Trouble in Audible

I’ve written a couple of posts on my adventures with audio books: how to get connected with a narrator and how to use free promo codes. I’m sorry to report that the bubble has burst, and Audible has recently made a change that seriously impairs promotion efforts and even production efforts.

Previously, Audible (through Amazon’s subsidiary, ACX) would grant up to 50 free promo codes to both authors and narrators who split the royalties on a book for which they collaborated, 25 for the U.S. and 25 for the UK. If you used up all your codes, you could always request more. The fabulous thing about this was that you could give away the codes, readers/listeners could download the free books, and you still got your royalties. Audible got new customers or reinforced their relationship with habitual customers, so it was a win/win/win.

Well, as so often happens, scammers went to work figuring out how to game the system. ACX posted a notice on March 26 that due to “misuse of the system,” they will no longer pay royalties for books downloaded via free promo codes. Through the grapevine of narrators and voiceover actors, I’ve heard that some people were uploading pirated content, or even taking one recorded book and uploading it several times under different titles — even, at times, uploading bits and pieces that didn’t even go together — then using the promo codes with dozens of fake accounts they’d set up to ring up sales. So now, of course, all of us who abided by the system are being punished along with the wrongdoers, which totally sucks.

I get it; I really do. ACX is a business, and any business model has to be profitable to exist. Having an unchecked leak of funds being siphoned off by scammers can’t be allowed. We’ve all seen Amazon address similar scams in their eBook processes, and I’m sure we’ll see other, different adjustments as time goes on. It’s a never-ending battle against scammers, almost like digital Whac-a-Mole, and it just seems to be a fact of life.

So I’ve resigned myself to seeing smaller royalty checks each month, and I can live with that. I can still give away promo codes — and will — but there’s no denying I’ll take a definite hit. I can’t kick too much because most of my audio books are part of my series, and luckily my loyal readers/listeners seem always ready to purchase the next book in the series. That’s the good news.

The bad news, though, is that one of my narrators has already told me she can’t make it on royalty share without those promo code royalties. Without the royalties paid for those promo codes, the only way she can actually recoup the amount of time she invests in an audio book is by charging for her production costs up front. This is the alternate way of contracting with a narrator through ACX: pay the going rate for the production, and then the author gets ALL the royalties of any books sold. Seems fair enough, right? The only fly in the ointment is that the going rate on, for example, a five-hour audio book is roughly… $1000. Yikes.

If you’re a regular reader of Indies Unlimited, you know that we often suggest you spend good money on two things: professional editing and professional book covers. These are the two most important things that will make your book stand out, and will put you on track to earn that money back. But that said, $1000 to produce an audio book? I don’t know many authors who would be comfortable putting out that kind of money or who would be confident they would earn that money back. My series books have become quite popular, but even so, that amount of money would take quite a while to earn back, and I mean just to break even. At this point in time, I can’t justify that expense.

So what’s an author to do? To tell you the truth, I have no idea. What I’m going to do is back off and let this whole thing just sit for a while, and see what happens. This is still all new, and could change in the coming weeks. After all, narrators, along with their author counterparts, are really angry at the change, and I have no doubt ACX and Audible are seeing some backlash for this. In addition, if other authors are stepping back like I am right now, ACX will see much fewer audio books produced, and their own profit margin might flatline. Not too long ago, audio books were seen as the next best thing; now, I’m not so sure. It seems to me that ACX could figure out a way to plug this loophole and let the rest of us get on with producing quality audio books for our fans. I certainly hope so.

In the meantime, stay tuned…

Author: Melissa Bowersock

Melissa Bowersock is an eclectic, award-winning author who writes in a variety of fiction and non-fiction genres. She has been both traditionally and independently published and lives in a small community in northern Arizona. Learn more about Melissa from her Amazon author page and her blog.

18 thoughts on “Trouble in Audible”

  1. We all feel the pain. From another perspective, as a narrator, I find your example of $1,000 to produce a 5 hour book to be, believe it or not, just about right.

    In my experience, it takes me about 40 hours work to deliver that 5 hour end product (including editing). If you divide that out and assume the reader has enough projects booked to be 100% busy (which is never true), the annualized income is just a hair over $50,000. Nobody is price gouging or getting unfairly rich in this difficult-for-everyone situation.

    1. Jim, thanks for the info on the narrator’s work. I know there’s a ton more work than just the end product hours, which is why I can’t argue with the rate at all; it’s just hard to recoup. I’ve used several narrators and they’ve all done excellent work, and have made every correction or suggestion I give them when going over the finished chapters. They’ve all been troopers and have really brought my books to life. I’m still hoping/praying ACX gets its act together and sorts this out.

  2. I’m getting it together to narrate my own book on Audible. The problem isn’t the narration; it’s the production values. I’m having trouble hitting the marks they demand for frequency responses. Those voice actors are worth the money for their studios and technical abilities as well!
    Forging bravely ahead in any case. At least I’ll come out of it with a decent recording studio!

    1. I’ve thought of going that route, myself, but so far haven’t moved on it. If this ACX thing doesn’t resolve in a positive manner, I may still do it. I hope you’ll let us know how your studio comes out, and what all you’ve had to do to set it up. I’d like to know!

    2. Good luck, Gordon. It is a slog doing it yourself. I did and it took my three times as long to hit the marks as it did to narrate it.

  3. Melissa, I’m with you on this one. I published my first audiobook in November. I used the promo codes to ge the word out. Though the reviews have been good, I’m having a hard time getting traction with this story which surprises me. I’m selling ebooks and paperbacks but for whatever reason, I think my audiobook is kind of invisible.

    I’ll keep trying to promote in other ways but it’s hard.

    Fortunately, what I spent was a lot of time narrating and editing myself. Still, the audiobook reviews are good so I’m thankful for that.

    1. Baby steps, right Diana? My audio books sell pretty good, but they are definitely outnumbered by ebook sales. Just have to keep getting the word out. Good luck.

  4. Sorry to hear about the scammers, and the heavy handed response to them. It’s a pattern that is repeated again and again. Hope things settle down. Stay well.

  5. Sad, but probably predictable. I hadn’t jumped on the audiobook bandwagon yet, and now I’m wondering if it will be worthwhile to try it. Any thoughts on that?

    1. My take on it is to just wait a bit to see how it shakes out… if it does. I’m cooling my jets on any new projects for the time being. I just hope this resolves in a positive manner so we can get on with business.

  6. Darn! It already costs – in New Zealand – around NZ$2,000 to NZ$2,500 to get a good edit, proof read and covers. I was hoping to get into audio but another US$1,000 kills that idea.

    1. For now, but don’t give up hope. I’m still holding on to the idea that Audible will figure out a way to outfox the scammers. We’ll report on that as soon as we hear something.

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