Amazon is Actively Promoting Audiobook Exchanges as an Audible Subscription Feature

I wasn’t going to touch this story because I thought at first that the claim was an exaggeration or misinterpretation, but I was wrong.

If you’ve been listening to the author grapevine over the past few weeks, you may have heard authors griping about Audible’s return policy. While you can usually find someone griping about something, no matter the topic, this time authors have a valid complaint.

Amazon’s audiobook subsidiary is actively promoting exchanges to potential subscribers.

What do I mean by “actively”?

Well, when I checked into renewing my Audible subscription, I saw that Audible wants me to know that if I reactivate my monthly subscription, I will be able to exchange any audiobook I am not happy with:

Also, when I visited Audible’s Memberships Benefits page, I was shown this:

And if you visit the Audible page on Amazon.com, you will see this:

While I think Amazon’s liberal return policy is a great idea because it reassures readers that they don’t have to worry about wasting money on crappy content, I share authors’ concern about actively promoting returns. I beleive that promoting this as a “feature” attracts serial returnees – people who will consistently return every audiobook they get.

This does not hurt Amazon, but it does hurt authors and publishers. Amazon isn’t refunding the credit that their customer bought, which means they get to keep the money (this is why it’s considered an “exchange” rather than a “return”). At the same time, however, Amazon is also taking money away from authors each time a subscriber makes an “exchange” of an audiobook which authors paid to produce.

No wonder they’re pissed.

Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills weekly. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.

19 Comments

  1. Disgusting Dude3 November, 2020

    How much time do customers have to return or keep?
    If it’s a day or two it’s a lot different than if it’s a whole month.
    eBooks have long had a similar policy.
    Some gripe (as tbey gripe about “Look Inside”) but it hasn’t been a big issue.

    Most readers are honest.

    Reply
    1. Jan10 November, 2020

      It’s 365 days and they can return it even after having listened to the whole book.

      Reply
    2. Bev10 November, 2020

      Listeners have 365 days to ‘exchange’ the title… plenty of time to listen to a whole book and then return it for another… as if they’d signed up to a lending library. A library service would be understandable IF authors and rights holders were being paid for their content and not basically providing content for free – as the royalties for these serial returns are clawed back from authors and narrators. We cannot continue providing audiobook content if we cannot make a profit from our audiobooks. What Audible is doing isn’t sutainable, and it’s closer to theft of our content than not.

      Reply
    3. Jen10 November, 2020

      They have a year.

      Reply
    4. Dan10 November, 2020

      Audiobook narrator here.

      Glad you asked.

      The return window is 365 days.

      Yes that’s right.

      365 days.

      HAHA.

      Reply
  2. Barney3 November, 2020

    I don’t see why Amazon’s audiobook policy should be any different from their ebook policy. And I really don’t see why Amazon should refrain from actively promoting any of their policies.

    If the subscriber seems to be returning a suspicious number of Audible recordings, Amazon can ban the customer, just as they ban readers who return too many Kindle items.

    So what if they call the process an “exchange” instead of a return? It just means more customers will be aware of their generous return policy. Yes, it encourages more returning, but also encourages more sampling. If it works for ebooks, it will work for audiobooks.

    Reply
    1. Nate Hoffelder4 November, 2020

      How about because Amazon gets to keep the money from an “exchanged” audiobook, and lets customers reuse the credit to get another audiobook?

      How about because Audible’s return policy is better for a subscription credit than for an audiobook sold at retail?

      Reply
      1. conor21 December, 2020

        audible was paid for a monthly credit you idiot, its not their fault your book wasnt worth finishing

        Reply
    2. Jess Mountifield10 November, 2020

      Because Authors are seeing approximately 50% of all their audiobooks being returned (this is an estimate because amazon are refusing to give anything but net sales, but authors are taking screenshots of their totals at the end of each day and seeing how much lower their monthly report is).

      Because authors don’t get paid even if the reader listens to the whole thing and then returns it and grabs the next in the series and then the next etc etc.

      Because most authors are locked into a 7 year exclusive contract and when they signed up for said contract returns were less than 5% and now Amazon have promoted their returns policy it’s essentially encouraged stealing to the point most authors I know are now having to decide if they can even afford to make any more audiobooks.

      Reply
    3. Jen10 November, 2020

      Amazon is transparent with us about ebook exchanges. We see them directly on our reports. It’s a handful.

      Problem is that they are not transparent with audio exchanges. They hide them within the sales.

      Some authors are complaining that as much as 50% of their audiobooks might be returned because of the up a down nature of daily sales reports.

      I don’t personally see this big number but it could be genre specific.

      Most authors are fine with the return policy in general, but if up to 50% of our sales are being returned and amazon is not transparent about this it’s a problem.

      Reply
    4. not happy12 November, 2020

      The issue is that they won’t give authors access to return/exchanges, but people have been actively promoting that they are capable (and with evidence) of exchanging upwards of 8 books a month. At a certain point, your account will be flagged and you cant make the exchange…without phoning in. I don’t have a screen shot, but this is ALSO advertised.

      And the other issue is, after being paid out, they will take your money back. This isn’t just a return here or there, there are authors experiencing hundreds of returns – thousands of returns a month because of this feature.

      Imagine earning money that you OWE back 11 months later. What business model operates on that? Who still has money they earned 11 months earlier? I don’t. I don’t think you do either.

      Reply
    5. Vivienne4 December, 2020

      What other bookseller would you even consider returning a book? They’d soon give you short shrift. And, although Audible says ‘if you don’t like a book’, there’s nothing to stop you enjoying it, finishing it, then returning it.
      Now the worst thing about this is for the authors and narrators. It costs a lot of money to publish any book, let alone an audio book.
      A narrator doesn’t just sit in his/her bedroom and read. They need a professional studio. That coats money to set up. Then there is discussion between the narrator and author about how the book should be read, and pronunciation. Afterwards, the author listens to the entire book to check everything is correct. Only then does it go to Audible.
      Now to the author. It takes months to produce a book. It’s not just sit down, write and send it off, either to a publisher or for self-publishing.
      The first fraft is usually rubbish. The aithor is getting the ideas down. It needs working on. All spellings, grammar and typos must be found. That’s not just running it through spell check. That will miss many words.
      Perhaps parts are not clear. They need to be sorted, as does fleshing out the characters and world. There are probably bits that don’t add anything and are boring. They need cutting. All this takes many weeks or months.
      Next it’s sent to an editor (money!). If the writer has a publisher, they will bear this cost. After that, a cover designer steps in. There are discussions here, too. Again, money for the author or publisher to fork out.
      Then to beta readers who will let the author know about any problems, like a character’s name changes, or one dies and then reappears. It happens. I had a child who was toddling and beginning to talk, then later was a babe in arms again!
      When any problems found by a beta reader are sorted, then it can go for publication.
      But that’s not the end. A book won’t find readers unless they know it’s there. Advertising needs to be bought. There are some free advertising places, but most are paid. Even with a publisher who does some advertising ( and not all do) the author needs to do some of their own.
      Now after all this, Audible says to readers ‘return as many books as you like and get credits for new ones’. The reader thinks ‘this is great. I can read books for free’. A reader buys an audio book. Reads it and decides they like that author, or if it’s a series, that series. Oh! I can get the next book, or another by the same author, for free if I send this one back. So they return the book and get the next one with the credit.
      Now Audible says that book hasn’t been sold, so the author and narrator (and publisher if there is one) get their royalties deducted. They’ve earned nothing for months, sometimes years, of work and a lot of money shelled out. Nor do they get anything for the books the reader gets on credit. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zero.
      IS THAT FAIR?
      Please. I beg you, if you are a reader, don’t take advantage of authors and narrators. We really do deserve to be paid for our work. And if you are an author and have control of where your books are published, don’t use Audible. There are other platforms.

      Reply
  3. Miss M3 November, 2020

    It’s an entire year for returns, which seems pretty egregious to me. What’s even worse, IMO, is the lack of transparency. Amazon is flat out not showing the authors the number of returns of their books. There is just no excuse for that in a legitimate business relationship.

    Reply
  4. Returns13 November, 2020

    […] Audiblegate! The incredible true story of missing sales The Digital Reader Facebook […]

    Reply
  5. […] I reported a few weeks ago that Audible was actively promoting returns as a benefit of subscribing, I apparently missed the bigger […]

    Reply
  6. Patty Fletcher4 December, 2020

    First, this is a well-written informative post.
    However, from what I’ve been able to learn, the biggest reason this policy began is because Audible was hit with a class action lawsuit after which they had to award a whole lot of member’s credits due to dissatisfaction with their products and issues caused in their credit programs.
    Whilst I agree this is a hit to us authors who participate in such things as making our books available on Audible, which I plan to do, I can also see the other side.
    In short, everyone’s covering their…
    Unfortunately it leaves ours Uncovered.
    However, I have to wonder, how many people are going to the trouble to exchange audio books?
    Well, I did some asking around. I have a ton of friends and followers who read audio books from Audible and they tell me the likelyhood of them exchanging a book unless it’s really awful is very slim.
    OK. That’s my two shekels worth.
    Thanks.

    Reply
    1. Conor21 December, 2020

      and reply to @Jemima Pett; its the people who are not good authors, writing horrible books and publishing them, less than 50 hours going into a book, and hiring a horrible narrator, or doing it themselves, they pushed this, and a few wanna-be publishing houses that bought and have started publishing their ‘work’ and have paid out money, but not made much because the books are bad. good books dont get returned, i know 100+ audible users who exchange a bit, maybe 1 out of 5 books, but that is 5 times they gave an author they would have NEVER given a chance A CHANCE, because of the system that Audible had setup perfectly until this month. Now they are caving to the pressure, and basically if you found a new author on Audible you liked but would have never otherwise gave a chance and loved it. SAY GOODBYE. because these whiney people who aren’t spending money or even more than a blue collar work weeks worth of time writing, and editing. Paying the cheapest narrator or themselves because ACTORS ARE EVERYWHERE! (no offence to actors everywhere productions specifically) but its true. 90% of exchanges are wanna-be authors who dont put the time in, 8% are accidental re-buys because that same person you gave the chance to changed their artwork and description, and 2% are people scamming the system. STOP CRYING. 1/10000 good books are exchanged, guess how many good books i have exchanged in 6+ years? not 1. that may be subjective, but we all know a GOOD book when we see it, even if we don’t like the flavor, we just dont buy the good flavors that we dont like, only takes 10000 mediocre or horrible authors and narrators to ruin a good thing for the little guy. Communism at its finest.

      Reply
  7. Jemima Pett5 December, 2020

    I had an email from Audible a week or two ago saying they will now only recoup the author royalties if the return is within 7 days. That seems more reasonable as a quality issue.

    Reply

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