Audiobooks are the next big thing, and ACX (Audible) has been a boon to DIY Indies, but not everything is as smooth and shiny underneath the gold-plated exterior. Here are some things you might want to be aware of before/if you’ve already waded into the system.
With audio established as the next big thing, I discovered a bunch of things I wish I knew before I had signed up for Amazon’s ACX/Audible service as an author.
Surveys and trends show that audiobooks are on the rise. As with so many changes in trends, it’s tied to the way that we consume information and is influenced by technology. Screen fatigue is finally a thing and consumers (including readers) are looking for ways to peel their eyes away from digital screens—this is why print books still dominate book sales—and it’s also part of the reason for a bump in audio. In fact, a 2017 report by the Audiobook Publishers Association found that 26% of the US population had listened to an audiobook in the previous 12 months. There is a wealth of great statistics from their 2017 survey that can be found by clicking here.
Last year, ebook sales dipped by about 5% while sales in audio increased again. There was also a 33.9% increase in the number of titles available and 48% of all audiobook users are UNDER THE AGE OF 35! (that means great things for its future viability and reflects the trend of listening to them via smartphone while multitasking).
I get a lot of questions from Indies about Audible/ACX and it was one of the primary reasons that I wrote my Indie Author’s Bible. Very often when selling directly at conventions I meet people with reading impediments such as dyslexia or partial blindness and those folks often still love to read and use audible books to do so. (I wrote an article showing the why and the how of getting onto Audible that you can see here. I also had a followup article you might want to check out.)
I got sparked back up on new possibilities after getting an email from Smashwords. Mark Coker, the owner, predicted a rise in audio for his annual year in review and future predictions for the upcoming year of 2018. One might think his email (promoting a partnership with a new audiobook service that ties into his Smashwords platform) might be him trying to fulfill his own prophecy, but I think he’s too smart to put that on him. He sees the trends and audio is big and getting bigger. Coker is a huge advocate for Indie authors—his entire system is built on their success. He has identified that the big publishers have also keyed in on this (that increase in audio is what is offsetting the decline in ebook and because the rights are different, they can capitalize on the format by skewering authors with subpar deals on rights.) He discusses the pitfalls here.
As I was digesting all of this data and looking into http://www.findawayvoices.com, the platform Coker’s Smashwords is partnering with, I signed up. I advocate utilizing both Amazon services and also Smashwords for broader distribution on ebooks. As I typically do, I actually read the TOS agreement (and you should, too). In publishing, rights are a huge deal, and Amazon often demands more than writers first realize.
Some of my audiobooks I am both author and engineer (created and produced the audio content) and some of them I have a rights sharing deal on (split proceeds with an engineer/voice actor). The latter is a great way to do almost no work and have an audiobook available. But what I discovered after revisiting Audible’s rights agreement gave me some buyer’s remorse.
Don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate ACX for what it is, and likely would have still chosen to enroll at that time, but audio has exploded since I first signed up and started using the system a couple years ago. That means I limited my options for the future. New audio book distributors with broader distribution and decent royalties are popping up but I’m already locked into an exclusive contract for an Amazon property.
How long does ACX Audible take rights for? Seven years. Seven years! That’s longer than most celebrity marriages combined.
Can I change from Exclusive distribution to nonexclusive? Possibly. You can only do this if you have not opted for a royalty sharing deal, so you must have a DIY deal (you produced content) or you paid straight up for the production and thus own the rights.
At least I did come across a help file explaining the mystifying pricing structure of ACX audiobooks. “Audible retains the sole discretion to set the price of the audiobooks it sells,” but they have a general pricing structure of <1 hour: $7, 1-3hr: $7-10, 3-5hr: $10-20, 5-10hr: $15-25, 10-20hr: $20-30, 20+hr: $25-35
Libraries are awesome, they often give access to audiobooks… just not ACX/Audible exclusive ones. That was one of the reasons that I was looking into Findawayvoices. They distribute to libraries and even have a small royalty for it.
How does my royalty change if I switch to a nonexclusive deal? In an exclusive deal, audible gives 40% which is split in half again if you have a royalty share deal with a producer. If you switch out to a nonexclusive that falls to 25% meaning you only make an additional 5% if you paid the producer to generate the content on your behalf (typically that’s about $2,000-4,000.) Splitting the difference and using a $3,000 bill for audio production we’d see that an author would have to sell 3,000 books out of the gate just to let that 5% pay for the production (5% of 10hr audiobook cost is about a buck) or sell 600 audiobooks before you break even on the production cost and make any money at all.
What about just canceling my account? Amazon is basically Hotel California (you can get out, but you can never leave.) If you end your account in order to terminate a contract—if they let you out you must agree to never again use their service… a pretty extreme nuclear option. It may better to let your audiobook languish in the Amazonian dungeons for seven years like some kind of convict than pull the pin on any future use.
All this really shows that Amazon is not friendly to competition. Unless you play by the rules that only look fair in a vacuum, you wouldn’t even notice it. They use their monopoly on the market and strong-arm their rights agreements so that there is no room for anybody else, stifling anyone else that enters the market. That’s partly the reason Indies have become increasingly disgruntled with the online giant.
Check and know your rights before you enter into any kind of new service. These things are worth knowing (and a lawsuit will probably lose you more money than you would ever make from sales as an Indie, and at the very least get you blacklisted from Amazon.)
I’m going to still use ACX (I have to, in fact) and don’t see much that can be done. I’d even recommend it since it’s the best option to make money (at least until there’s some massive antitrust suit against them, which I expect I’ll live to see.) Be wise and be wary. Amazon might just be the great Satan of the publishing world, but it is currently a necessary evil—so make sure you know all the steps before you dance with the devil.
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