Three Authors’ Associations Address Status of Talks

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From Publishing Perspectives:

As we reported in late November, Audible‘s initial response to what writers called #Audiblegate was soundly rejected as inadequate by authors’ organizations.

Originally, Audible had allowed a subscriber to return or exchange an audiobook within 365 days—and had deducted an author’s royalties from her or his account when that happened if the audiobook was distributed through ACX, the Amazon-owned Audiobook Creation Exchange. This and a lack of an accounting for authors as to unit purchases and returns, the author corps stressed, was unacceptable, with some writers saying they’d seen between 15 and 50 percent of their anticipated ACX revenue withdrawn this way.

What Audible came back with was a reduction from 365 days for returns to seven days, pledging, “Audible will pay royalties for any title returned more than seven days following purchase.”

The writers were less than fully impressed, and a strong coalition of international author advocacy organizations and programs has continued putting pressure on the audiobook giant.

. . . .

It was in early February last year that the Association of American Publishers led an effort by seven major publishing houses to stop the company’s deployment of “Audible Captions” without a publisher’s permission.

In the current question about returns and transparency at Audible, an update arrived on January 20. In that statement, Audible’s ACX unit wrote that starting in March, its producing authors will be able to see details on returns, “including returned units by title” on their sales dashboards and in monthly financial statements, beginning with that month.

. . . .

The three organizations write that “at the heart” of the authors’ coalition’s complaints has been “a lack of transparency—around the implications for authors of key contract terms and in opaque accounting practices which make it impossible for any author to get a true picture of how their income is being calculated.”

. . . .

The original ask, the coalition reiterates, was:

  • “Provide a full and complete accounting of returns made pursuant to this policy since it was first implemented
  • “Limit the time period of returns and exchanges that could be deducted from royalty counts from 365 days to a reasonable period, such as 48 hours, and allow only ‘true returns’ (e.g., where less than 25 percent of the book has been read) to be deducted from royalty accounts
  • “Show the total number of unit purchases and returns on the author dashboards, not just the “net sales” already adjusted for any returns; and
  • “Take action against abuse of the ‘return and exchange’ terms by listeners”

Conceding that Audible “has made progress on some of these demands and other subsequent ones,” the coalition says, “our reasonable demands for a full and complete accounting of returns made to date—to recompense authors and narrators for returns unfairly charged back to their accounts, and to stop charging back returns when more than 25 percent has been read—have not been met.”

. . . .

Ability to Terminate Audible Distribution

Quoting the coalition:

“Starting February 1, all ACX rights holders (including authors who self-publish audiobooks through ACX, as well as independent publishers that rely on ACX services to create audiobooks)—both exclusive and non-exclusive—may, with notice, terminate distribution of any title that has been in distribution for at least 90 days. To withdraw titles created using a royalty share option with the producer, however, the ACX rights holder will need to obtain consent from the producer.

“Titles for which distribution is terminated will be removed from all sales and distribution through ACX including Audible, Amazon, and Apple. Audible will share details about the process for termination in the January payments letter, including details about how termination requests will be processed.”

The State of Play: ‘An Important Step Toward Fairness’

The coalition of three leading authors’ advocacy organizations in its summation, is indicating to the groups’ respective memberships exactly what good diplomacy dictates—an outlook that there is more progress yet to be made but that cooperation to date is worthwhile and to be appreciated. There are politicians working in many countries at this moment who could learn something from this.

What’s encouraging here is the bargaining efficacy these long-running authors’ organizations are able to show as they work through this thicket of rights holders’ and content providers’ issues with Audible. Even the leading writers’ trade associations in the field have been too easily dismissed at one time or another by some players—by no means all—in the publishing industry.

. . . .

“With input from independent authors,” the coalition writes, “we raised other issues, including the one-year commitment to exclusivity and the mandatory seven-year license term in Audible contracts, and are pleased to see that progress was made on these demands.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG is always happy for anyone to lobby for authors and other creators to be treated better by publishers of all sorts.

PG thinks that it would be great for authors’ organization to approach traditional print publishers to negotiate “a one-year commitment to exclusivity and the mandatory seven-year license term” in order to give authors of printed and ebooks the ability to move away from publishers who aren’t treating them right.

PG suggests there’s nothing special about what’s fair in audiobooks that should not also be considered for all the different formats for books that authors create.

PG will look forward to soon reading reports that the Authors Guild, the Society of Authors and the Alliance of Independent Authors are pressuring traditional publishers, large and small, for freedom from the onerous terms of typical print and ebook terms, such as exclusive contracts that are binding for the life of the author plus 70 years, twice-yearly royalty reports and payments, opaque reserves for returns provisions and practices that give authors no real information or rights to understand how such reserves are calculated and how long they will be held by publishers, etc., the ability to book sellers to return unsold printed books for full credit weeks or months after ordering and receiving them from publishers, etc.

Traditional publishing would be far fairer and more invested in the financial well-being of authors if it changed its publishing agreements in the same way these large authors groups, dominated by traditionally-published authors, are insisting Audible, an Amazon subsidiary, change its contract terms.

7 thoughts on “Three Authors’ Associations Address Status of Talks”

  1. I would like to echo the previous comments here, namely that the reporting of the Authors Guild and the Society of Authors is quite inaccurate.
    The work they claim credit for was done by Susan May and Orna Ross of the ‘Alliance of Independent Authors’, supported in turn by members of the FaceBook group, ‘Fair Deal for Rights Holders & Narrators’.
    In short, Audible, and by association, Amazon, have what we consider a predatory returns practice that cuts deeply into independent author and narrator’s income. They promote ‘easy returns’ yet fail to inform their stakeholders (authors, narrators, readers, listeners) of the implications – that rights holders, authors and narrators, receive no payment for each return even if the book is read or listened to right to its end. This has caused authors and narrators to examine why their earnings from Audible/Amazon has dropped by up to 50%.
    Thank you for reporting on this horrific Audiblegate situation and we look forward to your continued support.

  2. Thank you for highlighting the fight against ACX/Audible’s atrocious behavior against authors and narrators, however, you have failed to mention where this all started, and it wasn’t any of the groups mentioned above. It was, as Isobel Starling points out, Susan May and her extremely hard work, and her setting up the group FDRHN where she managed to collect a ton of evidence which organizations then used, including the amazing ALLi who joined Susan in her quest to stomp out these issues. Susan May brought together thousands of authors and narrators, with ALLi joining her too, and she managed to gain the trust of all of them, me included, whereby she was the driving force to gain the evidence to prove just what’s going on … she’s the one who started this, and is still the one leading the fight, with ALLi, to take them on …

  3. I thank you too for following up on this but the Publishing Perspectives article is most incorrect as is the Authors Guild’s release. Let’s say the concerned authors believe the Authors Guild’s release is written for their own purpose, not authors.

    Perhaps it may have been a better portrayal of the issue if the people really behind the campaign were contacted. Unfortunately, there has been a misrepresentation in the Guild’s release of who was actually behind the campaign.

    Authors Guild was provided briefs by myself. All the evidence which I was able to supply, as well as analysis of the opaque and confusing methods to calculate payments which is referred to as ALAF, was collected and contributed to by some 2,000 authors and narrators who have been driving this since October. We are a cohesive, united front against Audible’s unfair practices of hiding returns beneath net sales and aggressive promotion of their Easy Exchange benefit.

    In fact, the revision of the seven year contract hadn’t been discussed yet prior to the cancelled meeting. Did you even know there was a cancelled meeting? So, Authors Guild discussed nothing with them about it. We, the authors, placed the contract on the agenda and one of our author representatives was going to question Audible about it, but like I said, meeting cancelled two hours before. This cancellation supposedly due to my blog post revealing prior meetings back in December where Audible gave weak almost laughable responses to why they couldn’t supply returns data or any of our other requests for transparency and compensation. Here’s the blog post I reference:

    Seems to us this contract revision could be more something delivered to stop authors from continuing their demands for their returns data and to be compensated, and also because 7 years lock-in skates pretty close to antitrust, anti-competitive practice.

    When it comes to the Society of Authors in the UK, they contributed little. I was surprised to see them included in the meeting since the only contact they’d had with our group was to ask me for a briefing. Then I believe they signed the Authors Guild petition which, by the way, I had a big hand in editing and I’ve got the track changes to prove it. So why were they even there? Certainly, they weren’t part of any coalition working through issues. That’s quite funny to even think that. Although, yes, this release does seem to indicate that, but it would be false and misleading.

    The only organization who has been there from the start and putting as much effort into this as the aggrieved authors and narrators is the Alliance of Independent Authors led by Orna Ross.

    You would have a far more accurate and inspiring story if credit was given to the independent authors and rightsholders, along with the organization who truly represents them, ALLI. If anyone cared to get in touch with us at our Facebook Group “Fair Deal for Rights Holders or Narrators” (FDRHN) or me, we would have been happy to share the reality of what has just happened with this latest move by Audible.

    It’s understandable an organization would wish to claim they have worked closely on an issue that seems to have realized a great win. So, I don’t begrudge anyone for giving that a go to benefit themselves or their brand, but the truth will out. Authors Guild and Society of Authors going forward doesn’t represent at least our FDRHN group or those who are part of our growing petition and mailing list. In fact, they never really did because in writing something like this it puts them completely out of touch with those they claim to be fighting for. Trust me, there wasn’t a lot of fighting going on either. The two prior concessions (5% extra in December sales and the updating of our sales data which is coming in March) was all from our authors and our emailing campaigns. We’ve got over 900 pieces of evidence and emails to prove it.

    Audible hasn’t been negotiating or listening. They just tell us what they are going to do. Any journalist who’s interested, I’m happy to supply some of the ridiculous emails we’ve received back in our demands. If they were listening, we’d have our returns data and be talking compensation numbers because we know what’s in that data. Millions of returns worldwide that shouldn’t have been charged to authors. There’s a lot of money at stake here and Audible’s reputation.

    We wish organizations would understand that you can’t play both sides of the fence or pretty up minor outcomes as a win when you’re dealing with a company the size of Audible who is hellbent on gouging authors’ earnings and expect authors to be grateful.

    If they truly represented authors, they wouldn’t be framing this as any great win or an important step toward fairness. That’s just political speak and Bob Carrigan made it clear he wouldn’t be discussing compensation or returns data prior to 1st January 2021. It was off the table and authors are angry.

    So, we authors and ALLI fight on, as we’ve been doing, while others claim the glory. And we’re not after glory. We just want our money, so sneakily taken from us, paid back. The rest of the organizations? Well, we watch in anticipation of their “continued dialogue” but we’re not holding our breath. We held our breath for several months waiting for them to do something substantive already, and we’ve decided to manage it ourselves hereon in. Watch this space. It’s going to get very interesting very soon.

  4. Thank you for the article. As a self-narrated author, I first queried Audible about deductions and even negative income on my monthly statements in October 2019 and learned that Audible not only allows but incentivizes listeners–sometimes knowingly, sometimes not–to cheat authors and narrators. This corrosive pattern has been in play ever since.

    Audiobook production requires enormous investment in equipment and studios, followed by the time-consuming labor of recording, editing, and mastering. Yet Amazon–and yes I am using Amazon and Audible interchangeably when it comes to audiobooks–has proven quite happy that we should do this for free while it enjoys swollen coffers from listener subscriptions and its 90% market share!

    In an era when US and European regulators are stepping up investigations–and prosecutions–of big tech, Audible’s con game has long been overlooked. But not any more!

    Finally, as Isobel’s comment points out, your article glaringly omits the central role of Susan May in galvanizing enraged creators and in teaming up with ALLi to take on this particular Goliath. This is the empassioned core of this colossal takedown.

    Abdiel LeRoy (self-narrated author)

  5. Thanks for this article on the #Audiblegate campaign. I’d like to point out one HUGE omission in this article- and the original Publishing Perspectives article.
    The lion’s share of the work to get Audible to make these changes was done by the Fair Deal for Rights Holders and Narrators (FDRHN) Facebook group – this is a collective of over 2,000 authors and narrators whose livelihoods have been affected by Audible’s outrageous policies. The group was set up by author Susan May. It was Susan who enlisted the help of the writer’s advocacy organizations you listed. The authors and narrators in the group have been feeding our evidence of returns and financial losses to Susan, who has collated the evidence of Audible/ACX breaching their OWN contract with content providers, and much more. This is where the likes of the AG, SOC, and ALLi got their information from. They would not have had ANY evidence without the collective group’s evidence. Please give the independent authors and narrators doing the work to make changes in the audiobook industry the credit they deserve.

  6. It’s easy to get whatever authors organizations want from the print publishers. Just say the current situation is unacceptable. Then don’t accept it.

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