Audible, a massive audiobook company owned by Amazon, is one of the most popular audiobook platforms for independent authors to build an audience online.
However, any connection with Amazon invites a lot of scrutiny, and not all of the attention has been good for Audible. Since 2020, the company has been in hot water for rocking the audiobook market with a new scandal—Audiblegate.
What Did Audible Do Wrong?
Audible began promoting an easy, no-hassle return process as a way to attract customers to sign up for their service. This “easy exchange” was promoted as a benefit because people could safely try new narrators or books without worry.
If a customer did not like an audiobook, they could return it within 365 days for any reason and get their money back. This led to a high rate of exchanges. Every time a book was exchanged, the original sale was taken away from the creator of the returned audiobook. They would receive no royalties on the sale.
The big problem with this system is that Audible did not make it clear to content creators that their work could be returned and they would not receive any compensation for it. In fact, they actively hid the number of returns (often times up to 50% of sales) for each audiobook.
It was only after the system was revealed by a computing error that many authors and content creators became outraged. After the glitch revealed how much of their profit was being kept (read: stolen) by Audible, they demanded change. They felt that they were being taken advantage of by a company that they trusted.
Audible already keeps a very high percentage of sales. Creators that list their work exclusively through the Audible platform receive 40% of their sales, whereas rights holders who choose to list their work on additional markets only receive 25% of their sales. This means that Audible keeps 60%-75% of the profit by default—does the world’s richest man really need to siphon cash away from your budding writing career?
How Audible Hid Returns from Independent Authors
Audible has its own publishing platform through ACX—Audiobook Creation Exchange. ACX allows authors to find narrators and producers for their books and then list them on Audible.
ACX also provides a way for authors to track their sales and earnings. However, they did not include the number of returns in these reports. So, while an author could see how many times their book was sold, they had no way of determining how many returns or exchanges were made.
This was a purposeful omission on Audible’s part. They wanted to hide the high number of returns from their content creators because they knew it would anger them. If authors and producers knew how many times their books were being returned, they would be less likely to list them exclusively on Audible.
Hiding the number of returns was achieved by simply subtracting the returns from the total number of sales reported, instead of having a separate report listing only returns. By reporting the returns data this way, authors had no way of knowing how many times their books were actually being sold versus how many times they were being returned.
Without this information, content creators were not able to calculate the royalties they were actually owed. This meant that they were being shortchanged on their payments from Audible. It also meant that Audible was able to keep a higher percentage of the profits for themselves.
What Has Happened Since The Exposure?
Since it came to light that Audible was purposely hiding the number of returns made on books, they have been scrambling to do damage control.
The return policy has been changed so that if a book is returned within seven days of purchase the author will receive that information on a report but will not receive royalties. Any book that is returned after seven days will not be reported to the author, but they will still receive their royalties earned.
Although these changes are a start to addressing the issue, many content creators are still upset. They feel that Audible should be more transparent about the number of returns. This is important data that should be included in their reports so authors can make informed decisions about where to list their books.
There has also been a class action lawsuit filed against Audible on the behalf of content creators. According to the plaintiffs—two different book publishers—court filing, “Authors who have attempted rough calculations now believe that most of them received between 50% and 85% of the royalty payments they would have received if not for Audible’s calculated concealment.” The suit was filed on August 20 in New York’s Southern District Court. The suit has yet to be decided and could potentially take a long time.
If you are interested in following the scandal or contributing to the Audiblegate Legal Fund, you can do so at audiblegate.com. They closely follow the events as they unfold and provide a platform for content creators to share their experiences and stories. They can help you to keep up with the latest developments and also offer support if you have been affected by Audible’s return policy.
How Much Does it Cost to Create an Audiobook?
Creating an audiobook is not an easy process. There is a lot of work that goes into it, from finding the right narrator to recording and editing the final product. For authors, this can take a lot of time and money.
The average cost to create an audiobook is $1,000-$5,000. This includes the narrator’s fee, the cost of recording equipment, and any other necessary expenses. If you are working with a professional company, they will typically charge a flat rate that covers all of these costs.
The cost of creating an audiobook can vary depending on a number of factors, such as the length of the book, the popularity of the narrator, and whether or not you use a professional studio.
The first step in the creation process is to write the book. This includes not just authoring, but proofreading, editing, and formatting as well. This can oftentimes incur a high cost as you may need to hire professionals to assist you.
Next, you will need to find a narrator. This is perhaps the most important step, as the quality of your audiobook will largely depend on the narrator you choose. If you want a professional-quality audiobook, it is best to hire a professional narrator.
Finding a narrator can be done by submitting a 15-minute sample of your book to various online services, such as ACX. These services will then provide you with a list of potential narrators to choose from.
The cost of hiring a narrator can vary greatly, depending on their experience and popularity. A professional narrator may charge anywhere from $100 to $400 per finished hour of audio.
You also need to decide if you want to pay a narrator up front or work out a royalty share option. With a royalty share option, the narrator will only be paid once your audiobook starts selling.
Recording & Editing
Once you have found a narrator, the recording process can begin. This can be done in a number of ways, such as using a professional studio or recording it yourself at home.
If you decide to use a professional studio expect the upfront cost to be much higher. If you decide to record it yourself, the cost will be much lower but the quality may suffer as a result.
Editing is the next step in the process. This includes removing any errors in the recording, such as mispronunciations, background noise, or breaths. The cost of editing an audiobook can vary depending on the length of the book and the quality of the recording.
After the recording and editing are completed, the next step is for the author to listen to the finished recording and note any changes that need to be made. The narrator will then make the necessary changes and resubmit the audiobook for approval. This process may need to be repeated several times.
The final step is to upload your audiobook to a platform such as Audible or iTunes. There is usually no cost associated with this unless you use a professional service to do it for you. If you’re an international author, be sure to locate a publisher who works in multiple countries. The right publisher can connect you with translators and narrators fluent in the appropriate languages.
As you can see, the cost of creating an audiobook can be quite high. This is why Audible’s return policy was so damaging to content creators. Not only does it cost a lot of money to create an audiobook, but Audible did not reimburse content creators for returned audio books.
Is there a Better Option for Authors?
Fortunately, there are a number of other options available for authors who want to create audiobooks without falling victim to the predatory publishing industry.
One option is to host your own website where you sell your audiobooks directly to customers. This bypasses the middleman and allows you to keep all of the royalties from audiobook sales. This is a generally easy process and there are a number of website platforms that allow you to do this, such as WordPress.
Email lists are also a great way to sell audiobooks directly to customers. You can promote your book through your email list and offer a discount to encourage sales. This is a great option if you already have a large email list.
Networking with other digital warriors is a great way to stay connected with the good guys. Join the Authors’ Guild, Alliance of Independent Authors, or other organizations to help you learn how to make more money and protect your intellectual property.
How Can Audiobook Listeners Help?
There are a few key ways that listeners can help support content creators. By taking these steps, you can help ensure that artists get a fair deal for producing high-quality content.
The best way to support content creators is to purchase their audiobooks directly from them. This can be done through the author’s website, email list, Facebook Group, or other social media. This helps support the author directly and ensures that they are getting the full revenue from the sale.
Make sure that you understand the return policy and how it affects creators before returning an audiobook. If you are not satisfied with an audiobook, most platforms allow you to exchange it for another one. However, on Audible the author will only receive payments for books returned after seven days. Also, make sure not to abuse the system by returning a large number of books. This can actually lead to your account being suspended.
Also, tell your friends and family about the great audiobooks that you are listening to. This helps promote the book and can lead to more sales.
Ensure that you leave reviews for the audiobooks that you listen to. These reviews help other listeners decide which books to buy and also help the author gain visibility. A good review can make a big difference for an author trying to sell their book.
Spreading the word about Audible’s practices and the negative impact it has on content creators is also a great way to help. You can do this by leaving reviews, talking to other audiobook listeners, or even writing articles like this one.