African woman listening to an audiobook

If you’ve been watching trends and sales figures, you know that narrating audiobooks is a booming part of the voice over industry.

The fact that there was a reported $2.5 billion dollars in audiobook sales in 2017, shows that there is a wealth of opportunity for those who are willing to explore and produce their own audiobooks.

Not only does this large and growing market show great promise for audiobook producers, it also presents an awesome opportunity for voice actors who wish to land narrator voice over jobs.

Here is a bit more on the audiobook market, and why the ‘classics’ are a very attractive genre for many publishers.

The Number of Audiobooks Produced in One Year is Growing!

Craig Black, President of Blackstone Audio said that in 2007, 4,000 audiobooks were recorded. Ten years later (in 2017), the industry saw about 79,000 new audiobooks produced in just that one year alone.

This is great news for everyone involved in the audiobook market – from authors and publishers, to audiobook narrators and of course, those who love listening to audiobooks.

The Most Popular Genres of Audibooks

In 2017, the genres of classic literature and fiction held the greatest share of sales at $4.94 million. The division of sales speaks to the popularity of classic literature and the importance that those classic stories still hold.

A simple Google search on narrator preferences returns countless threads on the debate over what makes a good narrator – whether it be female versus male, pacing, the incorporation of noises, having one narrator per character, and more.  After scanning through those conversations, it’s easy to pick up on a resounding “it depends” sentiment, demonstrating that while each approach is worth considering, what is ‘best’ is based solely on personal preference.

Because of the varying opinions about what people like in a narrator, narrating classic literature audiobooks adds another option into the mix.

Creating Audiobooks from Classic Literature in the Public Domain

If you’re not familiar with the term, the ‘public domain’ refers to works of art that are no longer bound by their copyright or intellectual property rights, due to expiration, forfeit, or a myriad of other reasons. Works in the public domain are often sought after by those who wish to produce their own ‘take’ and sometimes, also offer it up for sale.

The good news: there are at least 1,000 classics in the public domain.

For Publishers and Enthusiasts, Classics are:

  • Low hanging fruit that have good track records
  • Potential best sellers
  • Acknowledged by the academic community
  • Beloved by generations of people
  • In many cases easy to get your hands on

How Can You Make Money From Audiobooks?

The short answer? Become your own audiobook publisher, provided you are:

  1. Recording works in the public domain
  2. Recording original works that you own the copyright to
  3. Or, recording works that you have licensed from the author or copyright holder for resale (* this may cost you money and we’ll explore this option in a future article).

Looking forward to hearing about your new audiobook projects!

Best wishes,

Stephanie

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Stephanie Ciccarelli is the Co-Founder and Chief Brand Officer of Voices.com. Classically trained in voice, piano, violin and musical theatre, as well as a respected mentor and industry speaker, Stephanie graduated with a Bachelor of Musical Arts from the Don Wright Faculty of Music at the University of Western Ontario. Possessing a great love for imparting knowledge and empowering others, her podcast Sound Stories serves an audience that wants to achieve excellence in storytelling. Stephanie is found on the PROFIT Magazine W100 list three times (2013, 2015 and 2016), a ranking of Canada's top female entrepreneurs, and is the author of Voice Acting for Dummies®.

22 COMMENTS

  1. Stephanie –
    Another great post as usual, with insight that never would have crossed my mind. With a personal studio, why not produce audiobooks myself?!
    Good stuff!! Thanks
    stu

  2. This is great, but how do you protect your work against copying? Back in 2005 I recorded a Yoda-impersonation voice that works on TomTom GPS systems. I sold a couple of them. Then someone started selling copies of them on eBay without my permission and some time later you could download my voices (and some other people’s voices) for free all over … Read More on the Internet. Last year I read in an article that 4000 people in the UK alone use my Yoda-impersonation for navigation. I didn’t even make Euro 50.00 with it. So if you narrate an entire audiobook, how do you protect it from being copied?

  3. Hi Phillippe. I read your post. I have some questions about that. Who did you record the Yoda impersonation for?? Did you record it for TomTom? Did you do an entire GPS system in the Yoda voice?? How the heck did someone get the file from you and start selling it behind your back??
    This is actually a very good question, and NOW, you know what the RECORD COMPANIES felt like in the NAPSTER AGE! It is VERY difficult to protect intellectual property from being stolen and sold in the “black market” in the age of the net.
    First of all, don’t beat yourself up too badly because you may not have had rights to record that Yoda voice for profit in the FIRST PLACE as that voice CERTAINLY belongs to the creators of Star Wars. Impersonations of fictional characters for generating profits, and not for parody, violate the copyrights of the creators of those characters.
    However, assuming you weren’t violating copyright laws yourself, the first step in protecting yourself would have been by registering the files that you created with the US Copyright office. Your file is automatically “copyrighted” upon completion, but unless it is registered, you cannot sue to enforce an infringement in a case such as yours. By registering, you have right under the Copyright Act to sue for willful infringement of the work where you can, among other things, asks for statutory penalties, which can be up in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
    For original characters, you can both copyright them, and trademark them in certain circumstances, to protect them from theft like you describe.
    For audiobooks, same thing applies. You can register the sound files that you create, even for a public domain work, so people can’t sell your work on the “black market” without a remedy by you. Of course, this remedy is cumbersome and it takes a lot of leg work on your part to make sure people aren’t in fact stealing your work, and if you need to hire an attorney, it, of course, can also become expensive as well. So, unfortunately, there is no easy solution to this potential problem in the internet age. Just ask those record companies!

  4. Thanks for looking into it Rob. I’ll give you some answers.
    1: I made that voice as a test, just to see if A, there would be a market for such things and B, to see if I was gifted. I don’t regret what happened next because that’s how I was able to enter the voice-over market.
    2: Yes, I did an entire system-voice in a Yoda impersonation.
    3: I did make the stupid mistake to post the voice on a message board in order to get some feedback.
    4: I didn’t call it “Yoda” and I think it was different enough from the voice of Frank Oz. That the character speaks backward, help it I cannot.
    5: Isn’t a funny voice for a GPS system always a parody if it sounds like a known voice?
    6: Registering with the US Copyright office is no option since I am neither a US citizen, nor living on US soil. But yes, my country has an equivalent of the US Copyright office but it is impractical to enforce copyright infringement across international borders.
    7: As I said before, I don’t regret what happened with my “Yoda” voice. It gave me confidence that I could do this work and with that confidence found, I started making demo showreels, I mailed them to production companies and I have voiced many commercials and infomercials for nation-wide TV since.
    But thanks for the advise. I’m sure it’s helpful for a lot of people.

  5. Thank you so much Stephanie. I LOVE your article. I was asking this very question a few weeks ago but didn’t know where to get answers from about recording your own audiobooks. I used to teach in an elementary school and one of my old colleagues asked if I would record some bedtime stories for her PreK class for nap time. I hated to say no because of copyright issues but I had to because I was worried I might get into trouble if the discs got into the wrong hands. I will DEFINITELY look into reading the classics. I guess I could record nursery rhymes or something like that for my friend. You’ve made my day. Thanks!!
    Pearl

  6. Hi Pearl,
    Thank you very much for your comment and compliments! I’m glad that the article has answered your questions and inspired you to take a look at recording nursery rhymes for your friend’s class. I’m certain the children will love it!
    Best,
    Stephanie

  7. Hi Philippe! I understand better now. Let me address your questions one by one.
    First of all, it is GREAT that something good came out of your ordeal. It sounds like that is worth its weight in gold.
    1: I made that voice as a test, just to see if A, there would be a market for such things and B, to see if I was gifted. I don’t regret what happened next because that’s how I was able to enter the voice-over market.
    Doing “test” voices is excellent, and what many voice talent do. Just be sure to take steps to PROTECT your voices so that it doesn’t end up in the next PIXAR film. (I have actually heard of at least one talent where that happened!)
    2: Yes, I did an entire system-voice in a Yoda impersonation.
    AWESOME! Very impressive!
    3: I did make the stupid mistake to post the voice on a message board in order to get some feedback.
    OK, you admitted it, that wasn’t smart. I tell voice over talent (and anyone for that matter) that when you post something on the internet that is not properly protected, you might as well put it up on a billboard on the side of a highway. (This is exactly how the talent got their character voices stolen as I mentioned above).
    4: I didn’t call it “Yoda” and I think it was different enough from the voice of Frank Oz. That the character speaks backward, help it I cannot.
    GOTCHA! If the character is different enough so we wouldn’t think “Hey that’s Yoda” when we hear it, then you are NOT infringing Star Wars’ copyright. If that is what a “reasonable person” says when they hear your voice, then you ARE infringing the copyright.
    5: Isn’t a funny voice for a GPS system always a parody if it sounds like a known voice?
    NO!!!! This is a COMMON MISCONCEPTION!!!! A Parody is something that is done in a skit, like in Saturday Night Live and is a “fair use” under the Copyright Act. It’s purpose is comedy and not profit. If the purpose of the voice for the GPS is to SELL IT and MAKE MONEY FROM IT, it is an UNPERMITTED COMMERCIAL USE and an infringement of the copyright. Clearly since the voice has been sold on ebay and is in widespread use in Europe, it is a commercial use.
    6: Registering with the US Copyright office is no option since I am neither a US citizen, nor living on US soil. But yes, my country has an equivalent of the US Copyright office but it is impractical to enforce copyright infringement across international borders.
    Fair enough, but you CAN register with your local Copyright office and afford yourself of the remedies available under your local Copyright Act (which may be similar to the provisions of the US Act), AND you would be protected by the terms of the Berne Convention for international protection of Copyrights.
    7: As I said before, I don’t regret what happened with my “Yoda” voice. It gave me confidence that I could do this work and with that confidence found, I started making demo showreels, I mailed them to production companies and I have voiced many commercials and infomercials for nation-wide TV since.
    This is excellent! This reminds me of the way many recording artists got their start. It was very common in the record business where a new recording artist made hardly any money on their first albums where they made a “name” for themselves and then they made up for it in their second and subsequent albums. So, I would say you’re in pretty good company!

  8. Hi Rob,
    Thank you very much for answering Philippe’s question and also for going into so much detail! Greatly appreciated 🙂
    Best,
    Stephanie

  9. S,
    Thanks so much for your wonderful article.
    I have always wanted to do this kind of thing more. With my theater training and voice type, it is a natural fit. You are so succinct and informative.
    Let’s continue to network and advise one another in this very weird time in our biz.
    Truly inspiring.
    Thanks,
    Ellen

  10. 4: I didn’t call it “Yoda” and I think it was different enough from the voice of Frank Oz. That the character speaks backward, help it I cannot.
    > GOTCHA! If the character is different enough so we wouldn’t think “Hey that’s Yoda” when we hear it, then you are NOT infringing Star Wars’ copyright. If that is what a “reasonable person” says when they hear your voice, then you ARE infringing the copyright.
    >> Then how come every time I hear Yoda, I think of Fozzy Bear? OK, both characters were originally voiced by Frank Oz, but Yoda is the property of Lucasfilm and Fuzzy is the property of Jim Henson’s group. This is like saying that Pierce Brosnan would be infringing copyright laws if he plays a secret agent wearing a tux and holding a gun in a non-Bond movie.
    5: Isn’t a funny voice for a GPS system always a parody if it sounds like a known voice?
    > NO!!!! This is a COMMON MISCONCEPTION!!!! A Parody is something that is done in a skit, like in Saturday Night Live and is a “fair use” under the Copyright Act. It’s purpose is comedy and not profit. If the purpose of the voice for the GPS is to SELL IT and MAKE MONEY FROM IT, it is an UNPERMITTED COMMERCIAL USE and an infringement of the copyright. Clearly since the voice has been sold on ebay and is in widespread use in Europe, it is a commercial use.
    >> So what you’re telling is that the people of Saturday Night Live are not paid to perform there? That no money is made from Saturday Night Live? And that advertisers don’t pay to have their commercial aired during Saturday Night Live?
    7: As I said before, I don’t regret what happened with my “Yoda” voice. It gave me confidence that I could do this work and with that confidence found, I started making demo showreels, I mailed them to production companies and I have voiced many commercials and infomercials for nation-wide TV since.
    > This is excellent! This reminds me of the way many recording artists got their start. It was very common in the record business where a new recording artist made hardly any money on their first albums where they made a “name” for themselves and then they made up for it in their second and subsequent albums. So, I would say you’re in pretty good company!
    >> That’s alright momma. 😉
    I have a friend in my country who is a lawyer too. And I just love the conversations I’ve had with him over the years. They were all conversations like this one. So I love this conversation too. But I think the one thing that must be said about the law is that unlike mathematics, law is NOT an exact science. Wouldn’t you agree?

  11. Nice work, Stephanie.
    BTW.. Pat’s 2 day audiobook master class is AMAZING. I know it’s pricey ($1400?) but it’s TOTALLY worth every single cent!

  12. Stephanie…
    As always this article is right on the money. But you forgot one very important fact…that excerpts of some of these very classics are available in the voiceover royalty free scripts that you offer here on Voices. I have already taken advantage of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”, Ray Bradbury’s “The Illustrated Man” along with a passage from the Holy Bible. Now there’s a classic!

  13. Thanks for this fab article Stephanie. You are really a star. And thanks for your great advice Rob — you gave me a lot of things for which I can be on the alert.
    I’m editing an audiobook now….what a great idea that my shop can be one of my venues. cool!
    Oh, I’m not in the area to study with Pat, but I do have his Billion $ Read CD and book, and have studied religiously with that, as well as with teachers here in England. Pat rocks! 😀
    Cheers all…

  14. This was exceptionally good. I have been trying to get my voice out there and this looks like the way that might work the best for me. I am a trained actor and I love to do cold readings. Thanks for the article and thanks to all the remarkably generous VO talent that are so willing to share their knowledge. Amazing!
    Michael

  15. This was exceptionally good. I have been trying to get my voice out there and this looks like the way that might work the best for me. I am a trained actor and I love to do cold readings. Thanks for the article and thanks to all the remarkably generous VO talent that are so willing to share their knowledge. Amazing!
    Michael

  16. Great piece and excellent info…. and also very timely for me to read this today. I am registered here at Voices but have not been able to pursue it any further until recently. I am in the process of narrating a number of my own novels and short stories with the aim of selling them as MP3 downloads… so it was timely to know about your store here and I will be contacting you guys in the near future with a few questions.
    Thanks for posting this.

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