It appears that Hugh McGuire had a good idea when he founded Iambik.com.
He had founded LibriVox.org in 2005 to bring together enthusiastic volunteers to make audiobooks for works in the public domain. That effort was so successful that Hugh turned his mind toward figuring out how many, many more copyrighted works could be turned into audiobooks. The problem has always been that studio-produced works with paid narrators, directors, and engineers are costly. Convincing a publisher to advance sufficient money to pay for these with no guarantee of sales tended to restrict audiobook creation to best sellers. This left huge numbers of worthy books that would never escape print.
But LibriVox proved that modern digital technology could be harnessed to make audiobooks outside of a studio, and that many people possess the skills to produce audio works with the clarity, energy, and drama required by the buying public. This makes audiobook production an investment in time, not in cash.
The result of Hugh's thinking is Iambik. There, audiobooks are created for no money up front. The company and its agents are paid from royalties on sales. This arrangement is favorable for even very small publishers, because there is no down-side risk. An audiobook meeting certain minimum quality standards gets produced and sold, and all parties profit from the sales.
Iambik is just at one year old. Today, its catalog has 94 titles, as well as a number of collections. (I've produced six of those titles, by the way!)
This year, Amazon took note. As the owner of Audible.com, it already has a virtual monopoly on sales of downloadable audiobooks. In May it launched ACX.com - Audiobook Creation Exchange. ACX uses the royalty-share method of compensation, just like Iambik. It matches up rights-holders with producers of audiobooks within a standardized legal and quality framework. The difference is that with Amazon's book-marketing muscle - plus standard contracts that assign exclusive audiobook sales rights to Audible - it can convince the big boys of the print world to troll their catalogs for audiobook candidates.
I've seen intimations on the Net that ACX was created to satisfy legal requirements. Whether or not that's true, from my perspective, it allows me to compete for production contracts with established narrators who may have a following. (Theoretically, I bring my own following from LibriVox - but there's no evidence yet that consumers of free material are also the people who buy commercial audiobooks.) I can compete aggressively, because I can submit auditions for specific books - not just produce audio samples of my voice to be stored alongside hundreds or thousands of others... and then wait for offers to come in.
It's working! Last week I finished my first two audiobooks under contracts through ACX. (See my "Professional Narrations" page.) I've also been offered three other books which I could not accept for timing reasons, but may yet be able to negotiate. So stay tuned! 2012 is shaping up to be a great year!