I’m going to warn you right now – this is going to take a wee bit longer than 60 seconds to read. But I promise, it will be worth it.
Several years ago, when ACX announced they were reducing royalties by 20%, doing away with escalating revenue sharing based on sales, while increasing the bounty payment, but only if your book is “the first purchase of a new AudibleListener” the furor among rights holders and narrators alike was visceral, almost universal and, frankly, predictable.
If you didn’t see the notice from ACX in 2014 about this, click on the link below:
We’re posting today with an important update regarding ACX royalty and bounty payments, effective March 12. For titles started on or after March 12, 2014 that are distributed exclusively through Audible, Amazon, and iTunes, a flat 40% net royalty will be paid to the Rights Holder; on royalty share deals, this amount will be split equally between the Rights Holder and Producer. For titles that are distributed non-exclusively, the Rights Holder will receive a flat 25% royalty.
We’re also revising our $25 Bounty program. Now, a $50 bounty will be awarded to the royalty earner every time their book is the first purchase of a new AudibleListenerâ„¢, instead of any of the first three purchases. In royalty share deals, this $50 is still split evenly between the Rights Holder and Producer.
Note that any completed audiobooks – or audiobook productions that have an offer extended to a producer before March 12, 2014 – will still accrue royalties under the existing royalty structure.
We’re sure you’ve got some questions regarding this change, and we’ll answer a few below. You can also visit our FAQ page, or email firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.
What is the reason for this change?
We are lowering the royalties as we continue our mission to accommodate more audiobook productions. Our royalties still remain well above those offered by traditional audiobook publishers. Furthermore, we want to encourage authors and Rights Holders to promote their audiobooks with the increased bonus payment from $25 to $50 (or from $12.50 to $25.00 on Royalty Share deals).
What happens to my existing audiobook contracts?
There will be no change to your existing audiobook contracts. Your existing contracts will continue to accrue royalties under the 50%-90% royalties that escalate for every 500 units sold. In addition, you can now take advantage of $50 bounties.
What happens between now and March 12?
If you make an offer before March 11 at 11:59PM ET, and that offer is accepted before it expires, your book will earn royalties beginning at 50%, escalating up to 90%. If your offer is not accepted, cancelled, or terminated at a later time, the new royalty rate will apply.
We sincerely thank you for your loyalty as an ACX user, and we assure you that the changes detailed here will allow us to continuously work to improve your ACX experience. And remember, you can always contact us to discuss your questions by emailing email@example.com.
Back then, the day we all found out, I asked, “What does this mean to you as a narrator?”
And the consensus was, overwhelmingly, that this was a sucker-punch in the gut. As artists, we were enjoying a free-to-join, free-to-work-on, free-from-commission, artist-friendly so-different-from-Voice123-and-Voices.com site, that let us audition for whatever we want, whenever we want and decide on how we work, how we manage our clients, and how we get paid.
It felt to some like a total betrayal. But to a few, it was taken as a new piece of data to use in their business process, me included.
Today, after all the outrage, the screaming, the open letters, the petitions, the threads and the threats, I’m asking simply, “What did this mean to you as a business person?”
(And I’m now revisiting this issue through the lens of time and distance from the initial righteous indignation I was hearing.)
Business decisions should be, and smart ones are, made in the cold harsh light of logic and economics, not righteous indignation and emotion. Business acumen is rarely about your art, and always about your standards, practices and level of risk aversion (those are fancy words about how financially capable and willing you are to take a chance on something that could go really bad).
So, what did the ACX policy revision mean to your business?
Humor me. Forget for a moment the incessant demonizing of Audible for this. You plays with a monopoly, you takes your chances.
See, the truth is, it was their decision, because it’s their ballgame, their stadium, their league, their rules. We play with Audible because it’s attractive and profitable, money-wise or other-wise. And they have far more narrators than they have books to be narrated – tens of thousands of narrator/producers versus 3,856 titles at this very moment – so it’s a buyer’s market.
And as artists, we’re often tempted to sell our work to buyers for little or nothing.
(I try to lobby against that at every turn, but then, I’m looking out for your ability to pay the rent or mortgage and put food on the table with your art.)
But we all have our own personal business lines that we draw in the sand.
We won’t work for anything less than X, or we don’t do THAT kind of book, or whatever.
Look, don’t get me wrong: 20% was 20%, not 25%. And that was a hit, and continues to be today, no matter how many new Audible Listeners we draw to audible.com and coach on how to accurately make our book their “first purchase.” We were going to make less money than before. 20% less than before. That was the facts.
In any other instance, like a supermarket giving 20% less of a discount, or charging 20% more for their items, you’d maybe do nothing, or maybe, you’d vote with your feet and your wallet and go shop elsewhere.
You could have done that. You could have stopped working for ACX. If enough of us did, they would have had to make some changes pretty fast.
As I said back then, and continue to believe today, I have a feeling not enough of us are willing to do that. I have a feeling that although some of us aren’t willing to take this kind of abuse, others of us don’t look at it as abuse at all – and might have even wanted to have a dialogue with Jason and Mike and the rest of the ACX crew to have found out why this, why then, and why 20%.
The question is: what are you/were you willing to do about it?
Here were some options, options you still have today.
Are you willing to continue to work for them, even at these reduced rates, because things are actually pretty good? I mean, you figure even though a 20% royalty isn’t the 25% royalty it used to be, 20% is still a lot higher than the 1%-3% royalty the authors themselves got as royalties in the old days, right?
Are you willing to try to persuade them to change their mind with a reasonable and professional tone and temperament, but still work for them?
Are you willing to only take reasonably well paying (on par with union rates) PFH books on ACX, and completely abandon royalty share, stipend enhanced or not?
Are you willing to sign a petition demanding change, organize a boycott of Audible’s audiobooks, encourage other narrators not to work for them, and other methods to try to shame them into going back to the old royalty schedule?
Are you only willing to sit on the sidelines and take whatever results the rest of the really exercised narrators are going to get accomplished?
Or, and here’s the big one:
Are you willing to quit working on ACX projects altogether?
Any or all of these were and are completely up to you – and I’d suggest you decide, as an artistic entrepreneur dedicated to making a living at performing.
I did. And I’m still at peace with my decision made in 2014.
So what was my decision? You can read about it here.
So? What wass your decision? Where was your line in the sand? Did it stick? If you decided to continue with ACX, are you glad you did? If you decided not to work with ACX any longer, have you returned? Or are you still ACX-free? Tell me in the comments below.