On The Passive Voice, Passive Guy posted a question about Amazon/Audible audiobook rates and payouts on behalf of his wife, an author herself. She had heard from a friend that their audiobook narrator no longer wanted to work with Audible on a royalty basis because the $1.99 Amazon Whispersync price for Audible books was driving down royalty rates, and wondered if this was a common issue. The question led to some interesting discussion from Passive Voice readers with experience in publishing and audiobooks, and some interesting revelations I hadn’t considered before.
For those who weren’t aware, Amazon and Audible have implemented a deal where anyone who buys the Kindle edition of a book is automatically offered the chance to add the Audible audiobook for another few dollars. (Many are just $1.99, though they can go as high as $12.99.) If they do this, they can switch between the Kindle e-book and Audible audiobook versions for their reading or listening and each will pick up where the other left off.
Because the royalty payment for the audiobook is based on the purchase price, those $1.99 audiobooks are not very lucrative (especially after the ACX royalty cuts of last year). A lot of authors don’t have a problem with that, because that extra $1.99 purchase is an extra impulse-buy that e-book buyers wouldn’t have made anyway without that prompting. It’s extra money for them that they wouldn’t otherwise have gotten. (That’s how it’s been for me. Even though I’m not terribly fond of Audible’s player software, how can I resist two bucks for an audiobook of something I already wanted enough to buy as an e-book?)
But audiobook producers and other authors are disappointed by seeing their average earnings per audiobook sale fall with so many $1.99 sales. (They also aren’t especially thrilled by the Audible subscription credit sales, as they get a lower payment from those than someone paying full price for the audiobook.) Some have even resorted to trying to break the Whispersync pairing between e-book and audiobook so the $1.99 sale isn’t offered, with only limited success.
Another thing that interested me was the reminder that ACX, the Audiobook Creation Exchange which is the source of Audible/Amazon and iTunes audiobook titles, seems to have become the only game in town where audiobooks are concerned these days. I suppose that makes sense. It used to be books came on tape or CD, and anyone could play those—but now that they’re digital, the people who make the player software control the output.
One commenter, Jack C. Nemo, pegged ACX as “roughly 97% of the market” for audiobooks. If you don’t go with them, you’re left hoping someone can actually find whatever independent audiobook you do end up making. Nemo notes:
Now if Google pulled their heads out of their rears and set up a competitive service against ACX they’d probably get a ton of business quickly. However, they haven’t even set up a competitive, supplier-friendly ebook store and that should have been easy for them.
It’s interesting to consider that audiobooks have royalty issues that often get short shift compared to the more widely-known e-book matters. It will be interesting to see how it all shakes out.