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.

14 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
    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
  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

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