ALLi Downgrades Amazon ACX to “Caution”
Rising concern over income, customer service, and lack of transparency.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Thursday, November 19, 2020, London, UK: The Alliance of Independent Authors has today downgraded Amazon ACX's rating as a self-publishing service from “Approved“ (via “Pending” during investigation) to “Caution”. The change arises from concerns about income loss from Amazon Audible's refund and exchange policies, and deteriorating customer service to authors and narrators.
ALLi now has reason to believe that Amazon Audible's refund and return policies are resulting in unknown numbers of audiobook authors and narrators around the world being deprived of income.
Audible's payment process, which encourages subscribers to “return” or “exchange” audiobooks for up to a year, is being used as a highly effective promotional tool for Audible, as it provides a nice perk to listeners, but evidence is emerging that whenever an audiobook is returned or exchanged, Audible claws back payment from the audiobook's creators, without their consent, or even their knowledge.
Audible's return and exchange policy is not covered by the agreement rights holders sign with Amazon ACX (Audiobook Creation Exchange), the platform through which authors self-publish audiobooks to Audible and other outlets. There is no mention of the authors’ being liable for such costs in the ACX legal agreements with creators.
Furthermore, these returns are not being recorded on the creators’ dashboards, so it is impossible for authors to know how much this ongoing promotion affects their income.
Multiple inquiries have been made to ACX about the effect of Audible return and refund policies on creator income, to no avail. Now, thanks to the work of a new author pressure group Fair Deal for Rights Holders and Narrators (FDRHN), we are beginning to amass evidence and see the extent of the issue.
FDRHN is growing rapidly and collating escalating evidence and author reports about lost income, poor communication, and lack of transparency.
ALLi has long held that the payment splits at ACX are unfavorable to creators, since a change in 2014 which reduced commission percentages and removed escalated increases for creators. Author-publishers contracted exclusively now receive only a 40% sales commission, and those on non-exclusive contracts only 25%. This share of the payment must be divided between author and other creatives e.g. narrator and producer.
The 60%/75% which ACX takes for providing the platform compares poorly to Amazon's other large self-service publishing platform for ebooks and print books: KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing), where authors receive commissions of up to 70%, KDP's subscription model is based on content consumed, and returns are only accepted for a seven-day period. At Audible, returns are actively encouraged and allowed for up to one year.
KDP transaction reports also have clarity around returns. And offers no “exchange/return” promotions to readers.
On the issue of returns and exchange, ALLi and FDRHN contend that:
- ACX/Audible must immediately cease the practice of deducting payments from authors' accounts when a return is received, outside of a reasonable refund period
- The total number of purchases on author payment dashboards must be shown (not net sales silently adjusted for returns).
- Returns should be counted and recorded but the payment for the original download must remain with the author, no matter how many times the book is exchanged under Audible's subscription terms.
ALLi and FDRHN believe it likely that trade publishers are also affected by Audible's exchange and return policy, which is heavily promoted to listeners.
“We urge ACX to introduce a more equitable payment model for writers and other audiobook creatives,” says Orna Ross, Director of the Alliance of Independent Authors. “Indie authors and narrators are highly appreciative of ACX’s innovative marketplace which allows authors and narrators to create and distribute audiobooks with ease. And of Audible, equally innovative in driving the recent audiobook revolution which has been so enriching for authors and audiobook listeners, especially those who find voice more accessible than text.
“But Amazon's dominant position in the audiobook market cannot be used to deprive authors and other creators of their rightful share of earned income.”
ALLi is also concerned about growing reports of deteriorating customer service at ACX for authors and creators e.g. unexplained code bans, long delays on releases, and poor response times and communication. Our investigation has indicated that a downgraded rating for ACX is necessary until these issues are addressed and reversed.
Says Susan May, author and founder of the Fair Deal for Rights Holders and Narrators Group: “This is a historic moment in publishing where authors across the world, traditionally published and independent, have joined together along with narrators, as a unified voice and force, to right an egregious wrong, and see a fair deal for rights holders and narrators going forward.”
“Transparent and accurate accounting is the most crucial responsibility of any publisher, distributor or self-publishing platform,” says John Doppler, head of ALLi’s Watchdog Desk, which monitors the self-publishing sector, rates the best and worst services, and offers a partner membership to approved services. “Concealing from authors the impact of Audible's policy of allowing return/exchange up to a year after an audiobook has been listened to, and refusing to disclose the number of refunds deducted from the authors' sales, is both a breach of ethics and an abdication of ACX's responsibilities to its authors, producers and narrators. The result is ongoing harm, the true scope of which is obfuscated by Audible's reporting. The practice must be suspended immediately, and amends made to the authors and other rights holders who have been victimized by it.”
ALLi is working closely with FDRHN and further action on this issue is currently being planned in conjunction with other author organizations, and other interested parties worldwide. ALLi urges authors and others to join the FDRHN Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/fairdealwithaudible/
If you are an author, narrator or audiobook lover and would like to tell us your thoughts or report on an experience with Audible or ACX, please email email@example.com.
- Amazon-owned ACX (Audiobook Creation Exchange) is an audiobook marketplace that matches authors with professional narrators and producers and provides a platform for self-publishing authors to produce audiobooks and distribute them on the Amazon retail store, Amazon Audible, Apple iTunes, and other outlets.
- Alliance of Independent Authors is the global professional and business association for self-publishing authors.
- Amazon-owned Audible is the leading global distributor of audiobooks.
- Fair Deal for Rights Holders and Narrators (FDRHN) is a group for authors and narrators who have come together to urge ACX and Audible to give creators a fair deal on audiobook sales.