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Authors Flee Audible’s Romance Subscription Over the Ridiculously Low Royalty Rate

When Audible launched Audible Romance last November, authors were thrilled at the idea that there was now a Kindle Unlimited for audiobooks where subscribers could pay a flat monthly fee and listen as much as they want.

That elation lasted until yesterday, when quarterly earnings statements from Audible arrived in authors' inboxes. Reports are coming in from KBoards that authors were dismayed to learn that Audible is paying $0.0009556 for each minute that an Audible Romance subscriber spent listening to their book.

If an audiobook is ten hours long, and an AR subscriber listens to the whole thing, Audible will pay 57 cents. (And to make matters worse, in many cases that 57 cents has to be split between the author who wrote the book and the narrator who recorded  it.)

If that audiobook had sold, the author would be getting a cut of $30 to $45 retail price, or of the $15 monthly credit.

The low pay in Audible Romance comes as a surprise given that Kindle Unlimited has worked out so well for many authors.

In comparison, the Kindle Unlimited rate was almost five times as high in January 2018, when Amazon was paying $0.0044795 for each page read by a KU subscriber. To put it another way, KU is paying just under a half of a cent per page, while Audible Romance is paying a tenth of a cent per minute.

With Kindle Unlimited, authors are getting almost as much when a book is read in KU as they would if the book sold.

The same cannot be said for Audible Romance. To put it simply, authors (and narrators) are getting screwed by Audible's subscription service.

And the authors are pissed. "Not only is the rate absolutely terrible, but it is drastically hurting my normal sales," one wrote on KBoards. "This is ten times worse than kindle unlimited (where a novel length read through is "roughly" equal to a sale). I didn't expect to be rolling in money, but this is far worse than even my worst expectations."

As a result many authors are discussing how they might pull their audiobooks out of Audible Romance, which could be a problem given that authors agreed to submit their audiobooks for a period of seven years.

However, several authors have said over on KBoards that they were told by Audible reps that they can pull their respective audiobooks out of Audible Romance simply by emailing Audible and making the request.

I'm still waiting for anyone to confirm that that worked, and even if it is possible to get out of Audible Romance it's not clear whether that will help authors.

The thing about Audible Romance is that it is so popular that a number of authors have said that their romance audiobook sales evaporated when this service launched last November. "My romance audiobook sales pretty much dried up when they started this program," author Marty South wrote back in December. "I chalked it up to the doctrine of: Why buy the cow when you can subscribe to it for (practically) free?"

Audible Romance has put romance authors in a terrible position; they can join and be paid poorly, or they can sit out and see their sales fall. Neither option is great, leaving romance authors to ponder whether they should release audiobooks at all.

Given the poor returns romance authors are seeing in the audiobook market, that is not a crazy idea.

Nate Hoffelder :Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader: "I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

View Comments (16)

  • Some may leave their 'first books' in to gain followers and hope the consumer will buy those that follow.

    We've watched the same thing over ebooks in KU vs going wide, some think KU helps discoverability more than selling their ebooks through other venders.

  • Oh that's terrible news. If there's one thing I've learnt, it's that Romance authors are always at the forefront of adopting new technologies, and this is like immolating their enthusiasm. They deserve better. Now, if it happened to SF authors, I'd laugh and laugh...

  • Yet again Amazon finds a way to exploit the desperation of emerging authors. One person's talent, one billionaire's gain.

  • Hi, great article, but a couple inaccuracies:
    A 10 hours Audiobook would sell between $15 and $25, of which the author (And potentially their narrator) would get 40% or 25% depending on the contract they choose.
    A full KU read yields the author approximately half what they'd earn from a 70% royalty sale. Only Amazon Publishing authors are paid the same royalty as that of a purchase for each KU loan.

    • Actually very few audiobooks sell for full retail. Most listeners get audio via subscription or WhisperSync. My royalty on a $25 audiobook on a 40% contract will be about $3-4 on average.

      For KU books, it depends how long you write. I have four books with Montlake (Amazon Publishing), prices at $4.99. Borrows in those earn me significantly less at full royalty than my KU books do—sometimes only half as much. I earn $2.50-3.50 on a full read of an indie novel in KU. I price most at $5.99, so royalty on a sale is about $4.15.

      Some authors still do well with short books in KU, via sales volume and writing fast.

      • Yup, I know: the practical details are much more complex than the price references I gave in my reply. :) I wanted to offer some nuance since I've never seen a $45 audiobook like the article suggests (or even a $30 one, although it is more realistic), and I felt it was a little misleading as well to state that authors make nearly as much with a full read for a KU title than with a purchase. In my personal experience, which seems similar to yours, a $3.99 book at 70% minus downloading fees will earn me $2.64, and 330 pages read in KU from the same title will amount to $1.45.

        Best,

        CM

  • Just to set the record straight, KU only pays authors an amount similar to the purchase price of a book if that price is very low--$2.99. For authors who write in genres with smaller potential readerships where prices need to be higher to make a book profitable, KU is a disaster. I boosted a niche book up to a very visible spot atop my genre's list where it remained, but only earned $23 for a whole month. The same book when down on page 7 of the same bestseller list earns me several hundred dollars a month. What makes it worse is that similar to what is happening with audiobooks, the subscription books are having a very negative effect on outright sales.

  • I can tell you right now that the only way I will listen to an audible book is thru the romance package. I think it is appalling to have to pay $12-$15 for something they simply flip a switch and it’s there. No paper, no printing, no binding, no shipping, no labor, etc. And so far anything I have read on it has been inferior quality. The great authors don’t have anything on there. And I would think when they put their books on there, there would be a contract with all the details i.e. the amount the author receives. So you can’t cry when the check comes. You knew ahead of time. And the dollar amount example they gave in this story is for one person reading. You have to multiply that times the billions listening. I think it would add up pretty quick. I listen 40 hours a week to my audible. I’m just one person.

    • I just wrote a check for my latest audiobook. It was for $4,000. Believe me, you do not just flip a switch and it is there. The author first writes the book, and then the narrator and producer spend 48 to 60 hours of highly skilled work to turn it into an audiobook. I pay $300 per finished hour of audio, and that is by no means the top end for in-demand narrators. At 70 cents a listen, I would have to have that book listened to more than 6,000 times to break even. Romance is not the biggest audio genre. That is an untenable number. (And I sell reasonably well in audio. My first book was an Audie finalist in romance three years ago.)

      I will note that Audible has come through with large bonuses that change the numbers for this time. I would not expect though that any good-selling authors will be putting new indie audio into this program until they are convinced the continuing rate will be reasonable. We need a return on our major investment, as any businessperson does.

      I am surprised you haven’t found top authors in audio. Most traditionally published romance from major publishers and virtually all Amazon Publishing books and bestselling indie romance are now available in audio. If you haven’t listened to Georgette Heyer’s books in audio, you’re missing a treat! Not to mention Dick Francis’s and Lee Child’s thrillers, and of course the many audio versions of Jane Austen’s books. Big audio listener here. Happy to pay $10/month to get two long audiobooks. $10 for 20 or even 30 hours of too-talent entertainment? Pretty good deal.

      • Excuse the typos. On my phone in the hospital at the moment! I did want to say though—no, the amount the author receives is NOT in the contract. That is the problem. Authors bet on the payout being more similar to KU, since KU is also an Amazon program, has been in place for several years, and was subsidized at the beginning to attract bestselling authors’ participation. Instead, for me, the first rate was approximately 25% of what I earn on a KU read. Since I incur thousands in additional expense to produce audiobooks, that came as a nasty surprise.

        Most authors are not trying to rook anybody. We are professionals doing our job, producing a product people want to buy. If the price is too low, there is no point in producing it.

      • Thank you for this: the previous comment made me bristle, but I didn't have the energy to fight that battle. :)
        Not to mention that the whole issue with the Romance Package was that there was, in fact, no mention of the royalties, and that even when authors would specifically ask ACX support, they'd reply they weren't able to provide any intel on that (that's why I stayed away: it just sounded too fishy)

  • Wow. Putting audiobook chapters on Youtube makes better money than this (assuming your channel is monetized, of course). And Youtube is free for readers/listeners!

  • Kindle is particularly aggressive inviting authors into 'special offer' situations. The upside for the author -- as promoted by Kindle -- is visibility. I have no idea if that visibility is real or yields the author tangible results, but the language is very flattering ("Your book >>>> has been chosen! etc"). My advice would be to stick with the straight contract for Kindle, CreateSpace, Audible. They're all pretty good deals for the author. Anything else they offer, I'm suspicious, is entirely self-serving.

  • This is the saddest marketing fail I’ve seen in a while, and authors/narrators I am so sorry to hear how you have suffered from this. I felt prompted to share my two cents as someone currently enrolled in the subscription (I only found out about the unfairness of it all an hour ago and am still signed up). I have noticed some authors online talking about having just the first book of a series in the program in an attempt to entice readers to purchase the rest of the series. As a reader, over the past few months I have actually found that I am more likely to purchase non romance-subscription audiobooks if the second and third, or third and fifth, or second and fourth audiobooks are available in the package, NOT the first. What happens is that I get so excited to see free books in a series from an author I’ve heard is good (or know is good from past experience) that I buy the first or even first couple books in the series so that I can listen to those before moving on to the free books in the middle of the series. This probably won’t help your current situation, but I thought I should throw that out there because it seems to me a very human fallible that authors might not recognize. Maybe this knowledge can help you somewhere down the road if you’re ever in a situation where you are put in a corner to have some books for free/unlimited.
    My heart goes out to all of you, narrators and authors. I know it’s no monetary compensation, but I hope you can at least feel how much we readers love, respect, and admire you and all of the hard work and dedication you put into telling so many incredible stories.

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