#Audiblegate: When Audiobooks Go Bad

Creators of stories, those who tell them, produce them, and help sell them, are under attack on multiple fronts by large corporations that seek to control the market, control what you see and hear, and most importantly, make the most money they can at the expense of the little guy. This sentence could have been written at almost any time in the history of storytelling, but I am writing it today because it is stunningly on display as we speak.

One of the most egregious examples is what we now know as #Audiblegate. While adding the suffix “gate,” to the end of anything has become its own overblown trope, in this case, it fits. Right now, an Audible member can use a credit to buy a book, then can listen to that book in its entirety, return that book for any reason for up to 365 days, and then use that same credit to purchase another book. 

Let’s review that.

  1. A member uses a credit to buy a book.
  2. Listens to the book. Enjoys it, possibly. Loves it, even. 
  3. Returns the book, at any time during a year, for any reason, no questions asked.
  4. Gets their credit back and uses that same credit to buy another book, perhaps the second book in that series.
  5. This can continue, endlessly.

For the reader/listener, this is marvelous and no doubt, the reason he or she has this membership. What the member does not know, however, is that each time this happens, Audible claws back the royalty paid to the writer/narrator/publisher (creators) of that book. Anybody who earns a royalty upon purchase of that book gets it taken away once the book is returned. 

On top of this, Audible does not give creators insight into how many times this happens. There is virtually no transparency in reporting because they do not include a returns line on the reports we receive. If we see one purchase, we don’t know if one person bought a book, or if two people bought it and one returned. 

To top this off, keep in mind these facts:

  • Creators do best, royalty-wise (40%) if they go Audible exclusive with their books.
  • Doing so locks creators into a 7-year contract, with no way out.
  • Audible controls 90% of the audiobook market.
  • We only uncovered this issue because Audible made a mistake on one single day in October and accidentally released returns data. 

Due to pressure from indie writers, narrators, small and mid-sized publishers, and their fans, Audible responded to concerns about this by saying they will no longer accept returns after 7 days, which sounds great but isn’t. They still won’t provide data. This implies that most returns happen well within 7 days and they know it and won’t share it. Without transparency, this isn’t a solution to the problem. Most audiobook readers can easily plow through a book in two to three days.

What can you do to help?

  1. Please enjoy audiobooks, but do not abuse the return privileges. This literally takes money out of your favorite writers and narrators’ pockets. 
  2. Please sign the letter from The Author’s Guild to Audible CEO Bob Carrigan and General Counsel Zakharenko and invite friends and family to sign as well. This letter is sponsored by a number of national and international organizations including The Author’s Guild, Equity (UK), Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Romance Writers of America, and many others. There are tens of thousands of signatures at present. Add yours.  https://www.authorsguild.org/industry-advocacy/sign-our-letter-and-tell-audible-to-stop-charging-authors-for-returns/

 

#DisneyMustPay and The Merger of Simon & Schuster with Penguin Random House

There are other issues clamoring for attention including #DisneyMustPay, which involves Disney not paying prominent author Alan Dean Foster royalties they owe him because, their words, “they bought the contract but did not buy the obligations of that contract.” The mind boggles. https://www.sfwa.org/2020/11/18/disney-must-pay/ 

And, to add to the complications, publisher Simon & Schuster is being sold to Penguin Random House, creating a mega publishing house that would account for approximately 50% of all trade books published. This would reduce the current Big 5 to only 4. It would have huge ramifications on the publishing industry. You can read more about it here: https://www.authorsguild.org/industry-advocacy/ag-statement-on-proposed-sale-of-simon-schuster-and-its-ramifications-for-authors/

 

References:

File 770: http://file770.com/how-audibles-returns-policy-exploits-writers/comment-page-1/

Susan May: https://www.susanmaywriter.net/single-post/audiblegate-the-incredible-story-of-missing-sales

Glitchy Pancakes: https://open.spotify.com/episode/22QYuMACJu1lKh24co6gzd?si=1Pzt1H4vQUGvJtMFiyLpgQ

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JD Blackrose

J.D. Blackrose loves all things storytelling and celebrates great writing by posting about it on her website, www.slipperywords.com. She lives perpetually concerned that people will discover how often she thinks about wicked fairies, homicidal elevators, and the intestinal fortitude of turkey vultures even when she is having coffee with a friend or paying something called "bills." As a survival tactic, she has mastered the art of looking interested. Follow her: www.slipperywords.com, https://www.facebook.com/JDBlackrose/, and https://twitter.com/JDBlackrose.

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