Google Has Made a Brilliant Strategic Move
Why Indie Authors Should Capitalize on It
In late April this year, Google Play Books announced the launch of an AI Narrated Audiobook beta program for indie authors and publishers using their retail platform. There’s a few conditions attached. Surprisingly few.
It was an incredibly smart move. Here’s why.
Authors don’t have to pay to use it
If indie authors are already distributing their ebooks via Google Play Books, they can convert them to audiobooks via their publisher dashboard. It doesn’t cost anything upfront, but their sales spilt for audiobooks does drop to 52% from the 70% they get from ebook sales.
Considering that traditional audiobooks cost thousands in upfront fees and weeks to produce, this zero-upfront cost has indie authors scrambling to join the program and get their audiobooks up for sale.
Plus, indie authors who have previously ignored the Google Play bookstore as a point of distribution will now be rushing to sign up and take advantage of the audio program. That will bring a flood of book titles to Google Play, bolstering their storefront offerings.
It is entirely possible that as the next dominos in this cascade fall, and the success of the program grows, indie authors currently using the Amazon KDP Select program (a.k.a Kindle Unlimited, or “KU” — which is the reader side of the program) will leave the program and its exclusive demands in order to access cheap-to-make audiobooks.
The low entry cost means AI narrated audiobooks will be cheap
I’ve been talking steadily for weeks with other indie authors getting into the beta program, and the consensus on pricing seems to be that ebook prices are just fine for the AI audiobooks.
The first indie-authored Audible book I found on Amazon was Ruby Dixon’s Barbarian’s Mate. It was priced at $15.30 USD. The ebook is $3.99.
If AI audiobooks are priced the same as ebooks, the example I just quoted will mean that AI audiobooks will be nearly 400% cheaper (on average) than traditional audiobooks.
Readers will buy the cheaper audiobooks
On my romance readers’ private Facebook group, I laid out this same mathematics for them. As I have never released audiobooks before, all my readers are ebook-first readers.
I pointed them to the sample page, where they could listen to a few seconds of narration.
A whopping seventy-five percent of my ebook-first readers said they thought the narration was “surprisingly good” and would listen to an AI audiobook, given the price was so cheap.
“Doesn’t hurt to try — not at that price,” one of them said.
Readers willing to try audiobooks at the cheaper price, and already-audio-first listeners drawn to the deeply discounted AI narrated books will increase the demand.
Plus, authors will be teaching and improving the AI algorithms
The other admirably strategic facet to Google’s smart move is behind the scenes.
Indie authors using the service have a full dashboard where they can correct pronunciation, adjust tone and cadences by shifting punctuation, and even read words to the AI to train it.
Authors will work hard to produce better quality narrative. They’re already teaching each other how to tweak the settings to get better results. All this education is fed back into the AI narrator programs.
Which will drive the improvement of AI narrated audiobooks
Hundreds of authors will spend thousands of hours teaching the algorithms and improving them for Google.
This is the same tactic Google used to teach their AIs how to recognize objects; every time you have to click on the squares that show a boat or traffic lights or some other everyday object, in order to verify you’re human, you’re actually training AI algorithms.
Google has promised that as the AI narrators improve, the improvements will be automatically added to authors’ produced audiobooks.
AI narrated audiobooks will improve exponentially as a result, further lowering the barrier to buying them.
Authors can sell the audiobooks anywhere else, so long as they’re on Google Play
And then there’s the market share aspect.
Amazon has long held the lion’s share in audio and ebooks through the strategic use of exclusivity. Authors in the KDP Select program are forced to remain exclusive to Amazon. Similarly, authors using the ACX royalty-splitting program are also bound to seven years of exclusivity.
Now Google has leapt ahead of Amazon by entering the AI audiobooks market early, and insisting authors distribute through Google Play…but they’re also free to sell the books anywhere else.
Authors can’t sell the cheap audiobooks on Amazon
Amazon specifically bans AI-narrated audiobooks. Apple Books makes it impossible to use them by limiting authors to using “official partners” to upload their audiobooks. The official partners all disallow AI Audiobooks.
Kobo Books does allow AI narrated audiobooks and Barnes & Noble are currently deciding if they will allow them.
This means the two largest indie-published marketplaces have cut themselves off from the AI audiobook market, while smaller markets like B&N and Kobo are poised to take advantage of the price-driven demand for AI Audiobooks.
If you’ve ever said “I wish I’d started indie publishing back in 2007”…
2007 was the year Amazon released their first Kindle eReader, and indie publishing took a lightyear’s leap forward. I’ve often wondered if I would be any more successful if I’d jumped into indie publishing in 2007, rather than waiting another four years to commit.
If you’ve ever said anything similar yourself (“I wish I’d bought even just one Bitcoin when they first came out!”), then pause to weigh your options. The Google AI Narration program is in beta phase. It’s possible that as the program matures, they will start charging authors to use it. It is certain that changes to the program will be made.
If you have a very large backlist of titles published in ebook, now is the time to get into the program. There is absolutely nothing to lose, except a little of your time.