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There’s an Audible Group of Authors Who Are Unhappy About the Audiobook Market

492008054_b95dce4880_bThere’s been a lot of talk in the mainstream press over the past few months about the blue sky opportunities for audiobooks, but reports on the ground are forecasting much stormier weather.

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.

While the unfavorable view is by no means universal, the few positive comments were far outweighed by the negative, and both were dwarfed by the neutral comments.

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.

images by meddygarnetmrsdkrebsESwift

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JC August 8, 2015 um 3:45 pm

The number of Whispersync’d titles is less than 50%, looking at the Fiction category. From where I am, there’s ~32k titles under Fiction and ~12k are Whispersync’d.

And a lot of the time, specially in a series, one or two books won’t be sync’d. And it’s quite random. It’s common to see books 1 and 3 sync’d while book 2 isn’t. So if the author/narrator managed to hook me with the first book, I buy the next one even if it isn’t sync’d. I’ve been an Audible member for a little over a year and some ebooks I bought years before are only now getting 'Audio Companions' as they’re called within the Kindle app.

Yeah, the royalty scheme does look bad, but, is digital music fairing any better on iTunes? How many people does it take to produce a single track? And how expensive is it to pay for the studio to record it in? And the track sells for a measly $0.99, in some cases 0.69. And Apple takes, what, 30%? Any musician who hopes to earn a decent living will hope those sales translate to concert ticket sales and other revenue streams.

I was one of those affected by Audible app bugs… On the upside, though, I was given several free credits as compensation while they worked on fixing the bugs so it wasn’t all bad.

Edward Renehan August 8, 2015 um 5:34 pm

1) The bulk of audio sales through bundling are indeed "found" – or "ancillary" – sales which would not otherwise have happened. 2) As for going outside ACX, you will be sacrificing a great deal in the way of "discoverability" – the value of which cannot be overstated.

1 August 8, 2015 um 7:02 pm

"When it comes to downloadable audiobooks, Audible is effectively the only game in town."
Are we talking about a specific feature of Audible or something? There are several companies that sell audiobooks to download. For example:

Tim Wilhoit August 9, 2015 um 12:10 am

1, I had a look at your link. If you want one book per month, it’s $14.95, so that’s comparable to Audible. If you want more, it appears that credits are available for an additional $14.95, which is pricier than Audible. Only 3 apps available, including…BlackBerry? That’s a drawback…no Windows app and no way to download to a computer. The Terms of Use is fairly straightforward but among the prohibitions is to "Sample audio books beyond the standard sample period." Honor system for book samples? This one is my favorite: "Allow a book to continue playing when not listening." I have no idea what the H that means. I would expect pop quizzes to confirm that I was actually listening and not letting my mind wander.

No offense to you, but there’s a reason Audible has an extremely high percentage of all audiobook sales. They have a pretty good service. I’ve dealt with their CS and they’re top notch.

JC August 9, 2015 um 2:40 am

It’s also only available for people in the USA or Canda, unlike Audible which has an international presence…

That’s part of what American media companies seem to ignore. That there’s a whole wide world of readers/listeners outside the Americas that aren’t being served. Our only option is Audible.

fjtorres August 9, 2015 um 7:36 am

When it comes to the discounted bundles the question the narrator’s and authors need to consider isn’t the price but the number of bundles sold. Do they make up the totality of that title’s sales?
If not, what fraction and how do non-bundle sales of that title compare to standalone audio book sales for non-bundled titles by the author?
It shouldn’t be hard to figure out the extent to which bundles cannibalize standalone sales or even if they do.

My understanding is bundles are offered up in the Kindle ebookstore but audible titles are available elsewhere too. Are the bundles offered up everywhere?

All that said, I do think that authors publishing audio books should not be paying with royalties anyway as a matter of principle. All contracted services really should be played a fair fixed fee instead of on spec.

1 August 9, 2015 um 10:47 am

I’m not saying it’s better than Audible. I have never actually paid for any from, but I did get some for free (trial or something). Once you download the audiobooks to an app you can actually copy the downloaded MP3 files off the device and play on anything. That’s why I personally prefer it to Audible.

"No offense to you, but there’s a reason Audible has an extremely high percentage of all audiobook sales. They have a pretty good service. I’ve dealt with their CS and they’re top notch."
Again, I’m not saying Audible is not the best. There is a big difference between being the only vendor, and being the best vendor. Audible may well be the best vendor, but Nate consistently tries to paint Audible as a a service that is deteriorating rapidly because they have no competition. If their getting away with bad service, buggy apps, or whatever, then it is because of brand recognition, not because they have no competitors. If Audible were to gradually get worse over time, at some point their competitors (assuming they don’t get worse too) will become better than them and start taking business away.

Common Sense August 9, 2015 um 6:47 pm

I’m one who usually wouldn’t buy the full-priced audiobook if it wasn’t bundled with the ebook. I don’t listen to audiobooks myself, but I now have several people who share my account who started listening to them on their commutes. I went through and got a bunch using Matchmaker, then gave in and got the audible membership. But $30 or more for one audiobook, isn’t going to happen.

I don’t buy full-priced ebooks either, the whole agency fiasco ruined that for me. I rarely pay more than $2.99 for anything. Between free, sale, and library ebooks, I never need to buy a book again, I have thousands.

Syn August 10, 2015 um 4:41 am

Sometimes through book bub you get the book free or for .99 cents and the audible book for 1.99. Who wouldn’t do that over wasting a pricey credit? The author is getting double sales as royalty is probably higher on the ebook. But, it cuts out the narrator.

I can totally see where the narrator would have an issue with this. Amazon isn’t producing, they shouldn’t get the biggest cut.

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Rob Siders August 22, 2015 um 7:14 pm

I don’t understand comparing KDP and ACX. They’re different types of services with different infrastructure costs, so why should the revenue split be the same?

Paula B. September 16, 2015 um 12:16 pm

While audiobooks may be ancillary sales and another revenue stream for the author, the narrator must depend on that channel alone. If the narrator is the author, that might not be so bad, but if it’s a professional voice artist . . . you see where I’m going with this.

Jackie Weger October 18, 2015 um 7:00 pm

I have two titles on ACX. Readers of my ebook editions and print editions tell me the narrator did not capture the humor. Wrong timing. And the reviews reflect that. The problem I’m having is promoting the audibles. The narrators wandered off into the ethernet or Poland. Thus, no consistency in narration and I asked for that so my collections would help move audibles. I have codes for free downloads for reviewers, but they have so many tech problems, they gave up. I know how to promote and sell my ebook and print editions, but I am at a loss when it comes to audibles. I’ve engaged promoters and a group of ten authors with audible to promote & highlight our audibles. One promoter told me there was no affiliate fee to earn promoting audibles. Not interested. I know two authors who are successful with ACX, one chicklit and one romance. I pump my audibles in my newsletter. But the ROI does not compensate me for my time, cover production, and cost of promotion. I get it about the narrator’s investment in time and equipment, too. We both need to earn out.

Author Liberty Belle August 14, 2016 um 7:45 pm

I think the fact Audible thinks they deserve more money than every author is criminal. When I get the time I own a domain called, and I plan on giving authors 80% of each sale and stock in the company. If all the authors stopped selling on Audible they would have to raise their commission. Greedy Corporate Bastards.

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