If you’re an indie author who’s produced—or is contemplating producing—an audiobook, you’ve probably heard of Findaway Voices. And if you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably seen me rant that giving up exclusive distribution with ACX to distribute my audiobooks through Findaway was the worst business decision I ever made.
I stand by that statement, but not all authors have had the same experience. I recently shared my (disastrous) numbers with other indie authors in a private Facebook group, and voiced my discontent with Findaway and the panegyrists who aggressively promote it—their ecstatic social media posts lead me to take the jump and lose $3,600 in a little under 18 months. While this discussion could have easily turned into a troll war between detractors and adepts of Findaway, it actually developed into a genuinely enlightening debate on why Findaway works for some authors and not others. In the wake of this, I went to do some additional research and was left with clear, actionable intel that I’d like to share with you, so that you can make the informed decision I wasn’t able to make eighteen months ago.
Exclusive VS non-exclusive ? Why does it matters so much?
Let’s assume you’re started producing an audiobook. Your voice talent has started (or is done) recording, and now you’re wondering where to sell that baby. If this is your first book, it’s very likely that you chose ACX (Amazon’s audiobook production and distribution service) to find a voice talent, sign a contract with them, and have the book produced. If not, you’ve probably looked into ACX anyway, and by now, you’re aware that they’re basically the largest audio distributor in the US, that Audible is their little bitch, and that their production platform is pretty much the go-to solution for most indie authors who want to make an audiobook happen.
ACX distributes audiobook exclusively on Amazon, Audible and Itunes. If you choose this exclusive distribution model, ACX will pay you 40% of retail price in royalties for each title sold. As far as I’m concerned, that’s 1% short of highway robbery, considering that you’re going to shed anywhere between $2,000 and $6,000 to have your title recorded and produced (unless you sell enough copies n a regular basis to strike a royalty-share deal with your narrator. If you’re big enough to do that, nothing in this article applies to you: you already know a lot more than I do about audiobooks distribution.)
But it is what it is. Still, you might be tempted to distribute not just on Audible and Itunes, but across all other available platforms (Kobo, Google Play, Scribd, libraries, obscure audiobook subscription platforms, etc.) ACX knows this: that’s why, if you choose not to stay exclusive with them, your royalty share will drop to 25%. At this point, you’re getting coffee money for the audiobook you produced entirely (ACX won’t spend a dime on production or promotion.)
Lastly, ACX only allows you to change ONCE from exclusive to non-exclusive or vice-versa, after the title has been available for at least a year. That means that IF YOU CHOOSE TO FORFEIT YOUR 40%, EXCUSIVE DISTRIBUTION DEAL FOR A 25% NON-EXCLUSIVE DEAL, YOU CAN NEVER, EVER UNDO IT. IT IS DONE AND FINAL. I REPEAT, FINAL.
So, if you’re like me, you accepted that crap 40%-royalty exclusive deal and never even considered switching to non-exclusive . . . until you heard the call of the sirens.
Note that there are other platforms distributing audiobook widely with a similar business model (Authors Republic and Draft2Digital come to mind), but Findaway happens to be the one I’ve tested, so here’s how it went:
A couple years ago, I started seeing an increasing number of Facebook posts from authors who would share their glowing Findaway sales numbers and gush about the opportunities offered by the service. They were adamant that it was worth losing nearly half of your Audible income in exchange for a broader distribution network that would increase your readership across all platforms. I looked it up, and sure enough, there was no shortage of posts and podcasts ready to walk-me through this exhilarating adventure. Dozens of new distributors worldwide! 45% royalties! On audiobooks sold cheaper than a cup of coffee!
Uh. Wait a minute…
Yeah, I figured out that last part much later, after having lost a lot of money. Here’s an important lesson learned: if someone is enthusiastically marketing a product to you, ask yourself why. You’d think ten years in advertising would have taught me that, but I happily, and hastily moved my books to Findaway Voices anyway. I made a piss-poor, ill-informed business decision, and now, thanks to this article, you won’t make the same mistake. You may end up deciding to give Findaway a try by the time you’re done reading this article, but at least you’ll do so knowing what to expect—and what not to.
Anyway, I took the jump and moved my entire Spotless series to Findaway. My Audible royalties dropped to 25% of the retail sale price (which hurt a lot), and I started anxiously watching my Findaway sales, waiting for the gradual increase that would eventually make up for what I had given up. Spoiler alert: that never happened.
Now, here’s how the rest of this post is going to go: I’m not going to waste any time going over Findaway’s pitch about their royalties or distributors. We don’t care, because most of what is available online about their rates and what you can expect from them in terms of sales is either vague or misleading. That doesn’t mean Findaway is a scam: that’s not my point. My point is that knowing that they distribute to over forty retailers or that their royalty rates range between 25% (Audible), to 32% (Kobo), and 45% actually tells you nothing about what your sales or royalty-report will look like. No point in opening Excel and making sales projections: I can already tell you they’re wrong since you’re missing some key data…
What I’m going to do is, based on my actual numbers, explain to you where Findaway actually sells your books, and for how much. I will tell you what mistakes I made (because I did make some along the way, although they didn’t significantly impact my numbers, as we’re about to see). Lastly, I will explain to you why Findaway’s business model CAN profit to some authors, under specific conditions. Once you have this information, you’ll be able to make an informed decision about whether Findaway is good for some, all, or none of your titles.
The actual numbers.
Say you have a series of 4 books and a novella that did well on Audible (500+ reviews for book 1). Your sales are rapidly declining because there hasn’t been a new title in this series for over two years, and because Audible is hammering at authors who refuse to enroll their titles in their horribly-paid Romance Package. You hear through the grapevine that Findaway has worked miracles for other authors, and so, you move your titles there, switching to ACX’s 25% non-exclusive rate.
Over the next eighteen months, ACX pays you $5,510.69 out of the $22,000+ they made with your audiobooks. I want to emphasize that number to remind everyone that the true villain on the audiobook market, in the end, is ACX.
If your royalty rate had been 40%, ACX would have tossed $8,817.10 your way over that period.
So, doing some quick math, we can conclude that you gave up $3,306.41 in order to be able to distribute with Findaway.
Now, let’s see how much Findaway has paid you over the same period:
For 184 titles sold.
Yeah. That’s . . . $12/month on average. My Findaway royalties are literally lower than an Audible subscription.
It’d be easy for me to end the article here and let you partake in my outrage, but, as I mentioned in my intro, I had a long and fruitful discussion with other authors, some who’ve apparently turned pennies into thousands with Findaway. So, I want to dig further and explain why my numbers are so staggeringly low, and why Findaway could nonetheless benefit to some titles. Just not mine. Never again. Not even if they pay me to write great posts about them.
The primary reason why I made so little money is that:
- Findaway doesn’t sell where you think it sells.
- I should have priced my books much higher for libraries (Or at least that’s what I’ve been told, but my royalties indicate that libraries borrow my titles on a pay per use basis, and that they conveniently price them at $1.99 when doing so, which means that my 45% royalty rate yields less than 90 cents…)
- Findaway doesn’t actually sell much unless you’re aggressively and continually marketing the titles
Let’s start with point A: Findaway doesn’t sell where you think it sells.
Like me, you’ve probably heard Findaway’s pitch that it will expand your distribution network. Since my distribution network at the time consisted of Audible and Itunes, I figured that it meant I would sell more titles at the full price I set, and that those sales would come in addition to my Audible sales (which remain managed directly by ACX.)
Nope. According to my royalties, between October 2018 and March 2020, I sold a grand total of sixteen titles at full price with well-known retailers (Kobo, Itunes, and Google Play). I set lower prices for Findaway retailers than Audible/ACX’s because I wanted for them to compete directly with Audible and encourage readers to buy elsewhere than from Amazon. My books are priced at $15 (subscription price) and $25 (full price) on Audible, and Amazon sells them $7.99 if you’ve already purchased the ebook. That means that my ACX royalties theoretically range between $2 and $6 per sale. However, virtually no one buys an audiobook full-price these days, so I actually earn between $2 and $3 per Audiobook sale.
Since Findaway offers a 45% royalty rate (and boy will you hear about it! And nothing else…), I priced my books between $8 (for retailers) and $16 (for libraries). $8 meant that I would earn roughly the same amount per sale as I do with Audible, but since the books were cheaper, I was hoping that it would boost my audience. As mentioned above, that didn’t happen: Findaway somehow seems to sell much less on Itunes than Audible did for me, and they sell nearly nothing on Kobo and Google Play (one single copy sold at full price on Google Play in eighteen months. I literally did better by just dropping my ebooks there and walking away, so I assume Findaway titles have, by default, 0 visibility on those platforms, if not negative visibility— 😒)
So, where the hell did Findaway sell the rest of my 184 copies? It lent them, for pennies. According to my royalty reports, full-price sales only account for 8.69% of my sales. Everything else is subscription platforms and libraries. On subscription platforms such as Scribd, readers pay a low monthly subscription to have access to thousands, if not millions of books. But that means each borrow from these platforms is paid peanuts to authors. In my case, for full-length, 100,000+ words books, I made anywhere between 32 and 99 cents per “sale” (which are really borrows) Scribd was were roughly half of those “sales” happened (I refused to write that word without quotes), and they paid me around 53 cents per title.
The rest of the sales came from lending platforms for libraries, like Bibliotheca. You probably know that libraries purchase books and audiobooks at a higher price in order to acquire the license to lend it to their subscribers. Bibliotheca and its fellow rectal cancer Hoopla don’t do that: what they do is provide libraries with an online platform to directly lend my books to readers. Those platforms behave like subscription services: they arbitrarily set the price of my full-length audiobook at $1.99 for Bibliotheca, and a whopping $.99 for Hoopla. Needless to say that even 45% of that is coffee money, and also kind of a slap in the face. Those guys paid me less for a full-length audiobook than KU would pay me for a novella-length ebook.
So, here’s the first major piece of intel you need to decide whether to distribute through Findaway: Findway will likely not increase your traditional retail sales. What it will do, for the most part, is make your title available on subscription platforms were books can be borrowed.
That leads me directly to point B: I should have priced my books much higher for libraries.
True, it wouldn’t have made much of a difference since only 5 of my sales resulted from library purchases at full-price. But still, indie authors and publishers seem to agree that you should set your library price between $45 and $60. I knew you had to price your book higher for libraries, but I didn’t know that was an acceptable price range. It is. I have no idea whether libraries would have purchased my books at a $45 price point, but I’m going with other, more successful authors’ advice on this: Hike up your library price.
As I mentioned above, the rest of my sales were Bibliotheca and Hoopla, which all but give away my audiobooks. No more: I pulled my books from all subscription-based services, which is something you can easily do by emailing Findaway at email@example.com. They responded the same day (yay!), but they warned me that it might take up to 3 weeks for the books to be entirely flushed from all the retailers I pulled them from. And since we’re talking distribution strategy, let’s get to point c:
Findaway won’t sell much unless you’re aggressively and continually marketing the titles.
Now that I’m done bitching, I’m going to tell you who can actually benefit from Findaway and how. Here’s the bottom line: from the discussions I’ve had with authors, only two types of authors make big money on Findaway.
In the first category, we have authors who use Findaway to resuscitate dead titles. Most of the success stories I heard always go like this: “I was making pennies on Audible, my oldest titles were dead and buried, so I decided to give up my 40% royalty on those titles because I had nothing left to lose anyway, and BOOM, I started making hundreds, then thousands of dollars with Findaway.”
I’ll be honest: I don’t know what to think of those accounts, but the authors do sound sincere, and I acknowledge that each author’s mileage may vary: our backlists can be 5 or 50 titles, our readers can be tech-addicted millennials or grandpas who borrow from their local library. So, yeah, option one: your book is dead on Audible: Findaway might be the CPR it needs to reach a new audience. And since you weren’t making any money with it anyway, those 53 cents from Scribd are way better than nothing from Audible. If you’re going to give Findaway a try, start with the worst-faring title in your backlist.
Now, you remember that my point was supposed to be about aggressive marketing: that’s because the other category of authors who report doing great on Findaway is comprised of what I like to call the titans. These authors launch anywhere between three and twenty titles a year, they have the reach and time (assistants) to negotiate directly with Findaway retailers to get their books in front of new audiences. They ask, and get Chirp deals for their books (Chirp is a new service by Bookbub that’s basically featured deals for audiobooks. It’s in beta and free for now, so I highly advise you to give it a try. Chirp is reserved for titles that are distributed with Findaway.) They have an Author Direct page with Findaway (this is basically storefront where Findaway sells their books directly with the maximum royalty rate—80%) These authors relentlessly push readers to buy from Author Direct and dedicate a significant budget to ads and promos as well.
They promote, they promote hard, and they already have a broad audience in the first place, which means that Findaway’s pennies can be turned into thousands of dollars by mass-distribution. As one such author perfectly sums it up: Audible’s exclusive distribution deal is great if you don’t (or can’t) do all of the above.
I just wish I had told that before I permanently gave up nearly half of my audiobook income.
To conclude—and I will expand on this in my next article—I’d like to mention that there was a silver lining to this debacle. Since I’m now free to distribute my audiobooks I as please, I’ve started selling directly on my website, using the WooCommerce WordPress plugin. While sales are still modest, they’ve been increasing steadily, and it’s been a joy to be able to retain 100% of my goddman income. Not only that, but I get paid directly every time someone buys from me, something invaluable when most distributors take anywhere between 2 to 6 months to pay their dues. There was admittedly some technical fine-tuning involved before I was able to smoothly distribute ebooks and audiobooks: my next article will cover it so that you don’t waste as much time as I did figuring it all out!
That’s it for today. I hope this article gave you food for thought on your audiobook distribution strategy.