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Did You Know…? Vol. 1

A primer on publishing in audio

For the author just dipping a toe into the Audiobook Pubbing Pool:

If you’re looking into the cost of publishing your book as an audiobook, you’ll probably encounter the term “per finished hour” or “PFH” for short. When an audiobook is recorded, every person along the way is paid for their services PFH: producers, narrators, editors and proofers.

In practice, once you’ve discussed narrators, a producer will quote you a rate, or a range of rates depending on narrator choices. Your total cost will equal that rate multiplied by the length, in time, of the finished product. (After a little research, I learned that the industry has worked this way since 1975 when Books-on-Tape started the tradition to keep recording costs manageable.)

So how does this affect you, author and potential audiobook publisher? How do you figure out your budget with this PFH rate? Luckily there’s a handy formula to translate your word count into approximate finished hours. You simply take your word count and divide it by 9,300 to get a very general idea of your book’s PFH.

For example: 80,000 words ÷ 9,300 = 8.6 hours.

To calculate your cost, if a producer gives you a rate of say, $500 PFH, that means your book will cost 8.6 x $500 = $4,300. Remember, this is an estimation: a skilled narrator will artfully perform your book, adjusting pacing as the story requires, so things may speed up and slow down in the studio. With that in mind, you should budget in a pad, just in case.

For the author who is already doing laps in the Audiobook Waters:

(As an aside to my cheesy metaphors - did you know that many people listen to audiobooks while swimming!?)

Let's talk about distribution. Audible has done a great job of branding itself. I’ve found that many consumers think all audiobooks come from and can be found only at Audible. It’s become the Kleenex of the audiobook world. Similarly, Audible’s self-production arm ACX is probably the best-known spot among authors for audiobook casting*, production and distribution.

However, there are other options for getting your book into your fans’ listening devices.

Say your audiobook sales have been pretty good so far, but you’ve heard that libraries are a great place for potential listeners to discover books (via Overdrive or hoopla). Perhaps fans have said that they want to buy your books in a way that benefits their local indie bookstore ( Or fans have said they’d love to be able to listen on their Nook, or via their Scribd subscription. Or get deals on Chirp. Maybe you want to sell audiobooks yourself on your website.

There are a few digital distributors that will allow you to sell your books wherever listeners are looking for them (more digital audiobook retailers pop up every day all over the world). Findaway is probably the best known and has recently added a Marketplace that allows you to search for and cast* narrators. Blackstone Audio, Author’s Republic and Big Happy Family are other options. With any of the above, you can distribute via Audible separately or you can distribute through their service unilaterally.

Via Author’s Republic or Big Happy Family, your audiobook can find its way into listeners’ ears via a multitude of platforms rather than just one. Even though your non-exclusive Audible royalty rate will be lower, it’s possible that wider distribution would make up the difference.

*Although it may seem easier to post your book on ACX or Findaway and watch the auditions come in, I’ll argue that this may not be the ideal way to go about hiring a narrator. More on that soon!

This article originally appeared at in 2018 and has been updated to reflect changing production landscapes.

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