Hey there, hero!
Many of my clients begin their audiobook narration career mining the opportunities on ACX.
They hone their craft, polish their business skills and learn to recognize scams as well as possibilities for success.
So what do you do when you want to go beyond the opportunities on ACX?
You might find big publishers, distributors, producers and…aggregators.
We talk about these further opportunities with the founder of aggregator/producer/distributor/promo code manager site AudiobooksUnleashed.com, Sarah Sampino.
Watch and learn and consider your future opportunities as a narrator with Sarah.
so if you’ve ever wondered how promo codes work how distribution works how somebody takes what they do for a living and builds it into a business we’re going to talk with sarah sampino today of audiobooks unleashed on this episode of the vo heroes podcast
sarah sampino am i am i am i correct that i’m i’m talking to you from the wilds of new jersey is that where you are where are you new york but close to new york enough close enough close there’s a bridge right there or the tunnel uh sarah how long have you been an audiobook narrator oh i’ve been not that long i’ve been an audiobook narrator since the end of 2018. okay and what got you into audiobooks so uh i’m an actor first and foremost um i’ve always been doing that for quite a while and i went to nyu and while i was there actually piper good eve was brought in to my voiceover class and she did a seminar on audiobooks and of course i know piper now so which is very funny um and yeah i thought it was fascinating they had us get in the booth they had us you know we researched and came back with scripts and we had to perform them and such um and it was really really cool experience and i think that half of the class was kind of like yeah yeah yeah now let me go on camera kind of thing um and i was like first of all no this is amazing and second of all what better way to make a living while you’re also pursuing you know your on-camera career or or not at all um so yeah and i just dove headfirst into it and then i graduated college and that was what i did instead of instead of sticking to waitressing and all that so you’re a tish person are you i am i am a tissue i i wonder sometimes about people who are multi-hyphenates stage on camera uh voiceover etc you know there’s there’s a notion that if you’re not just an audiobook narrator you’re not a real audiobook narrator and for me it’s always been every portion of my portfolio as a performer adds to the other portions do you find that what you learn when you’re doing stage work or when you’re doing on camera work aids you with audio books and vice versa absolutely i think i think that in this in the entertainment industry as a whole now you have to be multifaceted you know even when it comes to social media when it comes to being on camera on stage behind a mic in front of the camera behind the camera there are just so many components and while you can focus on one thing and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that i think that each facet that you add makes you a more multi-dimensional actor and artist and no matter what you’re doing whether it’s audio books or voice over you’re an actor and so i think that uh it’s just better to build your skills and also at the same time know the difference get the coaching where you need it and and know that just because you have the ability to do different mediums they are different mediums that you do have to have their own specializations yeah got it so let’s talk a little bit about entrepreneurship because i think sometimes people forget that as actors we’re walking around with our little suitcase and our little set of performance things and saying may i help you um today with your with your needs as uh as you might need for an actor it leads us to this entrepreneurial spirit that uh sometimes generates a company not just our acting career but a company and in your case the company that was generated from your entrepreneurial spirit and i don’t know if it was you and your fiance or just you uh was uh audiobooks unleashed and before that your company was called something else right yes so um and thank you that’s a really good way to put it about the um about being an entrepreneur i think that it’s really hard because you don’t have a lot of control in the entertainment industry um and i’ve found that where i can take a bit of control over my own life in this industry that i’ve chosen i have and i wanted to be able to help other people as well where i saw certain things that were lacking in the industry or not necessarily lacking but could use improvements could use new options and i think that that is where originally the whole promo code part of what would be audiobooks unleashed um we originally referred to it as fapsi uh which was freeaudiobookpromocodes.com it was a mouthful wow okay oh yeah so that it was it was not in any sense some big giant thing it was just me on my computer making a little wordpress website for myself to help with marketing um titles using promotional codes to my fans um as i was building that sort of community and other people had seen it and they were like oh my god that’s so much easier than just posting on facebook um so i opened it up to everybody um and is that still something that you offer yeah absolutely it actually causes a bunch of confusion because that is audiobooksunleashed.com so most people go there first and now our bigger focus is distribution and production and so we have um a sub domain so it’s distribution.audiobooksunleash.com okay which is again a bit of a mouthful um but we’re kind of trying to figure out what to do from a technical sense because you know all of the seo and metadata goes to the original um promoter clearly you’re a tech girl because choosing sub domains versus you know slash distribution is a tech choice yeah and understanding seo and and and all that is is a techy thing to do um are you more of a right-brained person or a left-brained person or a right-brained person who can’t avoid her left brain or i think i’m a left-brained person who is like trying to fit in to the squares of a right brain person yeah or the right brain world that we live in right exactly i’m like well we have to live in this right brain world but uh but i have trouble with it i kind of force the the things to fit that’s where my fiance comes in because i’ll be like i have a great idea here’s what we’re gonna do and here’s how we’re gonna do it and he’ll be like sarah that does not make any sense to anyone but you i was like but no look look look look and he’ll be like or you can just do it this way which would make more sense and i was like so let’s clarify what it is that you know uh my tribe can get from you uh take advantage of with audiobooks unleashed there’s promo codes and you also have branched into distribution aggregation production so you’re moving more into the space of providing the services that you’ve been providing for say rights holders on acx or clients on findaway or independent via publishers you’re now doing some of that work yourself and i imagine that that is a big change from being just a narrator slash producer to now being lots of different hats yeah yeah it’s kind of crazy it we’ve we’ve become a bit of a one-stop shop um which is really cool because at the same time somebody will come to me and say okay i need casting producing aggregation distribution marketing and we’ll say okay well tell us about your situation and we’ll say okay well we can help you with this and we think that this marketing company is the best fit for you and we’ll refer them or we’ll say well why don’t you reach out to so and so for casting and so kind of i think where we’re progressing is becoming this hub where we can where we pay it forward though you know where someone is a better fit and we we bring them that way i mean really just genuinely trying to help and i think that the overarching thing because at the end of the day you do have to make money um and we have to be honest that we’re a business but i think that our big thing that really there are only a few players out there is aggregation and that’s a whole different world if someone really wants to know what aggregation is they can look into you know becoming a master at ftp for eight hours at a time and working on i really want to know what aggregation is sarah yeah right that’s that’s the confusion oh my headphones um but yeah so aggregation is the actual technical can you tell that i’m italian the way i move my hands the actual um i could tell that you’re italian because your last name is sampino but that was i don’t want to there we go we could go in i don’t want to let you know that i had a clue well it’s going to change soon the last name and then you won’t have any ideas no one will know exactly all right so you were saying aggregation yes so aggregation is um the actual technical aspect of delivering your audiobook files your audiobook metadata and any other packaging components to the actual retailers we call them vendors libraries um distrib distributors or distributor programs meaning it might go to overdrive which a lot of people are familiar with and overdrive goes to libraries now overdrive isn’t a library but it is the channel in which people
people purchase for their libraries et cetera et cetera et cetera and also and also it’s the channel that library customers clients people that go to libraries can use on their devices to borrow a copy of an audiobook or a regular book it’s but overdrive is another way that people get and i it kind of illustrates something that i think we’re illustrating in general here and that is that when you first like i i teach people how to do acx first and then toward the end you know it expands out and says okay you can apply these things to all the other ways of creating and distributing audio books as well big publishers producers other platforms like find a way and and um you know authors realm and things like that um but i think that people tend to if they’re being introduced to acx first think that acx is it that acx and audible is the sum and substance of their opportunities in the world of audiobooks and that truly isn’t the case is it no and that being said though acx is huge for a reason and there are plenty of reasons to go to acx or to just stick with audible or use them interchangeably use acx and audiobooks unleashed or whoever but the big difference here is that for wide distribution you can reach at least with us over 60 different vendors and platforms and essentially we are betting on that we are betting that in five years time you know the inclusion of different vendors is going to be a much bigger factor in the industry than it is right now um with covid and everyone being at home and the affordability of audiobooks the um sales from libraries skyrocketed and the percentage um increase i don’t have the exact statistic on me so i don’t want to um give you incorrect data but skyrocketed physical cd sales are still huge which people wouldn’t think of but think about people internationally think about people in their cars that still have radios think about schools and especially like educational books or non-fiction books do really well libraries that have their physical cd selections older demographics that was something i was really surprised about so the question is if you’re going to go with wide distribution what do you do how do you get there you know whereas on acx you can you can do it yourself and the reality is with very few exceptions you can’t do it yourself you have to go through somebody and the reason for that is you don’t have the system set up you don’t have the aggregator contracts to do the metadata and the coding it’s a whole code you need to learn called onyx um and you also don’t know what you don’t know right yeah but it’s also not even an option so these platforms you can’t reach out to um for the most part so let’s say for example
audiobooks.com you can’t reach out to audiobooks.com and say oh hi i’m an independent author i have it’s my first book can i put it on your website well the answer is no because they just don’t work that way you have to work with an aggregator feed you have to work with someone whose job that is it’s kind of a trusted source for them as well the aggregate exactly but it’s well but it’s also actually that the feeds are synced it is a whole technical thing as well as they just won’t give you the contract yeah i don’t think i don’t think people who are producing narrating and producing audiobooks have any idea what the technical uh effort that occurs when an audiobook is like they put you know if they’re working with acx they put their stuff up on acx and all they know is acx is going to check to see if my noise floor is less than minus 60 db but they don’t understand what it takes to get it on audible for sale to get it on all of the other channels that audible goes through and for any publisher a penguin random house or uh you know a tantor or a blackstone or whatever somebody wants to get a book into the retail channel and make it easy for someone to buy there’s an awful lot of very standardized work that goes on that i’m assuming now you do for your clients to get them into the retail channel yes and not only that we my big thing was there are some avenues where as an independent author or producer you can upload your own um you can upload your own files however it is a bit of a i don’t want to say the best i don’t want to say dumbed down but it’s a bit of a simplified system and how could it not be you know there are so many different aspects and it’s not just one person uploading all the files who knows about metadata knows about aggregation so it’s a bit of a dumbed down i don’t like the word dumb down it’s a bit of a simplified process and because of that indie authors don’t have the same access and the same reach that you would if you were with a big five publisher and what they would be doing and how they would be giving information to their aggregators now the big fives still work with aggregators but some of them are so big that they have their own distribution divisions and so then it gets complex because they still have to work with aggregators but they are direct with some people and that’s a whole other ballgame so just let’s take a very specific case say you’re an audiobook narrator and there’s a book that you just fall in love with and you notice that it is not an audio book yet maybe it was published some time ago but there’s no audiobook version of it available on amazon or on audible or on any of the typical things could a narrator come to you and say hey i’d like to narrate this book can you help me with the rights can you help me with is that something that you guys do well we haven’t usually actually helped with the rights but if someone came to me and emailed me and asked me that i’d be like sure absolutely that sounds great so let’s clarify what it is exactly that people can take advantage of when they go so first of all you’ve got the ability because this is how you started out you have the ability to kind of uh you know channel and manage the process of distributing promo codes so that people can get reviews they can get really nice words online they can come to your site and that’s kind of the first thing that they’re hit with is is you know how to use promo codes right yeah absolutely and those aren’t promo codes that we make those are ones that people already have from audible or from if you’re working with us from distribute for distribution then you’re also getting codes from downpour and kobo and such and such so it’s whatever the companies that people listening to this may have no idea who they are
yeah there’s more there’s more opportunity than you think yeah and the good news is once you know how to narrate an audio book and produce it to industry standards you can then apply those skills to a million different avenues right absolutely yeah so promo code promo codes is one yes and people can go right now and do that right and you guys also have a like a a crowd of of reviewers that yes people can also either become a membership of or take advantage of in terms of distributing the promo codes to those people correct yes so what we’re trying to do is we’re tr we want to make sure that the reviews that people get are quality at the same time the main portion of the promo code division is a free-for-all you put your codes out anybody can take them and that’s great if you just want that exposure but some people will never review them you know and that’s just some people are serial listeners that they’ll put everything on their like to be listened to list and even if they do listen they’re not going to leave a review um so then we made a whole verified reviewers section of people who really pride themselves on making reviews maybe they are actual they can they’re bloggers they’re actual reviewers who um don’t make a living out of it and make a hobby out of it and such um and so those are the people who are in our verified reviewer group we can’t legally force anyone to leave a review but we figure we want to give everyone the best chance that they can to get at least that there’s a more organized approach to promo code rather than you know me sending it to my uncle john who you know my nephew he’s a narrator he’s great he’s going to be wonderful um so there’s the there’s the promo codes part of things and then there’s the production aggregation distribution and i’m assuming that’s the part of your business that you want to really grow and pay attention to right exactly yes that is you know as a as a lot of people know who were with acx there has been a big change in the way promo codes are used at acx and that changed uh you know our demand and the way that we are adjusting to that and so we actually have a lot of changes that are going to be coming on the promo code side to again evolve with the industry and the market um and what is needed in the industry but on yeah so just if you could if you could box it up for me and put a big bow on it yeah uh as a as a narrator why would i want to come to audiobooks unleashed and know what i could do there what would you want someone to walk away with as a as a home run for coming to your your website yeah i would say one promo codes you want to put them somewhere that’s where you put them but then throw that to the side if you want a place where you can control your business because narration is your business okay you want to run your small business your way you come to us if you don’t have you come to us this is the the main scenario the short answer you and an author come to us you’re already working together you come to us you give us the files we work together we distribute your audiobook as an aggregator but you get the control you get to set your prices for all stores even audible you get access to every single step of the metadata every single way that your audiobook can be marketed you get to choose how that is done you know you get a ton of different options sometimes too many people are like this is this is nuts you know you get options to uh the big sales and promotions that these vendors have that aren’t open to independent authors that are only open to the big publishers well we can say all right overdrive is having this sale do you want to be included in it you know marketing and promotional opportunities um from these vendors that are reaching out to us because we have a really good relationship with them um we put titles forward once a quarter for different places and say these are the titles that we think are the most promising and they’ll be put you know on a separate section or on the front page we did a whole audio books unleashed political uh section with one of our vendors for the election um all that to say that you get a curated experience with us and the treatment that you would really only get if you were a big publisher and that is what i felt was missing in the industry was that ability to control your own process and be treated equally to you know a larger tier someone that has 200 audiobooks you won’t need take somebody not seriously but the vendors don’t have time to deal with somebody who’s got 20 30 40 or one audio book they’re only dealing with the thousands and so that’s where we come in is making sure that the um the indie author isn’t looked over yeah so i really wanted to make sure that we clarified what it was that audiobooks unleashed did and the url is audiobooksunleashed.com um when they come there and they see the promo codes how do they get in touch with you for the other things that you do yeah there’s just a giant giant sign when you first log on that says
this opportunity just can you go right to the distribution site is so if you’re accidentally on the wrong website yeah you know yeah and that’s that’s as clear as we could make it we’re gonna think of other possible solutions but right now the traffic for the main you know domain is still so high that for us to change it i think would just cause so much confusion because we have thousands and thousands of listeners and reviewers on there every day that to change that main domain i think would be so much trouble right now sure yeah i love i love your entrepreneurial spirit it is pretty common among actors who really want to succeed who want to get to the next level and to understand what it means to be in business for yourself as a performer sarah sampino of audiobooks unleashed i really appreciate you being with me and i want to thank you for watching and i i hope that this has been an eye-opener for you to know that there are opportunities that go beyond just acx or however you came into the business and that you can take advantage of you know what sarah does and what her company does and what audiobooks unleash does among many other options just know that you have other things that that you can take advantage of the skills that you’ve now put together uh sarah thanks so much for being with us i appreciate it thank you for having me this is so fun.