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Why Is Audible So Expensive?

Audible App open on an iPhone
Danny Chadwick
When you add up everything you get with an Audible membership, the price tag actually seems reasonable.

Audible is the world’s premier audiobook store. You can buy nearly any title you want there. And their subscription service, Audible Plus, gives you access to premium content. But it’s expensive. Or is it? Let’s dig in and find out precisely what you get for the price of an Audible membership.

How Much Does Audible Cost?

Audible has two monthly subscription plans: Plus and Premium Plus. Audible Plus costs just $7.95 a month. It gives you unlimited access to the services’ 11K+ title Plus Catalog and a selection of Audible original programming, including audiobooks, podcasts, sleep tracks, and meditation programs.

Audible Premium Plus is $14.95 each month and gives you everything Audible Plus does, plus a monthly credit that you can use to purchase any book the services sell regardless of its list price. Premium Plus also has a two-credit-per-month plan that costs $22.95 monthly. You can also opt to pay for a full year of Audible Premium Plus upfront for $149.50 or $229.50.

A monthly membership also provides subscribers a discount on al-a-carte audiobooks. The discount is generally 30% off what you’d pay if you didn’t have a membership. Additionally, Audible has a lot of member-only sales where it offer select titles sharply cut discounts.

For comparison, a monthly Audible Plus subscription aligns with a typical video streaming service. Netflix’s cheapest ad-free plan is $9.99 per month. Hulu’s is $14.99 per month ($7.99 with ads). Disney+ with ads is $7.99 per month and $10.99 for ad-free streaming. “Netflix for Audiobooks” would be an appropriate description of Audible Plus.

Audiobooks Are Harder to Make Than You Realize

A desk full of audio recording hardware
Thomas Bethge/Shutterstock.com

It might seem like a simple affair to produce an audiobook. But there’s more to it than the author sitting in front of a microphone and reading from a manuscript. For one, the book must be written before it can be read anyway. Writing a book is a monumental undertaking, and it can take anywhere from a few weeks to years for an author to compose a book and get the manuscript into publishable shape. That’s not counting the time it takes to develop the idea for a book, do the necessary research, and develop the concept before the first word is even written. This process can also take weeks to years to complete. And the author will want to be compensated for every second they spend making the book you’re about to listen to.

The costs of recording an audiobook shouldn’t be discounted either. Authors often read their own manuscripts, but others prefer to hire a professional to read their books for them. And hiring a quality narrator isn’t cheap, especially if you want one with a track record of reading audiobooks in a way that grips the listener. Some audiobook narrators will take a flat fee to read a book upfront, while others (especially celebrities) want royalties from every audiobook sold. This increases the cost of making audiobooks—especially good ones.

Plus, you need to consider the overhead of recording an audiobook. Even the best narrators can’t read a 10-hour book in one sitting with no mistakes. Properly recording an audiobook can take days or even weeks, depending on the narrator and the length of the book. Then the raw recordings need to be edited together, requiring hiring a sound editor. Big publishers often hire producers, sound engineers, and musicians to make their titles into audiobooks. Other times Audiobooks will feature big voice casts for maximum immersion in a tale. Add all this together, and the production costs could rival that of a small feature film to produce an audiobook for a best-selling title.

It’s worth noting that audiobooks are almost always just part of an author’s or publisher’s strategy to profit from their work. The costs of producing the audiobook are rolled in to the total cost of marketing physical copies and ebooks. And marketing a book with a big publisher costs a lot of money that needs to be recouped and make a profit for the publisher and author.

Think About How Much You Get With a Monthly Subscription

I mentioned earlier that Audible Plus is the “Netflix of Audiobooks,” and that’s true. But that moinker falls apart when you upgrade to Audible Premium Plus. Not only do you get access to the Audible Plus Catalog with 11K+ audiobook titles to listen to, but also a credit (or two) per month that you can use to purchase any book that Audible sells al-a-carte. This would be the equivalent of buying an Amazon Prime Video Subscription for $14.95 a month. In addition to everything on Prime Video, you also get to choose any movie Amazon offers to keep forever for free (regardless of how much the movie listed for on Amazon). So, Audible is actually a better deal for audiobooks than Amazon Prime is for movies and TV shows.

Collecting Physical Books Would Be More Expensive

Many old books in a book shop.
Yulia Grigoryeva/Shutterstock.com

Another thing to consider is that audiobooks actually cost less than their physical counterparts, despite the added manpower that goes into creating an audiobook. At the time of this writing, the best-selling book of 2023 so far is Spare by Prince Harry. On Amazon, the hardcover edition has a list price of $36 (currently on sale for $22). Whereas its audiobook counterpart lists for $24 on Audible without a membership, with a Plus subscription, the cash price drops to $17.46. Also, consider that spending a credit on it would mean it effectively costs $14.95 (or $11.50 if you’re on a two-credit-per-month plan). And that actually goes down when you add in everything else you get with an Audible subscription.

Granted, there are plenty of good ways to get discounts on physical books. But this is to illustrate that you get a great deal of value in buying audiobooks of new releases rather than hardcovers. Prince Harry may not be able to physically sign your audiobook, but you’ll be able to hear him tell his story for less than if you got Spare at your local Barnes and Noble.

Audible Makes Original Content Now

Like many other streaming services in the past few years, Audible is branching out into creating content of its own rather than relying on authors and publishers to create audio content for them. Audible original content often features a large cast with celebrity voices, big-name titles, and high production values. And even if there are no cameras present, that is an expensive endeavor that Audible hopes will pay off by giving subscribers enough content to feel like they’re getting their money’s worth out of their monthly payment.

If You Listen to Audiobooks a Lot, It’s Not Really Very Expensive

A pair of headphones connected to physical books.

When you add all this together, Audible is actually not very expensive at all. It also has great value if you listen to a lot of audiobooks (like I do). For the price of just one physical book, an Audible membership provides you with virtually unlimited entertainment and learning each month.

Consider the price of a movie ticket. The average cost to get into a theater in the United States right now is nine dollars. And you get about two hours of entertainment for that price. That comes out to about $4.50 per hour. Now suppose you buy a 10-hour audiobook with an Audible credit ($14.95). That comes out to about $1.50 an hour for just one audiobook. When you add in the Netflix-style Plus catalog offering, the price-per-hour plummets. The more you listen, the more value you get out of it. Plus, when you buy books on Audible, you get to listen to them as much as you want. Whereas with the theater, that $9 only lets you watch the movie once.

Where to Get Audiobooks For Free

You may be thinking, “well, this is fine, but I still don’t want to pay that much for audiobooks.” And that’s entirely fair. You can get free and discounted audiobooks from several services. The best place to start is the public library. Apps like Libby (iOS/Android) and Hoopla (iOS/Android) work with local library systems to bring audiobooks to people’s ears for free. But, the selection isn’t quite as good, and you’ll have to wait to listen to popular titles. I’ve had aforementioned Spare has been on hold in my Libby app since the book came out in January, and it only became available for me to download this week—a two and a half month wait.

Don’t mistake anything I say here: “you should always buy your audiobooks through Audible.” I don’t even do that. When there’s a book I want to listen to, the first place I look is always Libby (the second is Hoopla). If I can listen to a book for free with no waiting, I always go with the library option. If the library apps don’t have a title, I check the Audible Plus catalog. When a title isn’t available there (most new releases are not), I spend an Audible credit. I love Audible, but there’s no sense in spending a credit when I can get something in the library app for free.

Final Thoughts: You Actually Get a Lot for Your Money With Audible

Audible may seem expensive at first. Their main $14.95 per month plan does strike some as way too much to pay for audiobooks. However, when you dig into how much you’re getting for that price, things look slightly different. All things considered, Audible is likely the least expensive place on the internet to get the books you want to listen to with no waiting.

Danny Chadwick Danny Chadwick
Danny has been a technology journalist since 2008. He served as senior writer, as well as multimedia and home improvement editor at Top Ten Reviews until 2019. Since then, he has been a freelance contributor to Lifewire and ghostwriter for Fit Small Business. His work has also appeared on Laptop Mag, Tom’s Guide, and business.com. Read Full Bio »