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Tens of thousands of years ago men and women huddled around campfires and told stories. The telling may have consisted of little more than grunts, gestures and stick drawings, but it was a sharing, a way of understanding the mysteries of the world around them. And it was the beginning of the oral storytelling tradition.

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.

[snip]

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.

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.
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:
“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
GIGAOM
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:
What is the reason for this change?

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.
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.

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
alternate
Sundays
2:00 PM What's on Your E-Reader? Caedy
alternate
Sundays
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 7:30 AM WAYR? plf515
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

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Comment Preferences

  •  Could never get into audiobooks (3+ / 0-)

    It's too passive and I'm too easily distracted.  

    If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich." - John F. Kennedy

    by Dem Beans on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 11:24:56 AM PST

  •  Audiobook fan here (3+ / 0-)

    I've gone through three MP3 players and innumerable earbuds, listening to hundreds of audiobooks from four library systems through Overdrive.

    I can't get my dishwasher emptied or my laundry folded without an audiobook.

  •  Thanks for writing about this development (4+ / 0-)

    I love audiobooks, and this subject definitely interests me.

    Btw and FYI to MMM followers who love audiobooks: Today's audible dot com daily deal is Dick Francis's Blood Sport, only $2.95. I'm sure I've read it, as it came out in 1967, but that was Francis's golden era, and when he was at his best, he was among my few very favorites. (His terrific Whip Hand, 1979, is probably the book that persuaded me to try writing mysteries.) Nts, I just downloaded Blood Sport.

    I recently listened to the audio of a sequel to Whip Hand written last year by Francis's son, Felix. It was definitely not worthy imo of one of mystery fiction's most compelling amateur sleuths, Sid Halley (from Odds Against and Whip Hand -- but not the tepid Sid Halley of Dick Francis's post-prime Dead Cert).

    "Great literature must spring from an upheaval in the author's soul. If that upheaval is not present then it must come from the works of any other author which happens to be handy and easily adapted." Robert Benchley

    by scilicet on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 12:05:59 PM PST

    •  Downloaded Blood Sport but (3+ / 0-)

      I've put off listening to Dick Francis books. I read lots of them back in the 70s/80s, but often his stories have too much pain and sadness for me to want to hear them aloud. He tells the tragedies, to humans and animals, a little too well.

      Can you recommend some Francis titles that are well written but won't wrench my emotions, or is that too fine a request?

      •  alas, best ones always seem to have the "Er..." (3+ / 0-)

        character -- that wonderful unassuming protagonist who says "Er..." whenever complimented -- savaged at a certain point in the book, leaving him bloodied but unbent. (Not that anyone else calls the character Er..., but I always found that shared quality of his protagonists endearing.) As you say, there is a lot of pain and sadness, as well as grit and a happy ending, in his stories.

        His son Felix did write a couple that I thought were good on their own terms though not Dick Francis level good. But you might try his books Silks (about barristers connected to the racing world) and Crossfire (about a sports commentator). If I remember right, they are significantly less brutal but still well-done. (I did not like his newest, Refusal.)

        I can't think of any plots of Dick Francis's best books, though, that don't become emotionally tough in the ways you describe. Or at least my favorites, the ones I remember off the top of my head, all followed the pattern of Whip Hand and Nerve (both hugely important to me when I read them) and Odds Against, Enquiry, High Stakes, Reflex, Banker, Bolt.

        If Whip Hand pushed me to try writing mysteries, Nerve is the book that most crept into my own plotting. In Nerve, Er... is agonizingly in love with his cousin, who because of the blood relationship struggles not to respond. Unconsciously I made this a big element in one of my series. (And hoo boy, did readers hate it.)

        "Great literature must spring from an upheaval in the author's soul. If that upheaval is not present then it must come from the works of any other author which happens to be handy and easily adapted." Robert Benchley

        by scilicet on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 03:56:41 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  You realize, of course, that I am trying to kick (4+ / 0-)

      my addiction to audible.com. ;-)

      They do make it tough, though.

  •  My kids are great readers, (5+ / 0-)

    but, unlike me, they all love listening to books. They found the audio books at the library on their own and started bringing them home. Now as young adults, they still listen to books (and radio plays and broadcasts like Prairie Home Companion, etc.) with much more attention than I ever do.

    Still, this is just another tale of needlessly increasing the profit margin for the company handling distribution only--and some marketing.

    We buy lots of books used and are regulars at the library, but when creative property is being sold and the writer is actually in a position to make a living from her craft, that shouldn't be interfered with for the sake of the distributor's profit.

    Not a great way to encourage quality writers to pursue their craft. It's difficult enough as it is.

  •  As an author, with both print (6+ / 0-)

    and audible novels, this really irritates me. As it is, I get very little royalties for my work. I have 5 novels contracted with audible...not sure I'll contract any more...and will be interested in alternatives.

    I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear. Martin Luther King, Jr.

    by cyeko on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 02:31:23 PM PST

  •  Off-topic, but at least about writing. (5+ / 0-)

    From Robert De Niro, introducing the award for best writing at the Oscars Sunday night:

     "The mind of a writer can be a truly terrifying thing, isolated, neurotic, caffeine-addled, crippled by procrastination and consumed by feelings of panic, self-loathing, and soul-crushing inadequacies. And that's on a good day."

       Cracked me up. Mostly because we all have times when it's so true.

    Confession time: When I'm not ranting about politics, I write romance novels

    by teresahill on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 04:16:25 PM PST

  •  Oh darn, (4+ / 0-)

    I will have to find alternatives as well.
    I spend my spare change on amazon and audible.
    I look forward to your suggestions for book buying methods that best support the authors.

  •  Amazon screws writers and its own employees (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Susan from 29, RiveroftheWest

    It's why I refuse to own a Kindle.  

    This isn't freedom. This is fear - Captain America

    by Ellid on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 01:00:51 PM PST

  •  Love your interesting book diaries, Susan from (0+ / 0-)

    29.  Thanks to you, I'm au courant with the latest trends in e-book publishing.

    I'm glad audiobooks are giving people the pleasure of listening. For those like me, who are so hard of hearing that we have to wear hearing aids, the pleasure is greatly diminished. I'm often unable to make out what people on the screen are saying, even when the volume is turned up and both my hearing aids are in place and turned on.

    At first I thought the problem was with the British accents in "Downton Abbey." However, last night both my husband--whose hearing is perfect--and I watched "12 Years a Slave" and found there were whole passages in the film in which we couldn't understand what the characters were saying!  Drove me nuts.

    So I can't transfer my allegiance from Audible, which I'm not able to use, to another brand, as you are doing. But I will certainly start visiting other e-book sites!

    "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

    by Diana in NoVa on Sun Mar 09, 2014 at 10:01:21 AM PDT

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