I was watching a programme about Pink Floyd last night and I’m afraid I couldn’t help myself.
Right. This week a suspension of the usual service to bring you a message about audiobooks.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog then, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you will know that my books are out in audio. You will also know that in the pantheon of THINGS which MTM loves the audiobooks are very, very shiny. Because entirely serendipitously, I’ve ended up with an absolutely blinding product. A thing of mind-boggling quality. This is not how life tends to happen to me unless I put in a lot of work. The unicorn farted and I walked right into the purple sparkly gas on this one. Lucky me.
Like most folks, I’ve put the audiobooks on Audible. I didn’t go exclusive because I’m not very keen on that sort of thing so they are available everywhere. I use a company called Findaway Voices for most of it. I upload my books to them and they distribute them everywhere else so I don’t have to. Also, the books are on Kobo, where I upload them direct, and on ACX which is Audible’s sister company. I think ACX distributes to a couple of other places, including iBooks which Findaway will also send your books to. However, Findaway pay between 35 and 55% royalties (depending where the book is going) it’s 40% to apple, I think, and ACX pay me a flat rate of 25% to punish me for not going exclusively with Audible. This is called leveraging people’s desperation and greed to achieve a monopoly. It works very well, too. It’s a big part of the reason why Amazon is Amazon.
On my Audible/ACX dashboard there’s a little chart which shows sales. One day, I refreshed it to see how my sales were doing and noticed that the entry for total books had dropped from 58 to 57. Yet I’d sold some more books over night. Hang on, I thought. That can’t be right. Now as you lot know, I’m a bit challenged with numbers. We won’t go off at a tangent on the Baldrick ‘some beans/very small stew’ sketch but that’s about the level I’m at. It’s called discalculia and 99% of cases still go undiagnosed because it tends to pair with smartness in some other direction that leaves people simply assuming you are right-brained … or is it left-brained? Yeh, anyway, moving on.
The result is that, knowing my weakness, I look at the numbers on anything very carefully and slowly. It’s like I’m this weird dichotomy between the thickest fucker on earth and extremely switched on. I probably check the numbers far more closely than I would if I could actually … you know … add them up or understand them the way other humans can.
So I looked at my charts. Total books sold 57, and I thought, Hang on there were 58 yesterday and I’ve sold another one but ended up with a smaller number of all over sales. How the fuck did I manage that?
Naturally, being me, I started digging and this is what I discovered:
Right now, Audible is encouraging some customers to exchange books they’ve read and enjoyed and get a full refund or another credit. They can do that on any book for up to a year after they first downloaded and listened to it. Clearly that’s brilliant for customers.
However, what Audible omit to tell readers is that every time they exchange a book, Audible claws back any royalties they’ve paid from the people who produced it: the author and narrator. That’s right, the people carrying the cost of Audible’s largesse are, well … us actually.
Also it’s important to note that these are not large royalties. I explained about the exclusive versus non-exclusive tier. One my books is a 63 hour box set. Gareth and I earn about$3.00 to share between us each time someone reads it on a single credit, except we don’t because 60% of readers ‘exchange’ the book and we earn nothing. Nada. Zilch.
Audible argues that letting people return books they have listened to right through, for up to 365 days after purchase gives customers the freedom to try out books they might never normally have tried. Judging by the numbers of people listening to my box set, that may well be true. Audible also say there are stringent checks in place to ensure there is no abuse.
However, experiments carried out by authors signing up, listening to, and returning books would suggest that you can exchange at least six Audiobooks a month before they switch it so you have to phone them up or message them. And after that point you can continue to exchange more books, just not at the click of a button.
Is this system open to abuse? Yes. Hugely. There are posts all over the web explaining how to use a single credit to get free books from Audible by exchanging them, and having your credit returned, again and again. So far, one experiment has hit 28 books returned in less than a month. Maybe those checks aren’t quite so stringent, then.
As one of the people making the books, I have to confess it is a bit demoralising for authors like me to see something we’ve created selling really well, like hot cakes even, but be paid as if it isn’t.
How can I help people to understand?
Imagine you look at your bank statement and discover that you have only been paid half your wages for the month. What do you do? You go to the boss.
‘What’s going on, Boss?’ you ask.
‘Oh,’ says the Boss. ‘I’ve donated your work for those days. I want potential customers to be able to try out our company for free so from now on, for some days in each month you’ll be working for nothing. I won’t tell you how many days it will be; it could be half or more, or less. You’ll be able to get an idea from your timesheet and wages at the end of each month. That’s OK isn’t it?’
Clearly, if I have bills to pay and rent to meet it isn’t going to be OK. At all.
Audiobooks cost. Whether that payment is in cash, per book, or time: days spent in a hot attic sat at a computer wrangling words or acting your socks off into a microphone for a royalty split, whichever way it’s done, the cost is extensive. It’s especially demoralising when half those royalties never materialise. I have no idea, month on month whether I’ll be earning from Audible or actually have that many return royalties deducted that it will bring my payment down to zero. September’s report had minus numbers for two books but a third made up enough to cover it. Furthermore there is no breakdown of the numbers. They simply deduct returns from my sales total and give me a figure at the end of the month. There are ways to buck the system and find out how many books were returned but there’s nothing transparent; nothing obvious or sensible like a column for total gross sales, another for returns, and a third for net sales.
Hundreds of authors and narrators have been writing and asking for this information but we are stonewalled or fobbed off with nonsensical boilerplate responses or promises to escalate it to The Business Team, after which nothing ever materialises.
Despite being an off shoot of Amazon; a company which has one of the most sophisticated sales algorithms that has ever existed, Audible and their content supplying arm, ACX, are unable to supply us with basic information.
It doesn’t inspire confidence. Hopefully ACX and Audible will listen and we will be able to work something out with them. We know they tell listeners who ask them that we signed up for this because those listeners have told us. It’s entirely untrue. There is nothing in our contract about half our sales being returned for nothing, if there was our books would not be there because it’s not a viable business model for us. I’ve seen comments to the effect that there seems to be a drop in the number of new books to listen to on Audible this situation may explain why.
Certainly, until the situation improves I can’t put any more books on there.
Cory Doctorov picked up on this and posted on twitter about it. And now the Romance Writers of America, the Science Fiction Writers of America, the Author’s Guild, the Alliance of Independent Authors and many more have put their weight behind us. The Alliance has downgraded Audible’s working partner rating to ‘caution’. Meanwhile, many industry bodies have clubbed together and made a public announcement about Audible. Along with the announcement is a letter damning their actions and demanding change. Please feel free to sign it. You can find that here:
Make no mistake none of the authors involved in this are against returns. If someone has stumped up for a book and they think the writing is abysmal and the narrator sounds like a corn crake with a bad throat, they are perfectly within your rights to return it. Indeed, they should.
But if they’ve listened to an entire book right through, and returned it months afterwards, that isn’t a book they loathed. So, if anyone reading this does Audible, when all those pop ups appear urging you to exchange your credit for another book, please think before making an ‘exchange’ and denying us, the creators, our means to make a living. Furthermore, please also think about signing the letter from the Author’s Guild. Here’s the link. It’s pretty strong. I think we could say, the gloves are off.
Susan May, leader of the authors kicking back against this has also done an excellent blog post here:
If you want to listen to audiobooks for free …
You can listen to a lot of audiobooks for nothing by borrowing them from your local Library. Just check the app or ask your librarian. Not only do you get to listen to the book for free, but the libraries pay authors for any books that are borrowed. Win-win. Audiobooks are also sold by Kobo, Google Play, iBooks, Chirp, Scribd and many, many more.
Alternatively, you can purchase my audiobooks from my online shop here:
K’Barthan Shorts, Hamgeean Misfit
More details about all my audiobooks can be found here: