My last post on audiobooks was over 2 years ago and boy have things changed since then.  Today, there’s a struggle between artists and the corporate world when it comes to the licensing rights and contracts involving audiobooks.  Last year saw the controversy involving Amazon’s Audible company where allegations were made that Audible was allowing subscribers to abuse their unlimited returns policy thus creating a library like system.  There were also allegations that Audible was hiding those returns by lumping them in with sales. This was only brought to light when a technical glitch caused three weeks of returns to register in a single day. To make matters worse, Audible bungled the response to this controversy by deploying template emails that never answered any questions, let alone addressed the serious allegations made against them. Things continued to degenerate and the hashtag #Audiblegate was born calling for the boycott of Audible.  As of now, The Authors Guild as well as The Alliance of Independent Authors are involved and are threatening action. 

If you want more information on that debacle, read Writer Beware’s post here. Also, The Alliance of Independent Authors did the math showing how much money authors and narrators actually make at Audible and it ain’t pretty.

Audio rights are becoming a complicated business as technology begins to bring the industry new ways to exploit intellectual property.  This new techonolgy is not a bad thing as long as everyone including narrators and authors are being paid.  It’s clear that things are once again changing in the publishing industry and authors are being confronted with difficult choices concerning their IP.  I believe audiobooks will soon shake up the industry like ebooks did over a decade ago and that excites some authors while terrifying others.  So let’s find out what that could mean for authors…      

Indie Authors Will Have To Reconsider Exclusivity

During #Audiblegate, an author friend of mine said she was so disgusted with Amazon that she wanted to take her books down.  Sadly, she can’t because she is in an exclusive contract with Audible’s ACX which was a royalty share deal and they don’t allow for that.  Keep in mind this contract is seven years long, nearly a decade!

This isn’t just an Amazon issue, authors are signing contracts with traditional publishers that are even worse.  Today’s contracts pretty much take the author’s copyright and never expire.  This should be unacceptable to any author!  However, this is the new norm in the publishing world.  Keep in mind licensing your intellectual property is vital if you’re going to make money.  These days corporations are sitting on a mound of IP as though they are stocks, waiting for their value to increase.  That’s because today, IP is seen as an asset like real-estate or bonds, the more you own, the more valuable your company is.  It’s great for the corporate world, but terrible for authors who only get paid if those rights are exploited, not when they’re held in perpetuity.

If you think all hope is lost think again, in 2020, Findaway Voices offered an alternative to Amazon’s ACX program that gets audiobooks into libraries as well as 40 other retailers so authors have real choices now. This is important considering what’s on the horizon with audio technology.  

AI & Voice Technology

With voice technology and AI, the copyright laws are going to have to be rewritten in order to include these new technologies.  For example, as audio becomes popular worldwide, that means a market exists for audio translations.  AI is predicted to help with some of these translations.  The technology already exists and was displayed at the 2018 Beijing International Book Fair.  AIs can translate books within seconds then those translated versions can be handed over to another AI which can narrate the books in much less time than it would take humans. This will save publishers not only time but money, which they love. However, it will require a new type of licensing rights for AI audio as well as AI audio translations.       

If that weren’t exciting enough, last year Spotify stunned the world when they announced they were going into the entertainment business.  In September of 2020, they signed a deal with Chernin Entertainment to produce movies and TV shows based on some of their podcasts.  As I said in my previous post, I predict Spotify or some other company will begin offering audiobooks narrated by AIs as well as humans.  I can even see authors live streaming their book readings.  It’s also not beyond imaging that there will be different tiers of subscriptions where the AI narrated books cost less than those narrated or performed by voice actors.  I don’t know if Spotify, Google or Amazon, will be the first to pull the trigger but one of these companies will begin offering these services creating a new way for readers to consume audiobooks.

Authors Will Have To Take Control

In order to benefit from these technological advances, we are going to have to be careful with the deals we sign.  We have to start thinking long-term when it comes to our careers and stop signing contracts in desperation.  Remember your IP is now considered an asset and you need to consider how you’ll manage that asset.  Publishers are already gearing up to take advantage of this new wave and don’t want to be left behind like they were during the digital revolution ten years ago. They understand that this will open a source of revenue for their coffers and authors need to make sure we benefit too. If we play our cards right, maybe the stereotype of the starving artist will become a thing of the past.  God knows it’s time to put that one to bed.