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Amazon.com prices for a few random books as of 10/5/2017:

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - paperback $9.29, hardcover $17.89, audio CD $38.98

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - paperback $8.34, hardcover $16.41, audio CD $28.46

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - $7.89 for the paperback, $17.06 audio CD

The War of Art - paperback $10.20, MP3 audiobook $9.79 (slightly cheaper)

The two obvious criticisms of what I have above are the fact that these are the Amazon.com prices (rather than the publisher price), and that this is a limited number of books (so it may not represent overall trends).

I don't have any hard statistics on this, but it seems to me that that audiobooks (with some exceptions) tend to be dramatically more expensive than the print edition of the books. Why is that?

This seems to hold true even with electronic versions (e.g. purchases from Audible.com or iTunes), so the physical cost of producing the CDs doesn't appear to entirely explain the cost differences.

I'm also not convinced that the additional cost of creating the audiobook in the first place entirely accounts for its price. I do understand that the publisher needs to recoup the cost of producing it in the first place in order to make it worthwhile to sell it, but it seems like that cost would be distributed among a large number of people (at least for popular audiobooks like Harry Potter). Also, the marginal cost of producing additional units it relatively low - selling 2 million units isn't twice as expensive as selling 1 million units. Finally, the cost of producing the goods in the first place isn't really related to the price that people are willing to pay for it.

With that said, what is the logic behind these prices? How do the publishers typically price audiobooks relative to paper and hardcover books and why? How does this compare to Amazon.com's pricing?

My understanding is that Amazon.com does dynamic pricing, so my guess is that they're doing some kind of regression analysis to get an objective function relating price to profit somehow and then doing single-variable optimization on that. But this doesn't really explain how they came up with the approximate price range to begin with, or how the publishers came up with the list price.

  • I'm not sure that there's a reason to correlate them... I don't know that there's a huge change in the publishing cost between a paperback with 200 pages as one with 500... but there's likely a big increase in costs associated with an audio book that's 6 discs vs one that's 15... so you might start by comparing the number of discs rather than comparing the book prices. Also, those aren't publisher prices, those are Amazon's discounted prices. You need to look at the list price (the one crossed out in the add to cart box). So HP&HBP is $12.99. Amazon may not discount them all equally. – Catija Oct 6 '17 at 18:14
  • @Catija True - but even purely electronic versions of audiobooks (e.g. purchased from iTunes), where there's presumably no manufacturing cost at all, still tend to be much more expensive than print books. – EJoshuaS - Reinstate Monica Oct 6 '17 at 18:16
  • Paying actors to record 10 hours of content is less expensive than paying actors to record 20 hours... there is still cost associated with increased length of content even if you're not paying for discs. Print books don't have to pay for recording fees. – Catija Oct 6 '17 at 18:18
  • @Catija That's true - I suppose that longer books would tend to be more expensive to record. – EJoshuaS - Reinstate Monica Oct 6 '17 at 18:19
  • And with books like HP, they have full cast recordings rather than many books with single readers... which is, again, more expensive. – Catija Oct 6 '17 at 18:19
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Taking your example of the Harry Potter audiobooks, I looked at the prices directly from the publisher, Bloomsbury Publishing. I compared the length of the paperbacks to the cost of the audiobooks, and it turned out that the trend was almost perfectly matching.

If we take the length of the first book as 1, and the price also as 1, and measure relative to that, we get the following:

  • Chamber of Secrets: Length 1.10, Cost 1.11
  • Prisoner of Azkaban: Length 1.39, Cost 1.29
  • Goblet of Fire: Length 2.48, Cost 2.39
  • Order of the Phoenix: Length 3.34, Cost 3.29
  • Half-Blood Prince: Length 2.18, Cost 2.39
  • Deathly Hallows: Length 2.57, Cost 2.75

Seems like a pretty convincing trend. Conveniently, all were narrated by Stephen Fry, so it seems that the costs would be relatively constant (i.e. a similar cost per hour of recording).

Of course, it's impossible to know exactly how the business model for these audiobooks works without inside knowledge, but it's reasonable to speculate that Fry's payments for each book would be proportional to the length of time needed to record them, so the cost of the product to the consumer would scale accordingly. I would conjecture also that Stephen Fry's narration contributes to the high cost of the HP audiobooks relative to the novels, considering he's a celebrity rather than an unknown voice actor. Certainly, demand would increase knowing that Stephen Fry narrated, and I imagine he is also able to command a greater wage than an unknown voice actor.

RR Voice has an interesting article which goes into some of the many ways that audiobook narrators would charge for their work, such as royalty splits and per finished hour payments (i.e. £X for every hour of recording given to the customer).

Although I can't really say much more without going too far into the realm of speculation, it does appear from the example of Harry Potter that the prices often do correlate with the production cost to a reasonable degree. However, with the many different ways of charging for production, and the difficulty of knowing how much consumers will pay for a certain audiobook, it's difficult to make any more judgements than just observing the link with length.

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