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  • Writer's pictureNoel Eastwood

Audible Mind Games and Mental Health: More Than Money is at Stake - by Noel Eastwood

Updated: Apr 23, 2021

I am a retired psychologist turned full-time author. I also narrate my own non-fiction books. The income I generate as an author is what I live on. It isn’t much but it is incredibly satisfying to know that people actually enjoy what I have to say, and to me that is pretty special.

In 1943, psychologist Abraham Maslow developed a list known as the Hierarchy of Needs which helps explain human motivation and behaviour. In that list, up towards the top, was the need for appreciation. We all need to feel accepted, to receive some form of approval and recognition from others. These basic needs keep us creative types motivated, they drive us to continue with our research, writing, editing and narrating.

Authors and narrators reading this will easily recognise themselves: too excited to sleep we will be at our computer to see the sun rise while sipping our first cup of coffee. Most of us will still be there at midnight trying to ignore our aching back and the screaming demand to get some sleep. It is like a drug, we cherish that basic need of appreciation from our much loved fans.

But what happens when you are tricked into believing that you have lost your touch? That you are no longer needed or appreciated? Creative people, be they artists, musicians, dancers, visionaries, writers, or performers on the field of sport, all perform to their best when they receive recognition. This is our life-blood. We live and breathe to deliver joy to others and the ensuing applause it brings.

In the past 6 months I’ve published four audiobooks. My non-fiction book I narrated myself, while my three fantasy books I had professionally narrated. At the start of 2020 my audiobook sales were doing really well, causing me to believe that another three or four books would boost my sales considerably. I thought that maybe I’d have enough to take a holiday with my family and grandchildren. To my dismay, I saw my audiobook sales drop to 30% below the previous 18 months.

I looked and looked to see what I might have done wrong. Was it poor editing? But I had been working on this like a Tasmanian Devil for the past five years, surely that wasn’t it? Or maybe I had lost that creative edge? Strange, since my readers love my work, some even call me a genius. Alas, my audiobook sales did not reflect these flattering comments. What the heck had gone wrong?

I looked at my ebook and paperback sales but they had continued to rise steadily all year. This was weird, seriously weird - ebooks and paperbacks up, but audiobooks down?

Perhaps I should consider spending more money on marketing? But that did nothing to boost my audiobook sales.

Upon closer examination, all of my avenues were selling well except one – Audible.

I had forked out a considerable amount of money to have a professional voice actor narrate my epic fantasy series. I must add here that I don’t begrudge what I spend on narration; my narrator is awesome and deserves every cent. But I did want to see a return, as we all do. So I began to search the various writer’s forums to see if anyone else had problems - and there I found my answer.

I discovered that many other authors had been losing sales from their audiobooks over the past year and a half. Some, in fact, had lost more than 50% despite spending thousands of dollars on marketing. And then I hit pay-dirt, I found Susan May’s illuminating article on #Audiblegate.

Here was a fellow author who was having the same problem that I had. But this author would not lie down, she wouldn’t let go until she had found out why. Susan discovered that Audible had been secretly hiding their predatory behaviour of giving our audiobooks to their subscribers for free. They encouraged subscribers and customers to return any audiobook, whether completed or not, for a free replacement. These returns cost Audible nothing because they didn’t pay the authors or narrators for them. Susan, and forensic accountant and author, Colleen Cross, have since discovered that there is more to the story than these ‘easy returns’, and it sure looks suspicious.

Like so many clients that I had counselled over the years, it was I who had crashed and was down in the dumps. I felt depressed, worthless, trapped in a hopeless situation, and fearful that I might have to find a job that I was too old to qualify for anyway. I began to lose confidence in myself as an author and I simply could not find the creative energy to write like I had over the past five years. I thought that the problem was me, but now that I knew what the problem really was, I felt angry.

How dare a psychopathic, corporate predator take my hard work and not pay for it? How dare they use my intellectual property to boost their bottom line? I had deliberately cut my food costs to a bare minimum, eating beans and potatoes for months on end to ensure I could afford to have my audiobooks published. Then to discover that the company that I had trusted for so long was the cause of my hardship, I was outraged.

Unfortunately for Audible, when intelligent people get a whiff of injustice, most will feel the hackles at the back of their neck rise and they will leap into a fighting stance. I jumped in and offered my services to Susan’s Facebook group, ‘Fair Deal for Rights Holders and Narrators’. Through the incredible hard work of a small group of people led by Susan May and Colleen Cross, we are readying for a classic David and Goliath battle, a battle of Biblical proportions.

In trying to understand the psychology of this crisis, I spent many hours on the internet to see how this has impacted other authors and narrators. Their comments ranged from incredulity and disbelief, to the eventual realisation of just how manipulative Audible truly are.

In reading author and narrator’s comments of their interactions with Audible, it is clear that this company has no interest what-so-ever in fulfilling their duty to their providers. Authors and narrators have reported countless conversations that they have had with the Audible Support team. The replies they received are both laughable and nonsensical. Audible don’t provide any support of substance and they appear to have no interest in doing so.

My experience with Audible support is similar to others. I had requested Audible update my audiobook cover. Even though I sent them the cover three times over four months, it was never changed. I asked for my audiobook to be removed, that took two months. I’m still waiting for a second audiobook to be removed.

Many authors have requested greater transparency in their reports – none have reported receiving any further information on their sales. Many have demanded an audit on their reports – none has been forthcoming. In fact, Audible Support have stated that authors have no authority to demand an audit. The replies from Audible are farcical, in many cases they are told bare-faced untruths, and that is when they receive a reply at all. The frustration felt by authors, and narrators who rely on the income derived from their author’s sales, is driving many of us to despair.

The list of mental health symptoms experienced by authors and narrators caught up in this situation can include disturbed sleep, anxiety, depression, malaise, lack of energy and drive, loss of creativity, loss of faith, and feelings of being forced into a corner with no avenue of escape. These feelings of powerlessness are akin to being violated, raped by a corporation seemingly with no heart or soul.

Audible’s apparent lies, manipulative behaviour, predatory practices, exploitation, and disinterest, can trigger previous trauma, and that is of considerable concern. No one likes being lied to, no one likes being tricked and cheated, no one likes being forced into a corner by an insensitive, wealthy corporation that we are reliant on to support our family. Being treated justly is one of the cornerstones of civilisation, yet we clearly recognise its absence with Audible. This has turned frustration into outrage knowing that our basic needs are so blatantly ignored.

What really concerns me is the impact this crisis has on my fellow authors and narrators. We, as a group, generally work alone, isolated and somewhat alienated from others. Our creative community know exactly what we have to go through to write or narrate a professionally crafted piece of work. In most cases our family and friends have no idea of the problems we face, how we can fall flat on our face when we are rejected or a book fails. We’re sensitive types that, in some cases, lack coping mechanisms in the face of trauma - and these apparent predatory practices of Audible are extremely traumatic.

Authors and narrators enter a special state of consciousness when they work, it arises when they are in that amazing zone of creativity. Unless we return from this zone with our feet on the ground we can feel quite fragile and vulnerable. I have not mentioned suicide as yet because it is way too real. I am quite certain that each of us knows someone who has been touched by the tragedy of suicide. Given that it is only too real in situations like this, we, as a community, need to support each other, to firmly grasp the hand that hesitatingly reaches out for help.

One way to manage is to learn how to handle ourselves in these times of crisis, the loss of income, perceived rejection and a sense of abandonment by our readers. Part of our survival is to engage with our support network and to seek counselling with someone we trust.

The bright side to this story is that I have been working alongside other authors and narrators to find platforms that will distribute our audiobooks with transparency and honesty. As a group we are also looking to develop our own platform, that is what creative types do. We might not be aggressive entrepreneurs but we have imagination and drive, and most importantly, we are united.

Please join us in our fight, the good fight against the evil of corporate profit over people.

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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Noel Eastwood Bio

Noel Eastwood is a retired psychologist who specialised in trauma, depth psychotherapy and biofeedback. His first publication was a book on self-hypnosis over 25 years ago and he has since published 9 books in fiction and non-fiction. His writing reflects his interest in the esoteric sciences combined with psychotherapy and personal/spiritual development.

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