Audible has a return policy, where people can return audiobooks and get a credit refund, within 365 days. Audible then takes back the royalties they paid to the publishers. The Authors Guild has gathered thousands of signatures from publishers and writers. The letter was sent to CEO Bob Carrigan and general counsel member Stas Zakharenko to “immediately cease the practice of deducting royalties from authors’ and narrators’ accounts when a purchased audiobook is returned or exchanged days, weeks, or even months later, regardless of whether or not they have listened to the entire book.”
The authors state: “This policy is in clear breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing implied in the authors’ agreements with Audible and ACX as it allows books to be purchased and listened to without paying the authors and narrators their royalties.” The guild has also asked the Amazon audiobook subsidiary to display the total number of unit purchases and returns on the author dashboards, rather than just the “net sales” already adjusted for any returns, as is currently the case. It estimates authors could have lost 15%–50% of earnings as a result of the policy.
Audible does not want another legal fight on their hand and bowed to the pressure. Starting January 1st, 2021, the company will pay royalties to authors for any title returned more than seven days following purchase. The company currently deducts royalties from authors’ and narrators’ accounts when a purchased audiobook is returned or exchanged within a year.
A letter from Audiobook Creation Exchange, the networking platform launched by Audible, said: “As you know, we’ve been working to address some ACX authors’ concerns about Audible’s overall exchange policy, and we appreciate your feedback. The intent of this programme is to allow listeners to discover their favourite voice, author, or story in audio. In instances where we determine the benefit is being overused, Audible can and does limit the number of exchanges and refunds allowed by a member. But as designed, this customer benefit allows active Audible members in good standing to take a chance on new content, and suspicious activity is extremely rare. We hope this helps convey perspective to our valued writers and ACX partners as to the impact of our current returns policies. However, in recognition of these concerns, moving forward and effective as of January 1, 2021, Audible will pay royalties for any title returned more than seven days following purchase. This adjustment does not impact our customers’ current benefits of membership, and we look forward to continuing to welcome millions of first-time listeners, enabling our members to discover new content they enjoy and growing the audience for our valued creative partners.”
Audible caved in so easy, because last year they developed a system that would play back text, when listening to an audiobook. This is the same type of thing that Youtube has been doing with videos for years and a number of podcast networks also leverage this technology. Publishers sued Audible and brought them to court, where they battled for five months, until Audible eventually settled.
Michael Kozlowski is the Editor in Chief of Good e-Reader. He has been writing about audiobooks and e-readers for the past ten years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as the CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and the New York Times.