackling. If you outsource the creation to professionals, you save yourself some of the time and hassle, but the trade-off is that you must pay a significant chunk of money, and that’s a barrier in its own right. These obstacles mean that fewer authors create audiobooks, so there’s less competition out there than there is for ebooks in the Kindle store. Ultimately this means that, if you have a good story and good production quality, it’ll take less marketing effort to get people to find your podiobook.
Cost of producing a podiobook
As those of you who have been following this blog for a while know, I decided to let the folks over at Darkfire Productions handle the creation of my podiobooks because I knew it’d take a lot of time to do it myself, and the quality of the end product wouldn’t likely be as good.
I believe Nathan did it all himself (from what I’ve heard, you can get respectable recording equipment for your computer for a couple hundred dollars). That’s definitely a cheaper way to go, but not everybody is interested in learning the ropes and spending hours recording and editing an entire novel.
If you want to go the route I did and hire someone else, expect to pay $1,000 and up for a novel. If you write 150,000-word epic fantasy novels, it might be more like $2,000-$3,000.
I’m planning to write six books in my Emperor’s Edge series, and I’d like to go on to turn all of them into podiobooks. If costs remain the same, that’ll end up being about $9,000 for me. That’s not an insignificant sum by any measure, but it’ll be stretched out over about three years, and, as I mentioned above, once the audio recordings are done, they can stay out there in iTunes and on Podiobooks.com for years and years. In addition, they will belong to me, so there’s nothing to keep me from creating special CD editions (maybe with some bonus extras) and selling them on my site eventually. I haven’t looked at Audible.com yet to see if it’s possible for an independent author to get one’s audiobooks listed in their marketplace, but that is definitely something I’ll be checking out in the future.
Who should consider creating a podiobook?
Well, are you getting excited at the idea of creating a podiobook? Or are you thinking, “Enh, I’m not sure… It sounds like a lot of work…”
Either way, it’s okay. This isn’t necessarily for everybody, and if you’re already selling lots of books, maybe you don’t need to look into time-consuming (or money-consuming) extras like this.
It’s still early for me, so it’s hard to say for certain, “Yes, I’ll definitely earn back my investment and then some.” I do believe it’ll happen though. I’d be less certain if I was creating one podiobook and didn’t have plans to do any more.
I think the real power here lies in doing a series where people can get more and more connected to your characters (and you!) over time. You’ve also got more work out there for people to stumble across in iTunes or on Podiobooks.com (at Podiobooks.com, they post on the front page whenever new chapters are added, so every time your book is mentioned there, it’s a chance for someone new to see it and decide to check it out).
I also suspect some genres may lend themselves to podiobook fandom more than others. You tend to find a lot of science fiction and fantasy fans geeking out on their computers and knowing where to look for things like podiobooks. If you do westerns or cozy mysteries, your target audience may be less likely to spend time perusing the iTunes store. I’m sure you’d still get some followers, but maybe not as many.
You’ll need to run the numbers for yourself, but, in the end, if this sounds like a fun way to promote your books and your name, I say, go for it.