E-books aren’t the only form of tech-related books whose business models are seeing technological disruption lately. The Bookseller has a report on a controversial initiative offered by (Amazon-owned) Audible.com in which the audiobook store will pay authors who sign up to Audible Author Services $1 per sale out of a $20 million fund, in addition to the normal royalties such audiobook sales offer.

The offer is open to any author who has an audiobook available for sale through Audible.com or Audible.co.uk. Apart from the $1 per sale, Audible Author Services itself seems to be mainly a setup to let authors use social media to promote their audiobooks.

The Bookseller reports that Bloomsbury executive director Richard Charkin blasted the plan at a speaking event earlier this week, claiming that the offer was damaging to the relationship between publishers and authors.

I’m not sure I see what the fuss is about. I didn’t see anything in the Audible press release suggesting authors should leave or bypass their publishers. Sure, the authors are getting an extra buck, but the publishers (and, for that matter, authors) are still getting their contractual royalties. Aren’t audiobook rights usually handled through publishers anyway? It looked to me like Audible was simply offering authors whose audiobooks are available on the site, either through the auspices of their publisher or themselves, more money to try out its promotional tools. Though I suppose I could be missing something.

The more interesting part to me was this bit:

Earlier Charkin had outlined what he saw as a danger of a loss of trust within industry relationships. “We used to have a business practice we understood and shared,” he said. “If you said you would publish a book, you would publish the book. The author and the agent trusted us. Publishers sometimes failed but we did try to do our best. Now authors’ agents say: ‘We want a review of the royalty rate every two years’. Imagine the overhead of that.”

But [Audible.com CEO Donald] Katz said there was also an issue of trust around ensuring an author’s income reached its potential: “As a writer, you entrust your intermediaries with a panoply of rights that can be exploited around the world. If they don’t do that, they are letting authors down. It’s a matter of moral trust—you would expect those rights to go exactly where they need to go.” He added: “All that really matters is the author and the reader.”

So publishers such as Charkin are upset that authors (and their agents) don’t trust them anymore, and Katz points out they may have good reason for that. It puts me in mind of the piece by Kristine Kathryn Rusch in which she pointed out that publishers have a really hard time getting financial information to authors when they want it, in stark contrast to the world of self-publishing where all the details were at writers’ fingertips. It doesn’t seem as if this Audible initiative can do much more to undermine the relationship between authors and publishers than the publishing system has already done.


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