Then mankind learned how to preserve its tales. From petroglyphs and pictographs to papyrus, parchment and paper, our stories have remained with us through generations.
Our ability to preserve our stories has only increased with technology. We can now marvel at the beauty of the Book of Kells, and at the tiny space required for an entire digital library. We no longer need to gather around a fire to share stories, we can read them at our leisure and in the comfort of our own homes.
Losing the oral tradition of storytelling, be it around a campfire or a radio, makes me a little sad. Perhaps that is why I fell in love with audiobooks. Something magical happens when you listen to a voice tell you a story; there is some special quality that is absent in the written word. Perhaps it is in the intonation, or the timing, or simply in the connection between the speaker and the listener.
The digital era has created a boom in the sales of audiobooks. No longer do we need to shuffle CDs into that narrow slot in a car's stereo (although you still can, if you prefer), instead, we can just tap a button on a smart phone and use bluetooth to mysteriously send the story to the car's speakers or the listener's headset. Audiobooks have become truly portable. And thanks to Amazon, affordable.
Or so it would seem.
But it is Amazon we are talking about.
A couple of weeks ago, in eBooks: Amazon & the Author Earnings Report, I wrote about how difficult it is, as a consumer, to hate a company that works so hard to provide the best service at the best prices and with the least hassle that shopping has ever known. But Amazon's size and its control of the ebook market, especially of the self-published genre fiction, has helped to overcome my resistance.
Amazon snuck up on the publishers with its Kindle readers and its plan to sell ebooks at cost, or less, in order to sell the e-readers which carried a pretty hefty price tag. (Thanks to the handy records that Amazon keeps of my purchases, I can confirm that my first Kindle, the DX model, cost me $489.00 in May of 2009.) By the time the publishers realized how successful Amazon had become in marketing ebooks, it was too late to do much of anything but conspire with Apple to illegally force an increase in their prices.
Well, I hate to break it to the Big Five, but Amazon is stealing a march on them in the audiobook market as well. Look quick; they are doing it again.
In 2007, Amazon bought Brilliance Audio, a producer of audiobooks.
In 2008, it acquired Audible. According to the history page of the Audible.com website, it was founded by Donald Katz in 1995 and introduced the first digital audio player two years later.
In May of 2011, Audible launched the Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX) which promised to put together audible rights holders with producers to create audiobooks. Which it did, successfully. Less than a year later, in April, 2012, Audible Author Services, "a program to encourage authors to connect directly with the rapidly growing audience of audiobook listeners," is begun, backed by a $20 million fund which would pay writers $1 for each audiobook sold. Within five months of that, Whispersync was introduced to Amazon readers. Now they could switch back and forth between their Kindle books and Audible books.
At the same time, the sale of audiobooks began to rise. Last summer, the Wall Street Journal reported that
Audio books have ballooned into a $1.2 billion industry, up from $480 million in retail sales in 1997. Unit sales of downloaded audio books grew by nearly 30% in 2011 compared with 2010, according to the Audio Publishers Association.Under the business model that Amazon created, Audible, through the ACX, would match the writer up with a producer, or rather would provide auditions of multiple producers for the writer. The writer, or rights holder, would then bear the cost of the production, either through direct payment, or by allowing the producer a 50% share of the royalties.
Audio book producers have been dramatically increasing their output. 13,255 titles came out in 2012, up from 4,602 in 2009, according to the Audio Publishers Association.
Until now, these royalties have been pretty generous: Creators who agreed to sell exclusively through Amazon and Audible got a rate of 50 to 90 percent, depending on the number of units sold, while creators who chose the non-exclusive option got a royalty rate between 25 and 70 percent. On Thursday [Feb 27, 2014], however, Audible announced in a blog post that it’s lowering and flattening royalty rates:So, now, Audible, which is neither editing, publishing or producing the audiobook, finds it needs to claim 60% of the income. What is laughable, coming from a firm that is supposed to deal in the spoken word, is the FAQ that ACX put on its website to answer the number one question in the minds of the content providers:
“Effective for projects started on or after March 12, 2014, titles distributed exclusively to Audible, Amazon, and iTunes will earn a non-escalating 40% royalty paid to the Rights Holder (or, on Royalty Share deals, split equally between the Rights Holder and the Producer). Non-exclusively distributed books will earn a non-escalating 25% royalty through Audible, Amazon, and iTunes.”Laura Hazard Owen
What is the reason for this change?There must be a universe in which that explanation actually means something, but I doubt that it is the same one that 99% of us occupy. As you might imagine, the feedback in the Comments of the ACX's webpage is rather strident. But at least it is literate.
We’re really proud of the innovations ACX has pioneered, including our aggressive payment structure and royalty sharing programs—and we are especially proud of the number of ACX audiobooks earning growing royalties. We are committed to continuing our record of innovation and creating and expanding opportunities for more rights holders and producers in 2014—both current users and those new to the service.
The comments and the story are ones that Hugh Howey and his Data Guru at Author Earnings Report might want to keep in mind as they prepare their statistics on self-publishing. As long as Amazon controls the market, they can pretty much do whatever they like. And as they have just shown us with Audible, they will.
For myself, I have no dog in this race, except as a book reader and lover. I own no shares of Amazon nor have I any books to publish. My concern is simply that of one who has come to cherish the storytelling experience. I like the different voices that tell me tales late into the night. In a way they make me feel like I am part of a tradition that goes back to man's early days on this planet.
And until now, it was so easy to spend a couple of dollars to buy the Whispersync audio to accompany my ebook. One person has little influence on a market, but my decision to look elsewhere for audiobooks isn't made for that reason. It is made because I am not comfortable participating in a scheme to pick the pockets of the writers who give me so much pleasure.
The next week will be devoted to a taking look at what other options are available for a recovering Amazonaholic.
Readers & Book Lovers Series Schedule:
|DAY||TIME (EST/EDT)||Series Name||Editor(s)|
|SUN||6:00 PM||Young Reader's Pavilion||The Book Bear|
|2:00 PM||What's on Your E-Reader?||Caedy|
|2:00 PM||Bibliophile's Wish List||Caedy|
|Sun||9:30 PM||SciFi/Fantasy Book Club||quarkstomper|
|Bi-Monthly Sun||Midnight||Reading Ramblings||don mikulecky|
|MON||8:00 PM||Monday Murder Mystery||michelewln, Susan from 29|
|Mon||11:00 PM||My Favorite Books/Authors||edrie, MichiganChet|
|TUES||5:00 PM||Indigo Kalliope: Poems from the Left||bigjacbigjacbigjac|
|alternate Tuesdays||8:00 AM||LGBT Literature||Texdude50, Dave in Northridge|
|alternate Tuesdays||8:00 AM||All Things Bookstore||Dave in Northridge|
|Tue||8:00 PM||Contemporary Fiction Views||bookgirl|
|Wed||2:00 PM||e-books||Susan from 29|
|Wed||8:00 PM||Bookflurries Bookchat||cfk|
|THU||8:00 PM||Write On!||SensibleShoes|
|Thu (first each month)||11:00 AM||Monthly Bookpost||AdmiralNaismith|
|alternate Thursdays (on hiatus)||11:00 PM||Audiobooks Club||SoCaliana|
|FRI||8:00 AM||Books That Changed My Life||Diana in NoVa|
|alternate Fridays||8:00 PM||Books Go Boom!||Brecht|
|Fri||10:00 PM||Slightly Foxed -- But Still Desirable||shortfinals|
|SAT (fourth each month)||11:00 AM||Windy City Bookworm||Chitown Kev|
|Sat||12:00 PM||You Can't Read That! Paul's Book Reviews||pwoodford|
|Sat||9:00 PM||Books So Bad They're Good||Ellid|