A Primer on Audio Rights
When an agent makes a deal to sell your book to a publisher, you’ll likely be elated (and will have a few common author questions). You’ll delight to tell your friends that they’ll soon see your work at their local bookstore, between brightly colored covers emblazoned with a respected publisher’s colophon.
What you won’t be thinking about until later are the subsidiary rights: sales that can be made to bookclubs, audio publishers, foreign publishers and movie/television producers. There are all sorts of ways that a book can earn money for a publisher and an author.
Right now, audio publishers are acquiring audio rights aggressively. They want everything: bestsellers and romances and science fiction and mysteries and nonfiction and backlist and kid’s books. They are building audio empires and their advances can equal or surpass those of your print publishers.
There are a couple of major book publishers who now insist on acquiring audio rights along with print rights, and that insistence can be a factor in where your agent thinks you should be published. Agents always want you to retain audio rights (for separate sale to an audio publisher) and may choose to sell your book to a house that will let them.
The publishers who retain audio rights pay royalties if they publish the book under their own audio division. If they license the rights to an outside audio publisher, you’ll receive a 50% share of the advance and of any royalties. The big downside to a print-and-audio deal with a print publisher is that the publisher will own those audio rights for as long as your book is in print or for the term of copyright — generally your lifetime plus 70 years.
If your agent sells your audio rights separately, generally your audio contract will run for a defined term of license much shorter than the term of copyright, often no more than eight or ten years. After that term, the audio rights revert to you.
These days, authors may end up having a relationship with their audio publisher who may choose, for instance, to send you to the American Library Association. Or authors may become friendly with the narrator of their books; readers will tell you that they loved “listening” to your book. And even if your book was published long ago, there’s a chance that it can find a new life in audio.