A few days ago the editor of The Passive Voice blog posted a note concerning Audible. It seems that his wife was losing the long-time narrator of her audiobooks. The narrator was no longer interested in working for a share of the revenues but instead wanted to be paid for his/her services.
The narrator was objecting to the low royalty earned when Amazon sold an audiobook bundled with an ebook. The audiobooks often cost $1.99 when bundled, netting the author and narrator $.80 to split between them. That is simply not enough to suit the narrator.
Passive Guy’s post sparked a long discussion in which authors painted a very different picture from the one that was glowingly described in the above links.
Many authors are dissatisfied with the current audiobook market (consumers are displeased with Audible’s technical problems, but that’s nothing compared to how authors feel about the supply situation).
Some authors object to the ebook/audiobook bundles, so much so that they discuss ways to actively disable the Whispersync feature (and thus discourage Amazon from offering a bundle):
It’s my understanding that you have to have a 10% difference between your book and the audio version in order to not have Whispersync connected.
Others were more sanguine, noting that the bundled audiobooks weren’t lost revenue but found sales. Readers who buying the audiobook bundles would not have bought the audiobooks on their own. “I think most people who buy Whispersync audiobooks wouldn’t have otherwise bought that audiobook, so you’re not losing a full price sale in most cases… but it may be tough to convince the narrator of that,” one commenter noted.
In fact, the audiobook bundle issue is causing far less strife than you would think from reading Teleread’s report from yesterday. Far more authors are dissatisfied with the overall royalty situation.
It’s not just the price of the bundles but also that Amazon has absolute control over prices and keeps 60% of revenue to itself. This is discouraging some authors from releasing audiobooks, including one who commented that ” if ACX was more like KDP, where you could have more control over pricing and they took a reasonable percent I’d use it again”.
Another noted that it wasn’t just the money but also the general lack of control over how the audiobooks were sold:
With no keywords, no pricing control, not even getting to choose your own categories, and their terrible reporting system, it was especially galling when ACX lowered their royalty rate. People keep saying that audiobooks are the next great frontier of digital publishing (Mark Dawson even said it yesterday in his webinar) but I can’t see it if this is how they treat producers and suppliers. I’ll never do another audiobook with them again. In fact, I regret every dime I spent on producing audiobooks just so Amazon could use them to their advantage.
But as several commenters pointed out, Audible is the only game in town. “Your only actual options are to go cd via a music distributor and hope that anyone can actually find the thing, or do your own store, one wrote. They added: “And hope somebody can find the thing.”
As another author wrote:
It’s the royalty share that has me annoyed. Since Amazon (er, I mean Audible) does not actually foot the high cost of production, they really shouldn’t be taking such a huge share of the income.
Instead they give us the choice of a bad royalty, or a terrible royalty. You can get the bad one if you go “exclusive.” If you don’t go exclusive, you get the terrible one.
I think I’ll suck it up and go for the terrible one when I finally get around to recording a book or two — because then I can help build competing venues. We need strong competing venues if we are to get Audible to behave.
So what’s an author to do?
Well, one does not have to deal with Audible or ACX; one could distribute an audiobook through CDBaby or through one of the competing audiobook publishers.
And in the long run, I would expect that a competing service will be launched, preferably one that would solve the technical problems faced by Audible users. There’s an obvious need for an ACX competitor which can be used by authors not in the US. And since the tech for syncing an audiobook and ebook already exists, it’s not like Audible is doing anything that can’t be copied.
But until someone is willing to invest money to compete with Amazon, this is all just talk. When it comes to downloadable audiobooks, Audible is effectively the only game in town.