Want to Read Michael Lewis’s Next Work? You’ll Be Able to Listen to It First

From The New York Times:

When Michael Lewis had an idea for his next book, a contemporary political narrative, he decided he would test it out first as a 10,000-word magazine article, as he often does before committing to a yearslong project.

But this time he made a surprising pivot. Instead of publishing the story in Vanity Fair, where he has been a contributing writer for nearly a decade, he sold it to Audible, the audiobook publisher and retailer.

“You’re not going to be able to read it, you’re only going to be able to listen to it,” Mr. Lewis said. “I’ve become Audible’s first magazine writer.”

Mr. Lewis — arguably one of the most successful nonfiction writers working today, with book sales topping 10 million copies — is betting Audible will expand his audience and draw even more people to his work. Last month, he signed a multiyear contract with Audible for four audio original stories, with the first scheduled to come out in July. Mr. Lewis, who wouldn’t reveal further details about the story, plans to narrate it himself.

. . . .

Mr. Lewis is part of a growing group of A-list authors bypassing print and releasing audiobook originals, hoping to take advantage of the exploding audiobook market. It’s the latest sign that audiobooks are no longer an appendage of print, but a creative medium in their own right. But the rise of stand-alone audio has also made some traditional publishers nervous, as Audible strikes deals directly with writers, including best-selling authors like the historian Robert Caro and the novelist Jeffery Deaver.

. . . .

After years of stagnation in the industry, audiobooks have become a rare bright spot for publishers. While e-book sales have fallen and print has remained anemic, publishers’ revenue for downloaded audio has nearly tripled in the last five years, industry data from the Association of American Publishers shows. This has set off a new turf war over audio rights, pitting Audible, owned by Amazon, against traditional publishers, who are increasingly insisting on producing their own audiobooks, wary of ceding more territory and revenue to the online retailer. The battle over who will dominate the industry’s fastest growing format is reshaping the publishing landscape, much as e-books did a decade ago, driving up advances for audio rights and leading some authors to sign straight-to-audio deals.

. . . .

“Amazon’s position in the digital audio market is even more dominant and unshakable than its position was in the e-book market,” said Michael Cader, a book industry analyst and the founder of Publishers Marketplace. “They’re virtually unchallenged.”

Audible executives say they are investing in original works in part to meet growing consumer demand, and also to generate stories that are designed to be listened to rather than read.

. . . .

Audible has been aggressively courting authors to create exclusive works for them, dangling six-figure advances that rival what major publishing houses pay.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

20 thoughts on “Want to Read Michael Lewis’s Next Work? You’ll Be Able to Listen to It First”

  1. Ah, the updated old bookseller method. Hardback only for those that can’t wait, cheaper paperback later when the hardback sales are dying off.

    Sadly I prefer to read stories at my own rate, coming up with my own voices for each character and going back over things that I don’t pick up the first time.

    • It’s worse than that, since at least you could buy the hardback at any bookstore. With Audible Originals, you have to buy from Audible and nowhere else. At least until the exclusivity ends. Even after, if you want to buy the audiobook but not from an Amazon company, you’re probably SOL.

      A series that I really enjoy was an Audible-first. In the three months between each new audio release and the ebook becoming available, the books usually only gathered a handful of reviews on Amazon, some of which were usually one-stars complaining about not being able to buy the book. Which I guess is the problem with listing a book on the Amazon website before the book is actually available to buy on Amazon (in any format that most people actually buy straight from Amazon). At least with audio publishers that aren’t Audible, I can usually buy the book from a different retailer if I don’t want to support an Audible audio monopoly.

      There’s another author I really enjoy, who had a new release that’s Audible-only. I actually want to listen to the audiobook, but I haven’t yet felt like paying $11 for 2 hours or so of entertainment.

      • re: audible cost. I was making small talk with someone awhile ago and found out that a) his job required driving all over a rather large sales/support region, and b) he listened to audible books while doing so, and wrote the account and the books off as a business expense.

        • It sure would be nice to be able to do that. Sadly, I mostly listen while working out and doing personal errands.

      • I seem to recall book ads ending in ‘find it only at B&N.’

        I know it’s hip to buck against exclusivity, but Amazon is far from the first company to use it. If you think of it, every trad-pub contract is for the exclusivity of that work – it is then trad-pub’s to do whatever they want to it – including sit on it so it doesn’t interfere with their promotion of one of their ‘best sellers’.

        (I’m guessing the other publishers didn’t meet/beat Audible’s offer to the writer …)

        • Limited exclusivity is routine in music and gaming.
          Also electronics and home appliances.
          Total exclusivity is common in most of those areas.

          Books aren’t different from other widgets: the retailer pays for a period of exclusivity so the owner gets more cash and the retailer gets the early adopter/true fan business.

          Nothing new.

  2. I have no idea who Michael Lewis is, but if it turned out I had any interest in his writing, being able to read it only as an audio production would mean that I’ll never be one of his readers. Aside from agreeing with Anonymous that I want to read at my own rate, I don’t want anyone interpreting the book for me, which is what actor/readers do. In other words, I don’t want someone coming between me and the book.

    Add in the inconvenience of trying to read a passage a second or third time and having to go back and forth to find the exact spot I’m looking for… People complain about ebooks being less convenient than print if you’re trying to find a particular page. Is there even any way to do that with audio books?

    • Michael Lewis writes about business “soap opera” — true tales of business management. His core audience tends to listen to audiobooks while driving or exercising; he doesn’t have fictional characters.

      Taking advantage of the higher price point of audiobooks and windowing his work makes sense for him and as the author of Moneyball (about how using a new economic model of team composition for baseball transformed the sport) he’s a natural for running the numbers and bucking established publishing norms.

      • I’m a fan of all of Lewis’s books, but would never buy the Audible version (though I think the one mentioned here is just a glorified magazine article). I fall asleep when listening to audio.

    • Other authors are doing this. Scott Meyer comes to mind. His books are audible-only for 6 months, then ebook and print. Audible must have made it worth his while.

  3. Audible is simply countering the publishers policy to insist on audio rights. No audio = no deal, is the current paradigm for publishers. Audible have increased advances to tempt authors to sign with them — though I’m not sure that an Audible only release is beneficial in the long run.

  4. “While e-book sales have fallen and print has remained anemic, publishers’ revenue for downloaded audio has nearly tripled in the last five years, industry data from the Association of American Publishers shows.”

    So, that “tripling” of audio sales has come at the expense of Big Pub’s stable of signed authors, eh? I wonder how much income those authors have collectively missed out on by not doing it themselves.

    • Anybody can correct me if I’m wrong, but the AAP numbers wouldn’t include Amazon’s own Audible productions, right?

    • Do you mean how much have the authors missed out on by not doing their own audio? Because as I understand it, given that indies doing their own audio are pretty much stuck with ACX, and ACX terms are pretty bad (lack of control, lack of pricing, etc.), they probably haven’t missed out on remotely as much as if we were talking about ebooks.

    • “So, that “tripling” of audio sales …”

      When something is so tiny it’s east to double/triple sales. As small as audio is compared to paper/ebooks I’m actually surprised they had to go back five years to ‘triple’ it, I was expecting something like that per year for a while.

      “I’ve tripled my sales since last year!”

      “How many did you sell last year?”

      “Five …”

      • Exactly.
        Audio is in ramp up boom (ebooks circa 2011) and stands to grow quite a bit but it is never going to eclipse ebooks simply because it will remain more expensive to produce and more expensive to sell for a few decades until the tech of semantic markup languages matures and audio book production can be automated.

        There is a big bump still to come, though: if self-driving robo cars ever become mainstream (not a certainty) there will be a bit more interest in in-car entertainment.

        It is worth remembering that the BPH’s interest in audio is because of the high prices: the margin may be lower but the reported gross is much higher and they remain obsessed with reader-spend.

        They will be sorely disappointed when audio plateaus in the 5-10% range in the next couple of years.

        • “It is worth remembering that the BPH’s interest in audio is because of the high prices: the margin may be lower but the reported gross is much higher and they remain obsessed with reader-spend.”

          Another reason for the BPH interest is it’s not something as cheap/easy to make by any/every indie/self publisher. Like paper and bookstore access, they see it as something they can ‘control’.

          And as far as trad-pub is concerned that’s what really matters, control over things – and of course getting their ‘cut’ as middlemen. The next few years should get ‘interesting’ for them – and for us. 😉

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