Sunday, January 23, 2005

More Thoughts on Audio -- Part 1

Well, my recording of "Grasshopper" is out there for all the world to hear. So far no one has filed suit against me for assault by audio, so that's a good thing. Also, as of today, no one has offered me obscene amounts of money for my talents as either reader or writer. That was only to be expected.

So. What was the point? To prove it could be done. To encourage others to do it. To get more of our work out there in a more portable form so people can take it places where reading is impractical.

Audio books (I am including short stories in this category in the interests of conciseness) have been around for a while. The market has grown by leaps and bounds and has only been helped by the advent of CDs and anti-skip technology in portable CD players. But still it is only a miniscule percentage of the book market as a whole. Why?

The primary issue, I think, is price. Audio books are expensive. No only must the publishers pay the author, the editor and the teamsters, they also have to pay for a recording studio and the voice talent. That's fair, though I think book publishers, like the music industry, over inflate the costs of producing a CD.

So how do you decrease costs? The easiest place to do that in today's world is in the distribution costs. Sell over the Internet and you have no packaging, no printing for the packaging and no teamsters to pay. It doesn't matter how high the price of diesel fuel goes.

Then why does the audio book of Nelson DeMille's new bestseller cost the same at Audible.com as it would if you bought it from your neighborhood Barnes & Nobles or Borders? Hey, those guys aren't stupid. They'll charge whatever the market will bear. For now, downloaded audio has a certain convenience or coolness factor, and some people will pay for that. It's also true that there are a lot of suckers out there.

When ebooks first got off the ground, the same thing applied. The ebook editions cost as much as the print editions. Some still do, but prices are falling. Take Michael Connelly's The Narrows for example. The hardback costs $26.95. At Palm Digital Media the ebook costs $15.25 (higher than it ought to be, IMO, but still considerably cheaper than the print version). Blood Work in paperback costs $7.99. The ebook costs $5.25. Catch a sale, and you can save even more. One of Stephen D. Rogers' short stories will set you back a full $0.49 at Fictionwise.com.

The prices of audio books will come down, but that's not going to help us today and probably not this year or next year. So what will? Innovation and building a market. More next time.