If you’re a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) or a regular reader of our Self-Publishing Advice blog, you’ll be aware that ALLi has been supporting the work of the author pressure group, TERM, The Equitable Rights Movement in the campaign known as “Audiblegate”.
In October 2020, a reporting error on the Amazon's audiobook self-publishing platform ACX revealed some worrying indications about how Amazon Audible’s “easy exchange and return” program was funded. Under this program, audiobook listeners are encouraged to swap out a book once they’ve listened to it, at no cost. The glitch seemed to show that Audible had been secretly deducting the costs of this “returns” scheme from rights holders’ share of the revenue, not their own.
If a book was “returned”, Audible deducted the money they had originally paid to the author, publisher or narrator–even though the listener had fully consumed and enjoyed the book.
The glitch also revealed how lack of transparency and opaque accounting practices made it all but impossible for an individual author to get a picture of how Audible / ACX calculated their income. On realising the potential extent of rights holder losses, an Australian indie author, Susan May, founded a Facebook group Fair Deal for Rights Holders and Narrators. The group connected audiobook authors and narrators together, and began to gather information and evidence about the various anomalies they were witnessing.
In sharing the replies they were receiving from Audible, a disturbing pattern quickly emerged, both in accounting practices and communications with rights holders. A smaller group of dedicated volunteers, bringing various skills that fit just right for the campaign needs, began to dig deeper, and to reach out to the wider author community, narrators and producers, and outside interested parties.
Around this time, the group came to ALLi’s attention. Disturbed by the evidence, we changed ACX’s rating from “Recommended” to “Pending” while our watchdog desk carried out further research. On investigation, ACX’s grading was further downgraded to “Caution” and and narrators in their campaign to win a fair deal from Audible. (See Watchdog John Doppler’s explanatory blog post here). ALLi signed up to support the work of these dedicated authors in a variety of ways–as did a number of other author organizations around the world, and thousands of authors and other rights holders.
In December 2020, a public letter hosted by the US Authors' Guild was endorsed by 13,000+ authors, and a wide coalition of international author, narrator, and producer organizations. This led to discussions between Audible and the Authors' Guild, the Society of Authors UK, and ALLi, pushing for more transparent, fair, and equitable terms.
Audible made some apparent concessions (see A note from ACX Nov 24 2020 and An update from ACX, Jan 21 2021 on the ACX blog and a consequent joint statement by ALLi, the Authors' Guild US and the Society of Authors UK), cutting the period for which authors are liable for returns down from 365 days to 7, removing a draconian seven-year lock-in period for some, providing some new flexibility around exclusivity, and agreeing to actually document “returns” and payment deductions, so authors could see what was going on. But these concessions are actually dangerous to authors, if accepted.
They ignore the basic fact that creators should only be responsible for true returns (where less than 25% of the book has been consumed). The authors on the platform never gave their consent to any costs related to “easy exchange” being deducted from their accounts. And Audible still refuses to:
- disclose the amount that has been subtracted from accounts without right holders' knowledge or consent
- make the changes necessary to account only for true returns
- apologise, or make any recompense
- explain how rights' holder commissions are calculated.
Authors and their representative organizations insist that Amazon must pay for its unorthodox swap scheme from its own share of the revenue and that any monies found to have been removed from creator accounts must be returned, with appropriate compensation offered.
ALLi continues in dialog with Audible, hoping to reach a solution, and in support of the authors who have formed a non-profit, The Equitable Rights Movement (TERM), in order to instigate legal proceedings.
‘The name TERM says everything about our stance,' says Susan May. ‘We simply want fair and equitable terms and payment. Our case will be judged on civil law equity and the legal maxims are almost our battle cry. “Equity will not suffer a wrong to be without remedy,” and another, “Equity delights to do justice and not by halves.” And the one I hope we will always remember when this is done, “Equity aids the vigilant, not the indolent.”
We’ve stood by too long ignoring the abuse of our rights because it was all too hard and we as individuals seemed so helpless against the might of a huge, monopolistic company. Together, united, though, we are powerful.’
May and another audiobook author, Colleen Cross, have put their own author-businesses on hold to work fulltime on this campaign. ALLi is pleased to support these dedicated writers and urges you to join the campaign, whether you are an author, organization, publisher or, indeed, a reader who is horrified to know that it is creatives who pay when you, heavily encouraged by Audible, return an audiobook.
Latest Developments: March 2021
This week, Audible has upgraded their dashboard in response to campaign pressure. Check back shortly for guidance on next steps.
Audiblegate Campaign: What you can do
- QUERY: If you’re an audiobook publisher, write to firstname.lastname@example.org and hold them accountable. How do they calculate your payments? Please can they make that transparent? And pay you what you are due, under your contract?
- EMAIL: email@example.com if you can supply evidence of missing monies or other problems, want to share your thoughts, or report on your experience
- SHARE: Share information about #Audiblegate with other authors, publishers, narrators and rights holders
- PETITION: Sign the #Audiblegate petition here
- JOIN: Join the FDRHN Facebook group here
- SIGN UP: Sign up below to be kept updated as this important campaign develops.
- VISIT: #Audiblegate.com here
- FOLLOW: #Audiblegate social media: Facebook here and Twitter here.
- READ: #Audiblegate Blog Posts here
- LISTEN: to the #Audiblegate podcast here