#Audiblegate 3: We're not gonna take it! Audible's Response
Updated: Apr 22, 2021
AND MY/OUR RESPONSE TO THEIR RESPONSE!
Prior Blogposts on Audiblegate: Audiblegate! The incredible story of missing sales Audiblegate 2: The Emperor's New Clothes Policy, Pot Theory, Unicorns & Pirates
Audiblegate erupted in October 2020, after authors discovered Audible had been deducting returns from author's sales to the tune of up to 50% of their earnings. This, thanks to the over-generous and aggressively advertised Great Listen Guarantee with a 365 day window. Almost overnight, authors and narrators formed an alliance and began a sustained email and social media assault on Audible and ACX, (Amazon platform where narrators and authors upload their books for distribution to Audible, Amazon and Apple). Media also took an interest with reports in the UK Guardian and trade media outlets.
Audible/ACX acknowledged the issue by offering a paltry 5% extra for December sales. After it became clear authors still weren't satisfied, in mid-December they offered that from Jan 1, 2021, any return after seven days since sale would not be deducted from the author's sales. For some reason, they're hellbent on offering 365 days returns and making it as easy as possible for members, so that stays.
Sounds like a library still, right? Not to Audible. It's their way of helping authors, they say, because without this guarantee readers wouldn't try new authors. Most authors would argue that point, and I did just that in this post.
The Authors Guild (AG) became involved back in November, authoring a "Letter to Audible" which many organizations and author society's around the world joined. All proclaimed their disbelief Audible would be so bold as to dip its fingers into authors' wallets and hide the fact with opaque reporting.
AUTHORS GUILD & AUDIBLE MEETINGS
Early-December, two meetings were held between AG and Audible's CEO Bob Carrigan, along with two follow up calls directly from Bob Carrigan to Mary Rasenberger, AG Executive Director.
Audible promised they'd send an email to authors before Christmas to update us. They did not. Christmas came and went and still no email. Meanwhile behind the scenes, with a few of us working behind the scenes, new information has been exposed showing that not only is Audible lowering our income with returns, they're not even paying authors and narrators according to their own contract. (More of that in another post.)
So, another meeting is scheduled January 20, 2021 between Audible, Authors Guild and our heroes Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLI). We've managed to score a seat at the table for our own author delegate, Collen Cross, who'll represent our author fight group Fair Deal for Rights Holders and Narrators (FDRHN).
I foresaw more delays in relaying the original outcomes from early December with this upcoming meeting. More loss of momentum. More of the same game Audible plays replying with obtuse, obscure, cookie-cutter responses until the complainant finally gives up. It's like beating your head against a brick wall, and my head is too sore to keep doing that.
We must not allow ourselves to falter. Our fight is too important and authors deserve to be kept up to date.
AG briefed Orna Ross, Director of ALLI and myself in a Zoom call mid-December, in confidence. However, as time marches on with no information released, I feel duty bound to share; my loyalty only to my fellow authors and our narrator partners. Following is Audible's reply to our concerns and demands.
Bob Carrigan, who joined Audible a year ago this month admitted to AG that he's still getting his head around the business, since he's new. Gee, considering his previous role was Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Dun & Bradstreet, and prior to that he held Chief Executive and Executive roles for decades, that's an interesting excuse for not having all the answers. I'd be embarrassed if I was him, unless there's another reason for his supposed lack of knowledge.
AUDIBLE SAY THEY...
Truly value the indie authors and their contribution to the success of Audible and care deeply we are upset, although, (wait for it) ACX is only a small part of their business. Hey, Audible, I'll judge you by your actions. Just a tip in our relationship harmony for you: Putting your hand in author's wallets and then ignoring their complaints and pulling some of their books off your platform while accusing them of fraud, is not caring deeply. We'd debate our lower value in your scheme too since we really think Indie authors supply the bulk of books to Audible, while we have the worst terms know to man. Come on now! Seven year contracts when you don't lift a finger toward production except for your broken down ACX platform, which has probably caused more gray hair and drinking problems in the past two years than can be measured.
Are sticking with 365 days returns but assure us that most people don't listen to the books within 7 days. 60% only start listening after seven days. No supply of evidence of these figures. So, the 7 days of returns for which you expect us to pay, really won't be many returns, Audible? Really? I don't know about you, but 40%, if it's even true, still seems a high risk for authors. Of course, we believe these figure because Audible's been wonderfully forthcoming so far.
Their return terms are within industry standards. No they're not. Let's check: Amazon Prime Video has a 48 hour/0% watched policy on Prime film returns. Amazon Digital educational resources is returnable within seven days of purchase for a resource that has not yet been downloaded. Games, software downloads, and purchases from the Amazon Appstore, the Amazon Digital Music store or the Amazon Video store are not returnable after purchase, unless otherwise specified, but can be returned within 48 hours if a customer hasn't attempted to watch or download it. Google Play’s audiobook policy is “Except as expressly set out in these policies or as required by applicable law, all sales of audiobooks are final, and no returns, replacements or refunds will be permitted. In South Korea, Google will accept refund requests for purchase cancellations that are made within 7 days of sale, as long as the customer has not started listening to the audiobook.” Other audiobook sellers are also not comparable, even if they did have a similar return policy to Audible, which they do not. They don’t widely advertise exchanges as a “benefit” of their service to the outrageous degree of Audible.
Will speak to their customer service people and retrain them. Who trained them in the first place? Must be some cookie-cutter script they're reading off that someone in Audible wrote which says give anyone who asks for a return a refund. In fact, the customer service people could just read the script of the Audible website. "Return your book, no questions asked." Audible could have changed this script months ago... if they were sincere. They could have even changed it before the meetings.
Might consider not advertising the 'benefit' as much, but it's core to their business plan and service and it really helps sell books. That old chestnut again about nobody prepared to take a risk on indies and authors readers don't know. This Great Listen Guarantee wouldn't have something more to do with impeding competition, would it?
Will look into how to stop people overusing the return feature in the future. Isn't this supposed to be part of their setup now? How hard is it to check? Every return is logged against the user. It's still showing in their library. Just a run a report somebody. You, there, drinking coffee in the corner and playing on your phone, run a Goddam report!
Advise keeping an eye on our accounts to see if we notice any changes in returns from their actions in the next few months. They really believe we will see a change. They're confident. Oh, my, we'd love to Audible, but uncertain how we can do this with no returns data and your crazy, needlessly complex payment spreadsheets, and wonky ACX interface.
Would be happy to explain the ALAF calculation in the payment terms of our contract, when asked by AG for clarification, but they would need all day. Gee, great contract writing legal department. Wonder why you made it so confusing? (Coming soon everyone, a blog post showing how they don't even use the ALAF the way they say. Somebody in accounts forgot it was in the contract. Can you imagine?)
WARNING: If you're drinking any kind of drink, please put the cup down now because you'll likely spit it out through your nose.
AUDIBLE SAY THEY...
Are working on giving us returns data in our dashboards by March 31, 2021, BUT they can't give us retrospective data before this because it would be too labor intensive and that would take personnel off other important work. Oh, and the returns aren't as bad as we think. No mention on how they calculated that the returns aren't as bad as we think, if they can't calculate returns. Hey, and a question for Audible: why should we care about their staffing issues while we're starving here and paying them 60% and 75% to load our books on their selling platform. Seriously that's all they do! They don't pay royalties; they pay the balance after they take their commission. Tough being in a tech industry and not having elite, best in the world data scientists on your payroll, yet telling anyone who'll listen that you're a tech leader. Oh, and who owns you by the way? Didn't we read somewhere his wealth increased during COVID by 70 billion, making that $185 billion in net worth for poor Jeff.
Can't do a percentage listened and then no return because their system doesn't work like that and to change would be too expensive as their Audible system is twenty years old and can't talk to the ACX system very well. Again, sorry for your poverty and the hard times in which you find yourself, but, gee, something wrong here because some trade published authors' contracts have a clause stating if a listener returns after 25% listened, then Audible pays. And, hey, the system seems to work fine for the pay-per-minute listened on books once enrolled in the defunct Audible Escape package. While we're at it, how do they know when a book is partially listened in order to send out those emails suggesting an exchange? We've seen plenty of them. So, I think we are pretty confused on this excuse.
Now are you ready for the big one? Sorry, you're gonna be angry.
Will not supply returns data prior to the 1st January 2021. They will not compensate authors for losses due to returns. They're firm on that. Here's why, and it's a good one. They say the ALAF calculation has been used to create an artificial "floor," which means authors have been paid double the losses they have experienced from returns. So let's unpack that, Audible, it's a little confusing, guys. You're saying you do have returns data, even if it's total returns data against sales, but you're not giving that to us? You haven't been using the formula in your own contract, and you haven't asked us are we okay with that? And, is that a kinda threat that if we poke around too much we might be paid half what we are already getting paid? Hmmm.
So, there you have it , all the gossip!
They were meant to send an email about the non-backpay compensation of returns and the 31st March being the date for the returns data column but, hey, they're so busy calculating their ALAF's and finding ways to mess us around I guess they forgot. They have said they'll continue the conversation, which brings us to the meeting on Wednesday 20th, for which I don't hold much hope since refunds and pre 2021 returns data are off the table.
WHAT WILL WE DO?
First, we at FDRHN are working on the legal side, exploring every avenue. The contracts prevent us forming a class action, but we're working on other idea, maybe more difficult but we will get something going soon.
Secondly, we're research a platform on which to sell our audiobooks away from Audible. We can't allow them to enslave us for the rest of time. We have what we think is a brilliant idea and you'll hear about it soon, maybe sometime in March, we hope.
Steps to take right now.
Sign up to our mailing list so we can stay in touch. Authors, rights holders, narrators and readers, all are welcome. We have some informative blog posts coming up explaining a lot of stuff you don't know about because Audible don't want you to know. You're a serf to them to create profits and they want you in the dark and believing you have no power.
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Write and tell Audible, Jeff Bezos and ACX that none of these responses or minimal concessions work for you. You can use our demands below as a template. Remember to also state you object to your last 3 months statements and all those prior since they've hidden your returns, if you don't mind. )(Any ACX royalty statements Audible provides Rights Holder will be considered final and incontestable 3 months from the date the statements are provided by Audible if Rights Holder does not object to the statements within that period of time.) Send to: email@example.com Jeff@amazon.com firstname.lastname@example.org
And we reserve the right to add to these should our investigations reveal further issues.
Returns limited to less than 25% of book read then no return.
Clear reporting of sales and returns. This data to be separated by AL, ALOP, ALC, with each price point and sales platform, i.e., whispersynch, specials or Apple sale shown on separate lines. This to be delivered for each month, backdated to date of publication.
Repayment of all returns, plus interest and penalties. This calculation to be conducted by an external auditor.
Dissolution of the seven-year lock-in contract.
A payment split which reflects the true value of the authors’ contribution to the product and Audibles’ role as merely a sales platform. Stop calling the payments royalties. They're Sale less Commission.
Pricing of books to be at the discretion of the author/rights holder.
The use of authors’ books in promotions to be advised prior to and agreed with by each author. With any discounting of books by Audible, the author must still receive their normal price payment as they do through KDP when a paperback has been discounted.
Authors accused of fraudulent activity with free codes and free trial activity to be liaised with in a fair manner and their cases investigated promptly, and the reasons for the accusations supplied to them.
Fix your ACX platform, for Pete's sake. Back in 2014 when ACX moved from paying fair returns on a sliding scale of percentages to the breadcrumb payments we now suffer, authors and narrators were promised "the changes detailed here will allow us to continuously work to improve your ACX experience"... and, "We are committed to continuing our record of innovation and creating and expanding opportunities"
A MESSAGE TO AUDIBLE
Audible, whatever profit you believe you protect through your obfuscation and stalling will most certainly be lost in the upcoming public and embarrassing War of Words which we will be delivering to your doorstep. You may find you won't just answer to rights holders and narrators but to Government powers and courts. In the arena of public opinion, no matter how many celebrities you throw out there touting how wonderful you are, your behavior will not win you favor with most readers who do value authors and expect them to be paid fairly.
You have created a wonderful platform, but that does not give you the right to manipulate the marketplace and cheat your business partners. Authors are eager to work toward a better, fairer and mutually beneficial partnership instead of the one-sided outrageous mess in which we are currently trapped.
You no longer face a meek group of authors and narrators who will slide back to servitude and abuse with no choice but to comply. You've done one thing well for us. You've created a solidarity in an increasing group who refuse to be ignored.
You have not come to the table with honesty and openness, so sorry we're not gonna take it anymore. You'll be hearing from us and our representatives real soon.
Please share this #Audiblegate post on social media. This is an important issue and we need to get the word out to as many people as possible.
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SUSAN MAY BIO
Susan May has been an author of dark thrillers for over a decade. In 2020, she paused her writing career to create a horror story for Audible which she titled Audiblegate. She promises that in the end the good guys will triumph.
You can learn more about Susan May at www.susanmaywriter.net
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