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There was an uproar among audiobook authors, narrators, and listeners on Tuesday 27th February when Audible sent out the first quarter royalty statements for audiobooks in the Audible Romance Program. The Audible Romance Program was touted as the Kindle Unlimited for Audiobooks. Listeners were lured in with the chance to listen to unlimited audiobooks for an additional subscription payment of $6.95 per month. Authors were promised extra visibility for their audiobooks, and of course, additional income from Romance package listens.

On opening, the royalties email authors discovered to their horror that the rate for audiobook listens is just 0.04c per minute. For those not so great at Math, that means that an author with 500 hours of listens can expect to make just $28 for the whole quarter.

I’ve use ACX to produce seven audiobooks with narrator Gary Furlong and our first collaboration, M/M Romance “As You Wish” is currently the only LGBT finalists in the 2018 Audiobook Listeners Award Romance Category. My e-books are in Kindle Unlimited, and so the Romance Program for audiobooks sounded like an interesting idea.

Audiobooks have been a nice earner for me—all of them moving into profit within a few months of release. I thought that by putting the first two books in my ‘Shatterproof Bond’ series into the Romance Program, it would entice listeners to pick up the next books—using their Audible credits or cash purchases. I took a leap of faith that Audible would pay us fairly and added five of my titles to the Program in December 2017.

Now that the first three-months results have been revealed there have been winners and losers. Audible/Amazon made money, of course, and listeners have seen the benefit from the program, listening to as many audiobooks as they had time for. I’ve talked with many listeners who use the service, and it’s led them to discover titles by authors they wouldn’t have purchased, so the intent to bring new listeners to our books appears to have worked. But authors and narrators have been the biggest losers. It appears that by rushing this service to market without testing Audible and ACX have landed themselves with huge problems. Romance authors are regretting their decision to sign up. Author, Inger Iverson said in a Facebook comment:

“You know, sometimes we make bad business decisions. Enrolling in the Romance Package was a bad business decision. I can admit that. I messed up here for trusting a corporation. That is ALL on me. I'm just sad that this means newer books from authors won't be enrolled, narrators are adversely affected by it, listeners will miss out on audiobooks that authors can't afford or refused to create, and authors aren't being paid fairly. Everyone is affected by Audible's inability to pay fairly.”

As well as the criminally low pay rate, sales plummeted as the service cannibalized our regular cash and credit sales. That was expected, but I also noticed an increase in returns of previously purchased audiobooks. Some listeners with Audible memberships and the additional subscription to the Romance Package returned books for a refunded credit and then listened to the book ‘for free’ in the program. Author Diane Nelson agreed, “I had few returns until the Romance Package, now I have dozens.”

It’s no surprise that customers thought it was okay to make so many returns when Audible blatantly advertised the returns process avidly as a membership perk—sometimes on

the same page as the Romance Program.

I emailed ACX and Audible about the trend in returns for books in the Romance Program, and they both denied it was happening, even though many other authors and narrators noticed the same abuse of the returns system.

It is clear that Audible has created a monster. I don’t believe they considered the long-term ramifications on the Audiobook Industry as a whole when they devised this program. Honestly, it feels like authors have been part of an experiment and Audible were making things up as they went along. We foolishly expected the Romance Program to be like Kindle Unlimited.

It seems like madness to expect authors to opt into a program that hasn't even been Beta tested and has no proof of success. But we did opt-in and personally; I wish I hadn’t done it. I had a handful of cash/credit sales but my income dropped by over $300. I made a whopping $2.31 from the Romance Package. Several of my author friends were actually in negative figures after purchases were returned and listened to for free.

The damage the Romance Package low pay rate has done is immediately evident if you read the threads on Audiobook Facebook page groups. Listeners are ending their Romance Package subscriptions until Audible prove they will pay authors fairly, and some are even canceling their Audible membership. Authors who were considering investing in audiobook productions are now reluctant to do so. Narrators who earn from royalty share contracts figured that it would take 15,536 minutes for a narrator to get the minimum wage of $7.25/hr. Therefore, narrators have said they would refuse royalty share jobs if the book is to be in the romance program.

Authors with titles in the program who want to get them removed are encouraged to email and list the titles they want to be removed. I have done this and currently don’t know if they will remove my titles or try and keep them for seven years.

I love audiobooks as a listener and creator. The latest Author Earnings data reported a continued increase in growth for audiobooks. It would be such a shame if Audible sabotaged this growth because of this ill-conceived program and their greed.

© Isobel Starling 2018

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