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Scribd: Audiobook Rights Grab

I’ve been working with the Audiblegate team for nearly a year now, and I’ve been shocked by the information we've discovered about Audible’s monopoly and how other companies are attempting to compete in an industry where it’s hard to get a break because of Audible's stranglehold.

Authors are seeking alternatives to ACX/Audible because of the Audible returns fiasco. I've wondered which audio publishing companies would realize our ire was an opportunity. Which companies would try and scoop up authors who were stalling or stopping independent audiobook production?

The most prominent player to step up and show their cards is Scribd.

Scribd is a vast digital library streaming service. With one monthly payment users can stream ebooks, audiobooks, articles, podcasts, and documents. Scribd has been at loggerheads with Amazon/Audible for years. For instance, in a response to Kindle Unlimited, Scribd notoriously decided in 2015 to start removing Romance and erotica titles from their service because KU made readers read more. Scribd discovered that Romance readers are so voracious that their business model was losing money!

Scribd has been dallying with audiobooks since 2014 when they did a deal with Findaway World.

Now Scribd are upping the ante! Scribd are aggressively acquiring rights from authors who they hope are clueless about the value of their rights – and the value of the Audiobook industry. The audiobook industry is booming and audiobook rights are gold! I can assure you that we will see more companies begin to aggressively acquire audiobook rights – for incredibly tiny payments to authors.

To put this in perspective: The cheapest way for an author to get into audio is Royalty Share. If an author did an RS deal with a narrator for a 5-hour audiobook that book would need to make £1250 for the narrator to break even. (SAG-AFRA union rate is a min $250 per finished hour of audio if the audiobook was paid for up front) The average income per sale on Audible, for example, is $4, that's $2 each for the narrator and author (Rights holder). Over the 7 year deal the book would need to sell 624 copies for the narrator to break even- that's 90 audiobooks per year. If your book is romance, fantasy, historical, SF you will more than likely sell way more that that number per year. Therefore, the narrator will recoup their expenses and both the author and narrator will be in profit over those 7 years. Everything to do with publishing is a risk, but from my experience of having 30 audiobooks under my belt, I believe audio is a risk worth taking.

During my email exchange with Scribd I verified the details of the deal they are offering authors. My conclusion is : The Scribd deal is terrible, possibly the worst I've seen so far, and so I am setting out exactly what this means and why authors should avoid it and should tell their author colleagues to avoid it.

1. Most audiobook production houses offer a full-buyout with a lump sum payment for a 7- 10 year deal OR they offer an advance of $250-1000 and 35% royalties when the advance is earned out. Audiobooks will be sold on the distributor website and sold wide.

2. Scribd is, in their own words 'aggressively acquiring rights'. They want back lists in Romance, Mystery, Historical and SF/F. The deal is a 7-year deal for the e-book AND audiobook rights. There is a one-off payment of $250-1000 for the e-book AND audiobook and NO royalties. The audiobook will initially be sold exclusively on Scribd. The e-book will also be sold on Scribd but you will get NO royalties - for 7 years of sales.

3. The person I emailed at Scribd is the Senior Publishing Operations Associate. They said that in future Scribd hopes to sell on third party sites. From their responses to my questions they were either uneducated in the ways of audiobooks or purposely vague about wide sales. 'It's a very complicated process, apparently'- this is what I was told in an email! Newsflash: OH NO IT ISN'T!!!!

4. When Scribd works out how to sell wide and the audiobook is distributed on third-party retail sites the amount that was initially paid as 'full payment' is then seen as an ADVANCE and the author will be paid a royalty of 25% after the amount is earned out. .

5. As part of the deal, Scribd will also acquire the WORLDWIDE Foreign Rights for the ebook/audiobook. "Our international department is aggressively ramping up, and has hopes of doing translations at some point." Well, if you've read this far and haven't found any red flags, consider that a MAHOOSIVE red flag.

If this is how publishing companies think they need to behave to compete with Audible, they'll need to think again because I will shout from the rooftops about every bad deal I hear about! Scribd are future-proofing their business model by harvesting as many rights as they can get. And, as per usual, the only ones who get a raw deal are us authors.

The Scribd deal is predatory and authors should avoid signing away any rights that they don't have to.

Authors, your rights are valuable - whether a publisher does anything with the rights they acquire or not is moot. International rights acquisition needs its own separate contract and payment. You will earn more by dealing directly with an audiobook distributor and selling wide -whether you do Royalty Share, Royalty Share plus, or pay full 'Per Finished hour'. Any of those options are better than dealing with Scribd.

The only way we authors can get a better deal for our audiobooks throughout the audiobook industry is to make some noise and fight back. Let's shake the boat and show the publishing fat cats that if they want our content then they need to pay us fairly.

© Isobel Starling 2021

Please donate to the #Audiblegate Legal Fund.


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