T. M. Bilderback
Audiblegate: a narrator's perspective - David A. Albright
Updated: Apr 29, 2021
By now, most of you have heard about Audiblegate. You know that Audible is not on the up-and-up about audiobook sales, returns, and compensation given to authors, rights holders, and narrators.
Needless to say, this behavior has affected how authors are producing audiobooks, and how these audiobooks are distributed.
But, today, I’m going to look at how this behavior has affected one narrator’s outlook.
I had the privilege of interviewing narrator David A. Albright.
How long have you been doing narration, and how long have you been narrating audiobooks?
“I have narrated audiobooks since 1989, before there was Audible or any audiobook sellers. A fellow I knew was in his 40s, blind and attending a university in Southern California. I narrated all of his textbooks. Granted, this was far from the creative work that most voice talents crave but the effort was more meaningful to me than any project I will likely encounter in the future. I am sure there are appreciative audiences who appreciate modern audiobooks for the same reason but I knew this fellow. My experience in the zoo that is ACX has been only four months, and four months too long, if you ask me.”
Please tell us briefly about your 38 years of experience.
“My career began in 1982, working as an announcer (DJ) at a small FM radio station in
central North Carolina (USA). My west coast upbringing gave me the advantage of a regionally non-specific accent which was perceived as being very “announcer-like” in the southeast. It helped me to get my foot in the door. I dropped out of college to pursue a career in radio and worked all over the country, with a daily air shift at music and talk radio stations. I briefly departed radio for work in Los Angeles television, where I was the staff announcer and performed voicework on the side for brands such as Union Bank. I later returned to radio, working in management, dictated by the arrival of children and responsibility, but kept a hand in on-air work and voicework continuously.”
When did you discover that three of your narrations were scam books?
“I auditioned for all three audiobooks, of my own volition, sending my very best by way of .mp3 to who I thought were the rightful owners of the books. The first offer was from an author I admired – a kindred spirit – and I was elated. I completed 8 hours of finished work on that book and it published about three weeks later and sold nearly 200 units in two weeks with what I would later learn was without promotion and received 5-star reviews for being an interesting listen. In fact, I was so encouraged by the response, initially, that I auditioned for another title by the same author and had 9 hours of that book in the can when I discovered it was fraudulent. There was one other production where I voiced a medical memoir which ran 3 hours and sat in review purgatory, due to the cover art being below standard. This was my first clue that I might have been scammed. The second clue was when Audible pulled the first book without warning.”
When you found out that the books were scams, how did that make you feel?
“I was devastated. In reality, I had nearly 140 hours of narration and post-production in those three titles. When you do your best to vet the authenticity of the offer by checking the title’s existence on Amazon and other platforms and the publisher’s credentials, not to mention the fact the audiobook had not previously existed, the primary emotion is WTH. One would expect the co-publisher (and that is what ACX/Audible is) to authenticate the veracity of the posting. Not the case at all. ACX is nothing more than the Craigslist of voicework, except they require 60% to 80% of the profits from a sale. Sick. The lasting emotion is sick. Sick that the value of your work and talent had sunk to the level of refuse.”
What actions did ACX/Audible take?
“Naturally, I bitched about it. ACX suggested that I contact the rights holder through the ACX Messenger system. This is the only suggestion or remedy that they offered, other than my right to cancel the contract. Are you kidding me? They suggested that I message the scammer to discuss my payment? Unbelievable.”
Have you begun offering your narration services through other outlets?
“Yes. At the time that I created a profile on ACX, I also planted a few seeds at the expected outlets for voicework. So far, not even a nibble. Seems like the market is in fake books.”
What would you like to see happen with Audible?
“There needs to be accountability to the contract (meaningless, I know) where the author, narrator and publisher are all listed as joined entities. Should one default, there should be remedy for the injured party(ies) and punitive and compensatory action to prevent those defaults across the board. I will bet you a dollar against a doughnut and even let you hold the stakes in your mouth that I won’t see a penny from the published work that sold nearly 200 copies. I only had 3 returns, however. Is that a hollow win for the narrator’s team?“
Other audiobook distributors offer royalty-share projects. Will you ever consider doing a royalty-share project at another outlet?
“Not immediately. I am a bit chafed and disgusted at the prospect of being ripped-off again. I like the idea of residual income and growing a project, in concert with the author or rights holder, but if you can’t see the credentials and where the contract isn’t worth the paper on which it was written, why would I narrate another royalty share?”
Please tell us anything else that you’d like for us to know…and I mean, anything that you feel would be of interest!
“It has always been my credo that if you have to tell someone how to do their job, you are usually wasting your time. However, a requirement for ACX and Audible might be called for, here. If they have no intention of vetting the rights holders credentials, then the abolishment of the royalty share program is the only remedy. That doesn’t address their shady reporting for PFH work for authors and rights holders but it does square away the issues affecting narrators.
Key points for new narrators and producers to look for are:
1. No or slow replies from purported rights holders. A quick acceptance of your audition, yielding an offer or approval of the 15 minute checkpoint is not communication.
2. If the finished work is held in review, pending cover art, you likely have completed a fraudulent production. The true rights holder has the artwork for the Amazon and Kindle offering. Only a scammer wouldn’t have access to the hi-res version to submit a thumbnail to ACX.
3. If you can, obtain the real email address of the author and have dialogue outside of ACX, before beginning any work. I may have salvaged two of the completed projects, as I successfully tracked down and communicated with the actual author and rights holder. He showed real interest and we are negotiating as I write this."
Interview by T. M. Bilderback (but YOU can call me Michael!)
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