Comfort is killing you
Those are the words of the well-known record-breaking adventurer called Wim Hoff. His records range from running up to the death zone at Mount Everest wearing only footwear, shorts and a beany hat, to breaking records for being submerged in ice. He has also taught many people his methods including his therapy for inflammation using cold water to help heal your body. So, you are probably going to ask what on earth Wim Hoff has to do with audiobooks.
One of Wim’s greatest and most important sayings is “comfort is killing you” or that “we are comforted to death in this day and age”. When I started my career, I never thought I’d be referring to Wim Hoff for audiobooks so stay with me while I explain.
I started writing about five or six years ago when still working in construction. After two years of that I went into full time narration (Having a Northern Irish accent kept me in work). Now I juggle writing and narrating but more importantly at the minute, I’m finding out how deep the rabbit hole goes with regards to how much money can be made… wide.
I’ve narrated over sixty audiobooks, a medium number but enough to live off should my writing ever cease to bring in an income. What caused me to go wide with my audiobooks was a little test I learned in construction. It’s a test that ACX kept failing. Let’s call my little test The Jerk Test.
What is The Jerk test?
This test works two ways, first with people and secondly with businesses.
The Jerk Test With People
When you meet someone new, ask them a dumb question. You are more than likely going to get three types of responses. The first kind of people will seek to answer your question and help you any way they can just because they are good natured - keep these people close.
The second kind of people will either ignore you or give you a cold but honest answer - these people will have their uses.
The last kind of people are those that chew you up and spit you out. They tell you to stop being stupid, lazy and that you’re wasting their time - stay away from these people. They tend to be toxic, self-centred and highly derogatory of those in a less well-off place - they are of no use to you.
The Jerk Test
So how does the test translate to the world of business? It’s simple, businesses that go out of their way to fix your “stupid problem” are the ones with whom you want to work. The companies that give you a cold but honest fix to your problem are worth working with as well. The businesses that treat you with contempt such as rude, copy and paste answers, slow Quality Assurance time, promises of royalties that turn out to be less, terms that suit them but harm you and such, like - stay away. These firms are not out to help you and you shouldn’t be out to help them.
What does this have to do with going wide?
The first fix to any problem is making a list of your complaints. For ACX, this is mainly:
1: Slow ACX QA times, which take between 2 days and 4 months and make business planning almost impossible.
2: Inaccurate earnings promises. 40% promised (low anyway) on ACX turns out to be far less.
3: The sales dashboard often doesn’t update for days. Wide distributors supply a live dashboard that is actually live. You can watch your ads on one page: i.e. Bookbub or Facebook, and watch your sales go up live as they come in.
4: The ACX website crashes constantly and always has issues trying to upload audio files or even to get to the page where you upload audio files. This kind of thing is embarrassing for a company the size of ACX/Audible.
5: Returning a book within 7 days, no questions asked, just invites people to abuse the system. We don’t live in a perfect world and if you give people a way to steal then they will indeed steal.
At the time of writing this, ACX has just added “qualified returns” to the dashboard to show returns within 7 days. People can still listen to an audiobook in full within 7 days and return it.
It’s not what we asked for, which was returns broken out by sales type, and only for books within a shorter timeframe and not listened to past a certain percentage. 25% sounds fair. It beggars belief that we even had to ask for this.
One issue on its own is something you can almost live with, but when the complaints just keep growing it become impossible to keep the blood pressure down. The only reason anyone would stay with ACX is if they are comfortable. Changing can be bothersome and often not straightforward.
Comfort is killing you and now it’s killing your career.
Back when I used to work in construction, my job was to make sure things ran smoothly. If a supplier or service provider started dropping its standards it was my job to get answers. If those answers weren’t acceptable, I was then to shop around and bring the owner a list of potential options to replace said supplier/service provider. I have never had the experience of a supplier telling me how important I am as a client, and then have them continue to treat me in a poor way. In my opinion ACX/Audible has major issues with how it treats its authors and narrators; it has also failed to make any major changes that would in any way fix these problems.
Here are options
Over the past six months I have taken some of my books wide. I have six wide and have been making as much in dollars wide as I do on Audible via ACX at the lower "royalty" rate. Considering I’ve been making a living off ACX it absolutely took me aback that I could make that elsewhere with just 6 books. An author I narrated for has now also done the same.
Here’s the secret: the same principles that govern eBook sales, govern audiobook sales. All you need is regular updates, decent "royalties" and a distributor that busts a gut to help you out. The earnings cut are about the same. I found the top four and chose two to go with. I would then put these two through the Jerk test. The top four were:
1. Listenup Audiobooks
3. Findaway Voices
4. Audiobooks Unleashed
I ruled these ones out
Everybody can make up their own mind about what suits their needs best. These first two I avoided due to limitations in the distribution. Going wide needs to maximise the number of outlets and these two failed to do so effectively.
1. Listenup Audiobooks
Listenup Audiobooks came bottom of the list due to quarterly payments and an upfront cost if you don’t use them for production. In this day and age, you have to beat your competitors - Listenup Audiobooks doesn’t come near the likes of the others. Their Royalty rate is similar to the rest but with that upfront fee it leaves them bottom of the list.
Although their payment option is tempting their distribution is lacking. You pay a monthly fee based on the amount of books you have out. The bigger problem is who they distribute to. Out of the nine stores they distribute to, both Findaway and ACX are included, meaning you still lose a percentage of your royalty on top of your monthly payment.
Second in line to the throne
3. Audiobooks Unleashed
Audiobooks Unleashed needs a lot of improvement but has real potential. Although their royalty rates are similar to the rest, they failed the jerk test. I submitted an audiobook that would fail and timed how long it would take for them to get back to me. They originally took 30 days to tell me the book wouldn’t pass. I replied to that e-mail and never heard back. They also don’t offer a live dashboard but only monthly updates. This was a major turn off. I believe in marketing audiobooks like I market ebooks. Having data daily allows me to make better decisions. If an advert is costing me $5 a day and the book in question is bringing me in $10 then I can predict $150 profit at the end of the month and plan how to use some of that income in the future.
Best by a longshot…for now
4. Findaway Voices
I had heard a lot about Findaway Voices before I put them through the jerk test and not all of it was good. I went in with a clear mind and decided I would judge them solely on how they worked for me. First things first was the audiobook. Twenty-four hours had me updated as to any issues so that was a perfect score. After uploading good quality audio, I received a notification that night that the book had passed. Within two days it was live on Chirp and shortly after that, other retailers.
This is where they impressed me, and it’s hard to impress me. Because I narrate from time to time when I’m not writing, I had already set up a narrator account with them. That meant I had two accounts, one for narrating and one for my own books. Findaway’s system wasn’t able to cope with me having more than one account and so sales didn’t update on the dashboard. I contacted support and they got to work fixing the problem. The long and short was I needed to have only one account so I shut down the narrator account and kept the author account. Still, it wasn’t fixed. Findaway staff were apologetic and offered to help me in whatever way they could until they fixed the issue. I accepted their offer to send me regular sales updates until the issue was fixed and true to their word they did. They didn’t miss a beat.
Findaway doesn’t offer a straight Royalty Share, only a Royalty Share Plus. This is a downside because any author who wants their audiobook produced on a Royalty Share has to stump up some of the cash up front. This option looks after narrators as most Royalty Share audiobooks don’t make back their money and I can understand wanting to protect narrators. However, when narrating was my main income, 90% of my jobs were Royalty Shares which provided me a healthy income and still does to this day. I’m not dependent on them but at the same time, I think if Findaway stepped up and opened up their platform to simple Royalty Share then they’d put ACX on the back foot.
Part of what has made ACX so popular is the Royalty Share model. Yes, narrators need to be picky but that’s part of life like any job that pays commission or royalties. Findaway distributes to 40+ retailers, libraries and most importantly at this present time is the only way to access Chirp, an a la carte store operated by BookBub, All these stores allow authors to sell their book at whatever price they choose. Even put it on sale for a while.
The great thing about Findaway is that I can have one page open on Findaway’s live sales dashboard and another at Bookbub or Facebook to watch my ads. In half an hour I hit refresh and I can see the sales come in as the ads go out. This live option allows for micro management.
Is Findaway the saviour we need?
No. But it’s the next best thing at the present time. Audiobooks Unleashed is all right if you’re not hands on, but at the minute the best investment is Findaway if you can afford to pay for your production.
Findaway takes 20% of every sale, so remember to work that into your analysis. For instance, Chirp pays you 45%, then Findaway takes 20% of that. You still keep 80% of what you make but it’s 80% of 45% which works out to 36%. One thing to note is 36% of a Chirp sale comes out higher than a “40%” Audible sale. Work that one out. I am able to sell a book on Chirp at less than half the price of Audible and still make the same money.
What if I can’t pay for production?
This is why ACX has done so well and why Findaway could hit them hard if they opened up the option for a straight up Royalty Share. The author who I had narrated for who went wide wasn’t a pay-for-production, but had used Royalty Share. This is someone I know and trust so we drew up an agreement which stated what we both required. I keep the agreement in a file along with printouts of emails, Facebook messages and any other info a court could use. I hope I’ll never need it.
The honest truth is if you are not able to afford the union rates of $250 per finished hour (pfh) then there will always be someone out there who will do it cheaper. Your task is finding the person who can do it cheaper but also with good quality. There is a belief in the audiobook industry that you should pay $250 pfh and anything less results in a poor product. The truth is you have a lot more options than you think, especially in this climate. If you can afford $250 pfh then go for it. If you can’t then shop around.
If enough people go wide, then Audible will feel the pinch. By going wide, you are encouraging ACX/Audible to treat authors with respect.
Andrew McDermott Bio:
Andrew is an author and narrator from Northern Ireland. After spending fifteen years in the construction industry he slowly moved into writing before taking up narration alongside it when he went full time. When it comes to writing, non-fiction and historical romance are his go to genres. On the mic his Irish brogue is often found in fantasy and Scottish romance.
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