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How The Audible-ACX Returns Policy Penalizes Authors


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https://accrispin.blogspot.com/2020/11/audiblegate-how-audible-acx-returns.html?fbclid=IwAR3ni7CBA-eg5bVOI39RSpBueHq7FjDDBUdPk-yOZ496VCAJ7KOtFX36QfA

 

Do you have audiobooks on Audible, either through your publisher or via ACX? If so, you'll want to head over to author Susan May's blog.

 

 

What follows is a long, detailed account of how Audible-ACX has been, in effect, hiding the volume of audiobook returns from authors by lumping them in with sales. 

 

Here's how it works. Audible-ACX records audiobook sales on a daily basis--but it shows them as an aggregate figure: the total of books sold less books returned. Returns are not broken out separately, and only show up on authors' sales statements if they exceed the number of sales. 

 

Why is this a problem? Well, returns strip authors of income, since authors' accounts are debited for those returns. Of course, returns are a fact of life in the book biz. But Audible-ACX's Premium Plus program--a relatively new membership category that allows readers to make unlimited returns (for books not finished) and exchanges (for books fully read), no questions asked--aggressively promotes returns and exchanges as a reader benefit, likely incentivizing readers to do so.

 

Hiding returns under sales also prevents authors from getting an accurate picture of how their books are doing in the marketplace. If your sales figure is zero, you can't know if it's zero because you've sold no books or because sales and returns cancel each other out. If your sales figure is ten, how many returns--if any--are included? If your sales figure is -5, does that mean five returns total, or were there even more returns that were offset by sales--sales you'll never be able to count because of the aggregate accounting? All of this is information authors need to assess and plan important things like marketing strategies. 

 

More generally, an unlimited returns policy lends itself to abuse. Readers can, for instance, use the monthly credit they receive with their Audible memberships to download and return multiple audiobooks--without paying for any of them. For example, an author who joined Audible as a new customer in order to test the system was able to download and return more than 20 audiobooks in just three days, using the same customer credit. Readers can also load up their devices with multiple books, and then return those books en masse, without penalty, when they don't have time to read them. 

 

In the Facebook group where Audible-ACX authors have gathered to share information and experiences, there's discussion of these and other abuses.

 

Because of the way Audible-ACX treats returns, authors weren't aware of the scale of the problem until this past October, when a technical glitch caused three weeks of returns to be recorded in one day. Suddenly, the returns that had been largely camouflaged by sales when reported on a day-by-day basis sprang into glaring view.  

 

Since then, authors have been emailing Audible-ACX to ask for their returns data, to request that returns be broken out separately from sales, and to request that at least some limits be imposed on returns. "Twenty or thirty odd percent of a book is enough to know if you like the narrator and want to continue," May writes. "This is the return policy we want implemented." 

 

Reportedly, Audible-ACX has responded only with "cookie-cutter" replies that ignore the requests. Amazon and its companies are famously black boxes, and frequently take unilateral actions they decline to explain. So this is about what you'd expect. But that doesn't make it right. 

 

Susan May and others are advising writers to put their audiobook projects on hold until Audible addresses the problems. In the meantime, the Authors Guild and the Alliance of Independent Authors are going to bat for Audible-ACX authors. ALLi has received a "we take your concerns very seriously" response from Audible, saying that they are "actively reviewing this policy with the feedback under consideration." Per a media release on November 19, ALLi has downgraded ACX from an "approved" service to "pending", until a satisfactory answer is provided.

 

For more reporting, see this post from Nate Hoffelder at The Digital Reader, this YouTube video from writer Daniel Greene, and this post from writer Kyle West. Or check out the #Audiblegate hashtag on Twitter.

 

Authors are welcome to join the Fair Deal for Authors and Narrators Facebook group, where Audible-ACX authors and others have come together to try and work for change. Authors aren't the only ones who are affected: narrators who've accepted a profit share as payment are also losing income. 

 

Returns aren't the only issue with Audible-ACX, by the way. Susan May indicates in her post that there are substantial delays on approval of finished audiobooks (pre-dating the pandemic), and last year I wrote about problems with rights fraud and inexplicably withdrawn promotional codes. 

 

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This is an issue that's been going on for a long time, but I'm glad it's finally getting the attention it deserves. It's a scandal. ACX recently sent an email to its content providers where for the first time it gives lip service to these concerns. And yet the marketing material for new customers still tells them how easy it is to swap and return books.

 

Thankfully, Bookfunnel just yesterday unveiled a new feature. It's now possible to use them to deliver audiobooks. It's very good news indeed.

Edited by EBraten
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6 hours ago, EBraten said:

 

For anyone who's interested, there's been movement on this issue. Audible seems to be feeling the heat and has made some concessions, but authors and narrators say it's not enough.

 Thanks for this article too!

I hope this current issue gains them some traction to deal with the bigger issue of intellectual property theft. ACX does not check that the person putting a book up for production is actually the rights holder. 

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