#Audiblegate 3: We're not gonna take it! Audible's Response
AND MY/OUR RESPONSE TO THEIR RESPONSE!
Prior Blogposts on Audiblegate: Audiblegate! The incredible story of missing sales Audiblegate 2: The Emperor's New Clothes Policy, Pot Theory, Unicorns & Pirates
Audiblegate erupted in October 2020, after authors discovered Audible had been deducting returns from author's sales to the tune of up to 50% of their earnings. This, thanks to the over-generous and aggressively advertised Great Listen Guarantee with a 365 day window. Almost overnight, authors and narrators formed an alliance and began a sustained email and social media assault on Audible and ACX, (Amazon platform where narrators and authors upload their books for distribution to Audible, Amazon and Apple). Media also took an interest with reports in the UK Guardian and trade media outlets.
Audible/ACX acknowledged the issue by offering a paltry 5% extra for December sales. After it became clear authors still weren't satisfied, in mid-December they offered that from Jan 1, 2021, any return after seven days since sale would not be deducted from the author's sales. For some reason, they're hellbent on offering 365 days returns and making it as easy as possible for members, so that stays.
Sounds like a library still, right? Not to Audible. It's their way of helping authors, they say, because without this guarantee readers wouldn't try new authors. Most authors would argue that point, and I did just that in this post.
The Authors Guild (AG) became involved back in November, authoring a "Letter to Audible" which many organizations and author society's around the world joined. All proclaimed their disbelief Audible would be so bold as to dip its fingers into authors' wallets and hide the fact with opaque reporting.
AUTHORS GUILD & AUDIBLE MEETINGS
Early-December, two meetings were held between AG and Audible's CEO Bob Carrigan, along with two follow up calls directly from Bob Carrigan to Mary Rasenberger, AG Executive Director.
Audible promised they'd send an email to authors before Christmas to update us. They did not. Christmas came and went and still no email. Meanwhile behind the scenes, with a few of us working behind the scenes, new information has been exposed showing that not only is Audible lowering our income with returns, they're not even paying authors and narrators according to their own contract. (More of that in another post.)
So, another meeting is scheduled January 20, 2021 between Audible, Authors Guild and our heroes Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLI). We've managed to score a seat at the table for our own author delegate, Collen Cross, who'll represent our author fight group Fair Deal for Rights Holders and Narrators (FDRHN).
I foresaw more delays in relaying the original outcomes from early December with this upcoming meeting. More loss of momentum. More of the same game Audible plays replying with obtuse, obscure, cookie-cutter responses until the complainant finally gives up. It's like beating your head against a brick wall, and my head is too sore to keep doing that.
We must not allow ourselves to falter. Our fight is too important and authors deserve to be kept up to date.
AG briefed Orna Ross, Director of ALLI and myself in a Zoom call mid-December, in confidence. However, as time marches on with no information released, I feel duty bound to share; my loyalty only to my fellow authors and our narrator partners. Following is Audible's reply to our concerns and demands.
Bob Carrigan, who joined Audible a year ago this month admitted to AG that he's still getting his head around the business, since he's new. Gee, considering his previous role was Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Dun & Bradstreet, and prior to that he held Chief Executive and Executive roles for decades, that's an interesting excuse for not having all the answers. I'd be embarrassed if I was him, unless there's another reason for his supposed lack of knowledge.
AUDIBLE SAY THEY...
Truly value the indie authors and their contribution to the success of Audible and care deeply we are upset, although, (wait for it) ACX is only a small part of their business. Hey, Audible, I'll judge you by your actions. Just a tip in our relationship harmony for you: Putting your hand in author's wallets and then ignoring their complaints and pulling some of their books off your platform while accusing them of fraud, is not caring deeply. We'd debate our lower value in your scheme too since we really think Indie authors supply the bulk of books to Audible, while we have the worst terms know to man. Come on now! Seven year contracts when you don't lift a finger toward production except for your broken down ACX platform, which has probably caused more gray hair and drinking problems in the past two years than can be measured.
Are sticking with 365 days returns but assure us that most people don't listen to the books within 7 days. 60% only start listening after seven days. No supply of evidence of these figures. So, the 7 days of returns for which you expect us to pay, really won't be many returns, Audible? Really? I don't know about you, but 40%, if it's even true, still seems a high risk for authors. Of course, we believe these figure because Audible's been wonderfully forthcoming so far.
Their return terms are within industry standards. No they're not. Let's check: Amazon Prime Video has a 48 hour/0% watched policy on Prime film returns. Amazon Digital educational resources is returnable within seven days of purchase for a resource that has not yet been downloaded. Games, software downloads, and purchases from the Amazon Appstore, the Amazon Digital Music store or the Amazon Video store are not returnable after purchase, unless otherwise specified, but can be returned within 48 hours if a customer hasn't attempted to watch or download it. Google Play’s audiobook policy is “Except as expressly set out in these policies or as required by applicable law, all sales of audiobooks are final, and no returns, replacements or refunds will be permitted. In South Korea, Google will accept refund requests for purchase cancellations that are made within 7 days of sale, as long as the customer has not started listening to the audiobook.” Other audiobook sellers are also not comparable, even if they did have a similar return policy to Audible, which they do not. They don’t widely advertise exchanges as a “benefit” of their service to the outrageous degree of Audible.
Will speak to their customer service people and retrain them. Who trained them in the first place? Must be some cookie-cutter script they're reading off that someone in Audible wrote which says give anyone who asks for a return a refund. In fact, the customer service people could just read the script of the Audible website. "Return your book, no questions asked." Audible could have changed this script months ago... if they were sincere. They could have even changed it before the meetings.
Might consider not advertising the 'benefit' as much, but it's core to their business plan and service and it really helps sell books. That old chestnut again about nobody prepared to take a risk on indies and authors readers don't know. This Great Listen Guarantee wouldn't have something more to do with impeding competition, would it?
Will look into how to stop people overusing the return feature in the future. Isn't this supposed to be part of their setup now? How hard is it to check? Every return is logged against the user. It's still showing in their library. Just a run a report somebody. You, there, drinking coffee in the corner and playing on your phone, run a Goddam report!
Advise keeping an eye on our accounts to see if we notice any changes in returns from their actions in the next few months. They really believe we will see a change. They're confident. Oh, my, we'd love to Audible, but uncertain how we can do this with no returns data and your crazy, needlessly complex payment spreadsheets, and wonky ACX interface.
Would be happy to explain the ALAF calculation in the payment terms of our contract, when asked by AG for clarification, but they would need all day. Gee, great contract writing legal department. Wonder why you made it so confusing? (Coming soon everyone, a blog post showing how they don't even use the ALAF the way they say. Somebody in accounts forgot it was in the contract. Can you imagine?)
WARNING: If you're drinking any kind of drink, please put the cup down now because you'll likely spit it out through your nose.