When Olympic snowboarder Shaun White’s memoir lands later this year, readers will have to wait. That is because his book will be released as an audiobook a month before the hardcover and e-book editions.
With the help of its deep-pocketed owner, Audible is trying to extend its dominance in a fast-growing corner of the book business. It already accounts for about 41% of U.S. audiobook unit sales, according to researcher Codex Group LLC. Audible said Mr. White’s book is a blueprint for the sorts of deals it will pursue.
As a publisher of audiobooks rather than simply a retailer, Audible can develop exclusive audio content that differs from the print version, helping to lure subscribers and fend off rivals. In working directly with authors, Audible controls the content instead of traditional publishers, which normally own all rights to books and distribute audio versions through firms like Audible and Apple Inc.’s iTunes.
Audible is pitching literary agents on the benefits of using its services, saying authors will get a competitive bidding process that could mean more money in their pockets, and will get more attention and marketing for their audiobooks.
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In the first eight months of 2017, publishers’ revenue from audiobooks grew 20% from the same period a year earlier, while print books only rose 1.5% and e-books slipped 5.4%, according to the Association of American Publishers, which collects data reported by 1,200 publishers.
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Several major publishers, including Penguin Random House and HarperCollins Publishers, say they generally won’t buy a new book without audiobook rights, which may deter authors from signing deals with Audible.
“Authors are best served if they are published as a whole and marketed as a whole and in lockstep with our digital sales team and our print team,” said Ana Maria Allessi, publisher of HarperAudio, a unit of HarperCollins Publishers. HarperCollins, like The Wall Street Journal, is owned by News Corp .
With Audible, the publisher typically gets a set fee for each audiobook download, part of which is passed on to the author. When Audible owns the audiobook rights, print publishers no longer get a cut. Typically, this means more money is passed on to the author.
“As e-book sales decline and hardcover sales flatten, publishers need audiobook rights to boost their bottom line,” said Robert Gottlieb, chairman of Trident Media Group LLC, a New York literary agency. “What’s different is that Audible is trying to get agents to sell them the audiobook rights before they go out with the other publishing rights.”
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Audible Studios produced a special edition of Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” read by Claire Danes, with new material that extends beyond the end of the novel.