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The harmful impact of Audible-exclusive audiobooks (libro.fm)
168 points by edward 16 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 142 comments



This argument doesn't seem particularly strong.

First of all, for books that are entertainment (most fiction), how is this any different from series that are exclusive to Netflix? The answer given by the author is a non-answer, claiming you can "buy DVD's online". Yeah right, please show me where I can buy Tiger King on DVD? I didn't think so.

Second, for books that are more in line with libraries' missions to make information accessible for an educated citizenry, the original print and ebooks are still available, right? And if you have vision impairment, there are also methods for automated screenreading, since most books don't have audiobook versions.

So I don't really see any valid complaint here except "we want to sell things exclusive to other stores" which, yeah, and I'd like to have a billion dollars.

If you want to have the conversation that there should be laws breaking up creation and distribution and making exclusive distribution illegal, then go ahead, but that would shake up everything, a pretty radical change. But if you're not going to go there, then there's no reason why audiobooks shouldn't be exclusive while other things get to be.


If you want to have the conversation that there should be laws breaking up creation and distribution and making exclusive distribution illegal, then go ahead

There are laws for this in some industries in the United States.

Movie studios aren't allowed to own theaters anymore. Beer companies aren't allowed to own bars anymore. Car manufacturers aren't allowed to own auto dealerships. Most television shows are decoupled from the distributors, which is why you see things like a big extra Sony or CBS Television Distribution logo at the end of a sit-com rerun.

I'm not sure that what's happening with audiobooks rises to the level of the problems we used to have with "tied houses" (bars only allowed to sell a certain brand of beer), or movie company vertical monopolies of the past.


If that applied to the internet, then the first order of business would be to decouple ISPs, media distribution and content creation.

Unfortunately, ISPs can have a streaming television services that are exempt from data caps while customer access to netflix is capped.

That said, I think a lot of netflix shows do show up on DVD.

I saw a box for Stranger Things that was actually really cool -- the dvds were packaged in a giant VHS box. :)


> Movie studios aren't allowed to own theaters anymore.

Apparently this rule was just governed by a consent decree, which never covered Disney and is being removed by the current DoJ:

https://www.indiewire.com/2019/11/paramount-consent-decrees-...


> Beer companies aren't allowed to own bars anymore.

I thought it was the opposite, where breweries can sell for on premise consumption, but not off premise?


It used to be that breweries would own chains of bars in the United States. Similar to the way you can only buy Exxon gas at an Exxon station. That was made illegal.


I don’t think there are any laws that say a brewery can only sell to on-premise accounts but not off-premise.

There are often laws regarding how many locations a brewery can own themselves for on-premise sales that is usually tied to some production cap.

These laws vary from state to state.


> Car manufacturers aren't allowed to own auto dealerships.

Tesla has been working on changing / getting around this.


> Yeah right, please show me where I can buy Tiger King on DVD? I didn't think so.

Netflix has released dvds for many of its original shows, house of cards, Orange is the new black, stranger things, etc. They haven’t released a dvd for tiger king, but may eventually.


I'm pretty sure Netflix didn't release any of those. If DVDs exist, they are published by the studio who made the show. For example, I just looked at HoC season 1, and it is released by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

https://www.amazon.com/House-Cards-Season-Kevin-Spacey/dp/B0...


The Stranger Things DVD set comes in a giant VHS box, pretty cool.


> How is this any different from series that are exclusive to Netflix?

Netflix is a subscription, but Audible sells things: their subscription provides credits that can be used to purchase audiobooks below list price, but you don’t lose access if you discontinue the subscription.

As this is a purchase-like transaction instead of a broadcast-like transaction, it’s reasonable to assume it should work like other purchases. That includes the right to transfer ownership to someone else, either temporarily (loan) or permanently (gift/sale).


> but Audible sells things

they also have Audible Originals, which you don't need to buy but can access while on subscription


That isn’t really the case with any digital purchases is it? Or very few.


That depends on what you consider a digital purchase. DVDs, CDs, and game cartridges are nothing but physical manifestations of digital data, and everyone was allowed to loan or resell those. Books arguably are, too, and have hundreds of years of established legal precedent.

Why should this newcomer (downloads) be treated differently without specific legislation?


Not sure about US, but for EU (and IANAL):

In case of physical manifestations, there is an ownership of the physical medium, and copyright rights are 'subservient' to ownership transfer/loan of mediu through 'first sale' doctrine.

For intangible copyright works (e.g. downloadable software), it is just contract and there is no transfer of ownership.

There is specific legislation that establishes 'first sale' doctrine for intangible software, but not for other copyright works.

See https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=449a705d-d76a... (or http://archive.is/GZ6mX )


The current situation is similar in the US, except for the extra enabling legislation. Copyright law was never intended to completely prevent the secondary market, because nobody envisioned technology that would make ownership transfer impossible without making copies— a consumer would always have an “original” that the author was paid for and could be given away freely.


One major ideological difference between Netflix' 'Tiger King' and the Audible exclusives is that the 'Tiger King' wouldn't exist without Netflix' funding. The Audible exclusives would have; were already written by the time Audible threw money at them.


Yes it would exist because netflix acted merley as the distributer for Eric Goode's docu series which he started filming in 2014. So not so much difference after all.


Time to cite sources, because neither of those sound like they're true? Tiger King would have been made by HBO, or Amazon Video, or etc. (Tiger King was not commissioned by Netflix, it was pitched to Netflix).

Similarly, I'm pretty sure Audible commissions plenty of works rather than only reaching exclusivity agreements about already published works.


My impression is that Audible does explicitly fund some exclusives. This is especially the case for "Audible Originals" which are a sort of gray area between Audible Exclusives and podcasts.


> If you want to have the conversation that there should be laws breaking up creation and distribution and making exclusive distribution illegal, then go ahead

To begin that conservation, briefly, let me propose that the law should say that once annual sales of a media work are less than, for example, 10% of the peak number of annual sales for that work (in any year so far), any exclusivity deal should become void.

How that would apply to media works that are locked to a specific format (i.e. console games) is less clear. Perhaps if you are porting a game from Nintendo to PC, you should have to change all the trademarks, so that any bugs introduced by the port are associated with the PC version rather than reflecting badly on Nintendo.

There would probably also have to be very careful accounting of how much money went into the creation of a media work, so that a fair price could be set for an independent distributor buying the rights to distribute it.


> There would probably also have to be very careful accounting of how much money went into the creation of a media work

Probably won’t be a big issue because (for example) the film industry is known for being very transparent with its bookkeeping processes.


Netflix exclusives do get released on disk eventually. Maybe not all of them, but I found e.g. Lillyhammer and House of Cards on Amazon.


This is a continuation of a trend found throughout our purchasing life: exclusives are generally harmful to customers. This is specifically because an exclusive represents an artificial loss of choice.

They are, however, very lucrative to creators and the distributors, so I have high doubts that the concept of 'the exclusive' will ever go away.


From what I can tell, exclusives generally seem to time out, and then wider distribution happens.

I'm uncertain if that is a general rule and what kinds of exceptions we see.

But I do find it annoying when a behemoth messes with classic stuff I grew up with. I didn't like "I, Robot" in full hollywood regalia, and I think apple might not be a good representative for Foundation. (both classic Asimov)


Harm means to hurt or injure. If I write a book and exclusively circulate it among my closest friends, am I harming you because there is 1 less book you for you to happen upon?


This is a distinct usecase from only offering it through, for example, Barnes and Noble. The former (sharing exclusively among friends) is not necessarily harmful, the latter (only selling through one vendor) is.


I think his point is that if you create an audiobook and then limit how you sell it, you are creating more choice then if you didn't create the audiobook at all. You're saying it's different but you aren't saying how. How does creating additional choice harm the consumer?

I'm not making an argument either way, just trying to clarify positions.


The real answer is, very few authors say “oh I have a great idea for a book that I’m only going to sell through Audible!” They have an idea for a book that they want to sell, and then through licensing deals and marketing it becomes an Audible exclusive.

So the choice is created when the author decides to write a book. The choice is restricted when the author or publisher decides to offer it only on Audible. Writing a book is “creating more choice”, offering that book exclusively through one reseller is limiting that choice.

You might make the argument that this is just capitalism and the free market doing its job, but to keep healthy competition alive capitalism is generally regulated to keep the biggest players from dominating the entire market. Amazon and B&N might have the money to fight over exclusive rights to a book, but smaller bookstores don’t. This creates a barrier to entry for any new or smaller stores who want to compete in the book market. The reason regulators watch for this kind of stuff is because Amazon has the money and the audience to completely lock out any competitors they want, singe-handedly destroying the free market.

Amazon doesn’t need an exclusive deal in order to sell books. They need exclusive deals in order to put their competitors out of business.


I wholly support this answer.

I will add a caveat - I'm mostly OK if Audible is proactively paying the author (and the voice actor(s), director, sound engineer, et.al.) to create a work that would not normally exist.

There's no indication that this is the case with most of these exclusives.


The way I read that, the problem isn’t exclusive deals. It’s Amazon signing exclusive deals.

What do you think about this: authors can sign exclusive with non-monopolistic entities?


Just my opinion but I would say that’s fair. That’s such a bad idea if you care about profits and wide exposure that there’s almost no economic incentive to sell a book but exclude selling it on Amazon or B&N, you’re just throwing away money. Which, in a free market, you should be able to do at your own discretion.

The problem only comes if the biggest players in the space use their power and influence (read: money) to keep smaller competitors from having a chance.


Now please apply the same logic to piracy.


Yes, because your friends have access to information which may benefit them in ways that are deprived to me without the same information.

I’m not saying this should be legal / illegal / “right” / “wrong” - just that at a fundamental philosophical level if you create something and restrict its distribution, you are changing the world (the pool of total content / information) in a way that by definition harms some people.

This could be true in many ways. If you only produce printed copies, you’re harming blind people. If you only produce English copies, you’re harming speakers of other languages. If you only produce DRM’d copies through an exclusive distributor, you’re harming all parties that can’t access that channel of distribution.

Whether it’s ok to perpetrate this harm, as well as when and how and who should foot the bill for wider distribution, are very hard problems of the philosophy of population ethics.


I'm not exactly the kind of person that would support Amazon on anything, but this is sort of what "exclusive" means, you know. So this amazed tone he uses to repeat you cannot sell "exclusive" stuff at other places is pretty silly.


The real issue is the circumvention of the first sale doctrine. Before the download era, licenses were mostly attached to physical media that could be given, resold, or loaned out. By eliminating the physical artifact, modern content companies are exploiting a loophole in consumers’ traditional resale rights.


It's not really a loophole: you can't sell a digital copy because without a physical medium you can't sell _your_ copy. You could take money, and then transmit the bytes that make up the thing you bought to someone in exchange, but those bytes are copies of your version, they are not themselves the original.

Could you put your file on a harddisk and sell that? Again, no, because writing it to disk _creates a new copy_, so now you're violating copyright.

There's actually pretty solid legal argument for first doctrine not applying to digital media.

However, things get more interesting when you're selling your _license_ or your _access_ to some content. For example, can you sell your entire account to someone else, so that they now have access to what you no longer have access to? Depending on where you live: yes, you can.


> There's actually pretty solid legal argument for first doctrine not applying to digital media.

Of course there is. When someone uses a loophole, they’re doing something legal to get an unintended or nonobvious benefit— If an activity isn’t legal, it isn’t a using a loophole: it’s just fraudulent / criminal behavior.

The net effect of moving from producer-supplied media to consumer-supplied media has (among other things) resulted in a de facto curtailment of historical consumers’ rights, despite nobody doing anything illegal. The original drafters of copyright simply didn’t envision a world where products would be regularly delivered in a form that couldn’t be physically separated from the purchaser’s other posessions.


The original drafters of copyright have not been relevant to copyright law for an incredibly long time: we've revised it so many times that unless you want to invoke the most recent judges and lawyers involved, this argument has nothing to do with actual reality.

How is this different from a band performing exclusively live to people who buy tickets and actively disallowing recordings? Or what about a Broadway show that doesn't have a recording?

Should we force all performers to make their content available to buy to anyone across the world? I'm not necessarily against this, but it would be quite a big change.


In Audible’s case, they’re already selling access to a recording in perpetuity; your examples are all live performances. There’s a colorable distinction here, and there’s no need to force people to make recordings if they don’t want to.

A harder question is where the line between these two regimes should be: movie theaters and television stations are generally treated like performances despite showing recorded content. Netflix acts like a rental company: when you drop your subscription, you lose access to their library.


Well, stretching the analogy a bit, a lawyer could argue that Netflix's act of streaming a piece of content is a live performance - you're not paying for the video, but rather to access this "Netflix theatre".


>Or what about a Broadway show that doesn't have a recording?

I was lamenting (in the context of Hamilton) that relatively few Broadway shows--or, really, theater of any kind--have video versions available, even straightforward one or two camera versions.

I expect it's mostly some combination of rights and a desire not to diminish the somewhat exclusive nature of live theater. The main exception I can think of is opera mostly because of The Met Live in HD although there are a few others like The Globe (of course, Shakespeare's plays aren't under copyright).


I suppose the problem is that digital products don’t degrade. Buying a used DVD for example is a choice to save some money for a product that’s worn. Lending is an interesting one though.


I feel the author is writing about the ability of Amazon to use it's size to create a hostile environment for smaller companies. If you take a large enough portion of quality books and offer the author cash to make them exclusive then you'll shut down competition.

There is obviously a grey area here. I don't know how much Amazon is in the business of creating books (i.e. hiring authors to write them).

The main difference is see between this and Netflix exclusives is that Netflix takes an active have in making their own content (it's a Netflix movie, not a X director movie on Netflix), they have competition in the marketplace and the financial dynamics of movies is different from books.


>it's a Netflix movie, not a X director movie on Netflix

The Irishman and Da 5 Bloods are very much a Scorsese film and a Spike Lee joint.


There are ALWAYS exceptions to rules. It serves much better to read comments as "in most cases".


I don't think this is their biggest problem. Libro.fm is selling their audiobooks at what appears to be some kind of absurd MSRP.

Audible offers audiobooks at that price point too, but you'd have to be an idiot to pay it. Amazon will sell you the Audible version of a book you've purchased the Kindle version of at a steep discount. So steep that purchasing the ebook+audiobook is cheaper than purchasing the audiobook by itself.

Compare the pricing for All Creatures Great and Small, which is atypical mostly in that the combined-purchase discount is unusually stingy:

Libro.fm: $37.94

Audible: $29.99

Kindle+Audible: $17.48

I don't like buying DRMed audiobooks, but it's not that hard to justify at $2.99.


Their prices is one problem, being completely unable to post a book at the price is another.

It's also worth noting that making audiobooks is very labor intensive, and Amazon/Audible can offer some of their prices only via the economies of scale. It's also possible that they're offering books at a loss to push out other audiobook sellers - an extension of their efforts with exclusives.


> making audiobooks is very labor intensive

I don't think it's any way close to writing a book first. But books are priced way cheaper for some reason.


A 10 hour audiobook (which is about 90k words) requires:

- About 20 hours of a voice actor's time

- About 40 hours of a sound engineer's time

- About 30 hours of a director's time

Plus recording booth facilities. Some basic Googling puts the actual cost in excess of $200 per finished hour of recording.

Books have a broader distribution than audiobooks, on an order of magnitude (or two) scale. That's the primary reason why they're inexpensive. Audiobooks are still a bit of a niche market, though Audible/Amazon are doing a lot to increase the size of the market.

EDIT: I did a bit of research, and it seems like freelance writers can earn between $0.02 to $0.20 per word, which for a 90k novel works out to up to $18,000; less than the finished audio book. Take that how you will.


>A 10 hour audiobook (which is about 90k words) requires

I don't think that word means what you think it means. It's completely possible for an author to record their own audiobook in professional quality audio with a fairly minimal investment. If they don't have a good narration voice then that's going to hurt them, but it can all be done by the author themselves at no extra cost apart from their time, a decent microphone, a computer, and a quiet place to record.


How does the adage go: a professional will cost you less than DIY, for the same quality of work. For all intents and purposes, yes, an author is completely capable of recording their own audio book.

But - and this is a big but - it's most likely going to sound pretty bad. It will have a small dynamic range (lack of an audio booth and quality microphone), the quality of the various voices will typically be poor (voice acting), there will be essess and 'plosions all over (pop screens, high pass filters, de-essing filters), there will be volume and tone changes where fixes are cut in (voice acting experience), and in the worst cases there will be background noises throughout (recording space and post-processing).

It could also take them between 2x and 10x as long - time where they aren't writing - since they don't have the experience required to do efficiently record, edit, and clean up their work.

I've recently been listening to fan narrations of light novels, and these are the kinds of problems that crop up all over these fan works. I don't mind in these cases, because they're free.


You can hire a professional to record an audiobook for $200-$300 per finished hour all in cost, there are some cheaper rates available. A 90k word book, should be about 7.5 hours since the usual reading pace is about 12k words per hour. Recording the audiobook should be about $1500, and you'll need to pay for cover art rights and some modest design work. All in production costs for audible of about $2k.


Unless you can strip the DRM, you're not buying.


It's actually quite easy to strip the DRM on Audible using ffmpeg - which I do to keep an archive of all my purchases.

There's a script on github to get the encryption key for your account by letting it sign in for you.

Then from there it's easy to get ffmpeg to turn the DRM aac to a mp3


Is there a tutorial on how to do this somewhere... I’ve got 5 or 6 audible books I’d like to backup.


You can use this to get your activation bytes from Audible servers:

https://github.com/inAudible-NG/audible-activator

Or this, to crack the activation bytes in an existing .aax file, offline:

https://github.com/inAudible-NG/tables

Both methods are easy. It's then a case of using FFmpeg with an -activation_bytes parameter to convert to MP3 or whatever (or just remux into an M4A/M4B without transcoding). Tutorial here:

https://www.kylepiira.com/2019/05/12/how-to-break-audible-dr...

There are a bunch of other tools (both commercial and free) which use the above techniques but add either a nice CLI or GUI. The original was Inaudible itself, which can be found on your favourite torrenting site. Alternatively you can grab it from here, but I'm not sure how up-to-date it is:

https://github.com/rmcrackan/inAudible


inAudible works quite well, it turns out.


Is this legal? I sort of assume it isn't, in which case why bother? It seems faster/easier just to pirate from the get go.


> It seems faster/easier just to pirate from the get go

Then the author doesn't get paid. That's the difference; buying an encumbered file and removing the encumbrance still pays the creator.


The creator presumably gets a very small cut. If you want to pay the creator, why not send the full price, or some amount, directly to them?! I'm sure they would appreciate that.


Why not borrow audiobooks from a local library?


I do, but that's the point of the article, that Amazon/Audible exclusives are not available to libraries for electronic lending.

At that point, a prospective customer has two choices: Not buy (which is the choice I largely make), or buy from the sole source and remove the DRM.


> Then the author doesn't get paid.


In England: format shifting isn't a criminal offence (unless you do enough of it to affect business, or you do it as part of a business). The rights holders could sue to recover the cost of the media, but it's confusing what that would be. It keeps going into and out of law -- sometimes it's allowed, sometimes forbidden. I have no idea what the status is now. There's potentially something there about circumventing a technical measure, but again that's not a criminal offence.

There are exceptions if you're making something accessible.

https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1988/48/section/107

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/...


Copyright infringement is generally a criminal act if the act of copying provides an expectation of any type of monetary gain, where monetary is broadly defined to be anything of value [1][2].

So removing the DRM on something that you already have a license to consume? Not a copyright infringement crime. Sending a copy of the DRM free product to a friend who hasn't bought a copyrighted version? Yes a copyright infringement crime. Removing the DRM that limits your ability to consume the product unless you buy a specially licensed version of the product, when you haven't paid for it, yes a copyright crime.

[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyright_infringement [2]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_Electronic_Theft_Act


Removing the DRM is a DMCA violation though, even if you have no intent to distribute. The doctrine of first sale was gutted for digital content because Congress is in the pocket of big companies.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_Millennium_Copyright_A...


When the Learning Disabilities Association complained that the DMCA prohibited people with disabilities from removing DRM to enable their products to work with assistive tools, no change was made to the law as it was deemed the law does not prohibit DRM removal in this case. The Entertainment Software Association stated [1]:

> In addition, DIYAbility’s initial comments do not provide sufficient information to know whether what it would like to do would actually violate Section 1201, rather than, for example, being permitted by Section 1201(f).

Here's a link to section 1201(f) of the Circumvention of copyright protection systems references reverse engineering [2].

[1] https://www.regulations.gov/contentStreamer?documentId=COLC-...

[2] https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/17/1201


So you won’t know until the MPAA is suing you for a trillion dollars because you wanted to watch your DVD on your phone.


> It seems faster/easier just to pirate from the get go.

Others have pointed out that authors won't get paid that way. But I also disagree that it is faster or easier to pirate. First you have to have a decent source (or multiple sources) to search for the books, hope that they are decent enough quality, hope that they have enough peers that you don't have to wait a day to download the book, etc. By contrast, on Audible you press one button to buy and another to download. Even when you take into account any DRM removal, the necessary time and effort are much lower.


I don't consume audio books so I certainly don't pirate them but most of the cost of piracy is frontloaded into 5-10 minutes finding a decent resource and then is as easy to use as any other resource.

This actually mirrors the time where someone who was interested in audiobooks would take to find a source to shop for audiobooks, create an account, confirm the email validation, enter payment info and start buying.

As a test I entered stephen king audiobook into my torrent client's built in search engine and got 210 results any of which can be added with a click. The worlds most well known piracy site is even better listing a torrent with 70 people with 68 different audio books by king among many other torrents.

Piracy is trivial enough a 7 year old can do it.


I don't think most audiobook listeners care about this distinction enough to overcome the price difference.


Until all their "purchased" books get into the DRM graveyard because in fact they did not purchase anything.

I lost access to all my "purchased" Amazon Kindle books when they blocked my account and no amount of calls and explaining allowed me to at least get my "purchased" content. Since then I created r/drmgraveyard to follow up the dead of DRM encumbered services.


The curse is that, like targeted social engineering, it doesn't happen to enough people enough of the time to change behavior.

How many people use Steam knowing and caring that you can't enter offline mode to play your games unless you connect to the internet every month?


If you listen regularly, the Audible membership is even better... $23/month for two books, and 30% off on everything past that. So that can get the per book cost down to under $12


I really hate their dark-pattern of holding your credits hostage if you want to pause your account. I have like 10 credits that I don't want to spend right now, I'm backed up and hardly reading and I can't pause my Audible membership that's $24/mo without losing my credits. I also don't want to be rushed to pick out 10 books and possibly waste my credits so I can pause. I'm VERY picky about what books I burn a credit on.

It's a really crappy way of keeping me tied in and I want to make sure people know about it.


You can convert your membership into the "Silver Plan", which charges you every other month. This way you're paying a bit less.

However, their silver plan is very hidden away and is only presented as an option when you go to cancel your account. And even then it might not work and you'll have to write to Customer Care to switch.


Oh interesting. Thanks for pointing that out. I'll check that out.


Same. But I let my credits go to waste and will just never be a member again. Not gonna reward their stupid behavior.


Looks like Libro.fm has a similar subscription service, although it's $15/month for one book. This isn't all that shocking that it's a bit more expensive than Amazon. Hard to beat them on price.


You can set it up so your local bookstore gets a kickback from Libro.fm, too.


And if you pay for the year up front, it's even cheaper. (Actually, I think the 1st year offer for 12 audio books is a better deal than that too.)


Your membership to Libro.fm gets you one token per month at $15. You can get any audiobook you want with this token. Then any additional audiobooks for the month get you a 30% discount off MSRP

It's not that bad, honestly, when compared to Audible which also limits you to one a month + discounted price for additional


$15 is still several times more than Amazon charges.


Unless by "several" you mean 1.25, then no, it's not.


Looks like they've raised prices since I last looked. But even at the higher prices, $15 is fully twice as much as Amazon charges, not 1.25x.


Amazon (Audible) charges $14.95 per month giving you one token / audiobook a month. They're the same price!

Perhaps they have accepted that consumers will not notice the DRM encumbrance, and are selling to libraries? The post mentions libraries quite a bit, although I'm not clear about the relevant licensing terms when audiobooks are sold to libraries.


I agree that these exclusivity deals are bad news for most of us but to be completely frank this is largely on the authors. They are the ones agreeing, ultimately, to these deals to line their own pockets at the expense of readers and potential readers. Yeah Amazon is evil but no one forces the authors into this.


That's like saying that no one is forcing workers choose to accept horrible working conditions, so they are equally to blame for agreeing to those conditions and not choosing another job.

But in practice whoever has more monopolistic power is the one setting the rules, and in this case it's undoubtedly Amazon.

And just like in case of poor working conditions, failure of regulation is to blame for Amazon's ability to do that. Specifically in case of audiobooks, a loophole in the first sale doctrine as someone else mentioned.

Blaming individuals for making selfish or myopic choices is appealing but is not going to take us far out of this situation.


One can be annoyed at both Amazon and the authors for this anti-customer behavior.

That said, I personally have a hard time assigning the same levels of blame at authors, since they're being given a lot of money for the exclusivity deals. Authors don't have the same liquidity options as Amazon, making the relationship a bit unequal. Especially when having an audiobook made can cost in excess of $200 an hour.


The authors are literally choosing profit over the best interests of their customers and yet somehow this isn't their fault?

I'd also like to blame Amazon for the weather, but alas...


The author's choice at the time of being approached could very well look like this:

6 months unpaid labor (book) and $20,000 (audiobook) in debt, praying that the sales/royalties will pay back their investment.

vs

6 months of labor paid plus some bonus, and (smaller) royalties on the top.

I find it hard to argue with their choices, no matter how much I claim that I would not make the same choice.


many entrepreneurs face the same risks . Bulk of open source development is unpaid labour . Developers are able to manage this by doing that over and above a regular job and doing it out of passion not money.

They have a choice whether they want to professional or amateur.

Excluding fiction authors have to be professionals in some other field to have something to write about . They don’t need to be professional authors.

If amazon or a publishing house can spend the marketing dollars to get your book promoted then it would make sense to do exclusive , If that’s not the case and they really wanted more people can read and enjoy it , they can remain amateur and fund it from pocket to make that happen don’t you think ?


I find the claim that non-fiction writers are all effectively hobbiests to be less-than-compelling. Non-fiction and fiction alike (at least the good stuff) requires a large amount of research, time that's built into the 6 month figure I put above (and some good writers are even slower than that, even full time).

> they can remain amateur and fund it from pocket to make that happen don’t you think

Sure - I think it's entirely possible. Even for a confident full time writer it's possible. But - and this is the core point - I have a hard time blaming them for taking the money for their hard work. Same with OSS developers. I have a hard time blaming OSS developers for taking hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in buyout deals, or in salaries as they write OSS code on behalf of a company.

Passion doesn't fill your pantry with food.


But there's an inbetween here. I can license my OSS work or have support contracts and fill my pantry with food just fine without selling my soul.

This isn't a binary choice between going homeless and dealing with the proverbial devil. There are plenty of options in the middle.


They’re not the author’s customers until they buy the book.

It’s like choosing to make an iPhone app instead of one for Android.


Former Amazonian who acquired audiobook publishing rights.

Audible has people who buy rights directly from authors. By being publisher/retailer they can (but don't always) offer an author a higher % of the net sale than they would get from anyone else, AND they can promote the audiobook selling MORE units.


> I agree that these exclusivity deals are bad news for most of us but to be completely frank this is largely on the authors. They are the ones agreeing, ultimately, to these deals to line their own pockets at the expense of readers and potential readers. Yeah Amazon is evil but no one forces the authors into this.

No individual author has the ability to impact something like this from happening on their own. Why would it be "largely the author's fault" when they have no say over the ecosystem?


Uh because anyone can actually read their own book and sell it as an audio book. There’s actually very little overhead there - if you’ve got an audience. If you don’t have an audience then typically authors start out in situations like this or grow their market through their own means. There’s not a constitutional right to plaster the media with your book ads.


> No individual author has the ability to impact something like this from happening on their own.

Yes they do, they just .... don't enter into an exclusive contract, and pick instead a contract that allows them to market in other places as well.

Or are you implying that Audible requires only Exclusive contacts? Because I don't believe that's true.


> don't enter into an exclusive contract, and pick instead a contract that allows them to market in other places as well.

It's not like you get to tick off a feature list in your contracts to get all the stuff you want. Audible is likely paying them for exclusivity and they're getting read and promotion out of it that other publishers aren't able to get them. The author's goal is to get their work to where people who want to read it are. It a weird sift of responsibility to expect the author to concern themselves with how the overall audiobook market shakes out for consumers or even other authors. They have no leverage in the negotiation to make those decisions unless they're like Stephen King.


> It's not like you get to tick off a feature list in your contracts to get all the stuff you want.

Yes, actually that's exactly how it is. The author can choose if they want it exclusive or not, and Audible will offer them some money to go exclusive.

And they are not required to take that money.


Many of the Audible exclusives, especially for shorter works, have Audible acting as publisher and the deal is between Audible and the author (presumably with the agent acting as intermediary). I suspect also that with some of the older titles, like Handmaid's Tale, the original publication deal didn't include audiobook rights.


I absolutely do not understand this article. It contradicts itself.

> ACX offers higher royalties to creators (i.e. more money from audiobook sales) if they opt for Exclusive distribution.

Well, then pay more money to the authors, instead of complaining about it.

Also, how is this any different from bookstores having exclusive rights with certain publishers. I remember some books I wanted few years back were available only on Barnes and Noble (back when Amazon was still not that big). How is this different from games being Steam or Epic store exclusives? Like come on, create incentives for creators and they will flock to you. You can't sit around and complain when literally you're a middleman and you refuse to pay your creators more.


steam doesn't do exclusives ... not important to your point at all just thought I'd toss that out there.


Steam however does provide a huge amount of cool features you get for free when you implement their API and use their platform. This effectively creates exclusives because its a pain to implement those things yourself.


That's just offering a good product that people want to use... I find negative views on exclusivity only really come into play when the platform "buys" that exclusivity rather than it being a choice of the creator.


In addition to the other comment: plenty of games are, or at least used to be, available exclusively through steam. Steam doesn't pay for exclusivity, but it still exists


True but that is not a FAULT of steam that is simply the developer / publisher deciding for themselves that is the best place to put it. When I think exclusivity with platforms I only have fault when it's the platform buying that exclusivity ... free choice is free choice.


If I want to write a book, and only sell the audiobook version on wax cylinders in a physical shop that is only open on leap days for a billion dollars a cylinder then that's what I'm going to do and everyone else can pound sand.

The entitlement of people is staggering.


Exclusives on every platform are annoying - Audible, Nintendo, Netflix, you name it. People make mutually beneficial deals, and one way to do that is with exclusivity.


Well, I think you mixed things up a bit here.

Nintendo makes sense; they created many of the games from scratch. Are they supposed to rewrite them for every platform?

Netflix is more of a Tv station now... that’s like saying it’s not fair This Is Us isn’t on Comedy Central.

I do agree exclusives suck, however I think the only fair comparisons are media that’s traditionally available everywhere (music albums, podcasts, books).


How is a book as a form of entertainment any different from a movie, video game, TV show, etc?


I don’t think it is fair to compare a book with a piece of software written for a specific platform.


I'm glad I've trained my brain to acclimatize to TTS, trivially easy to compile epubs into audiobooks now. Think we're a few years away from neural TTS solutions making passable audiobooks. Tons of services for articles sound OK now. Even youtube wiki TTS spam are becoming not bad.


I've been using TTS for years by now, and IMO it's really good by now for original digital epub editions. The biggest remaining issue is some words can be mispronounced (wrong part of speech, foreign or rare words). Even "text in quotes" is accentuated now in Google TTS, although it'd be nice to also highlight italicized text.


I always wanted to know, if it would be ok to publish an audio book "creative commons", that has been licensed Audible exclusive, since it would be the creative work of a private narrator, that has no financial interest.

But since the author is the owner if the base creative work, this must be forbidden, if the content is licensed to a specific company.

Another interesting question would be, how this would fit to a text-to-speech approach while not letting a human read the book but a machine...

Can someone tell me more about this topic?


I was really excited when Google Play came out with audiobooks on their platform. I realize that Google's success may still result in an oligopoly situation. That would still be better.

I'm a prolific Audiobook listener, but actively avoided Audible because of the subscription model.


I've never been attracted to audiobooks because of the really steep price (compared to ebooks), but I've just checked five fiction books from my to-read list and they all seem much cheaper on Google Play than on Audible and Libro.fm.

Out of five, one is $2.5 cheaper, while the other four are $10+ cheaper.


Great for long drives, workouts, Migraines, or if you are losing vision.


"We are Libro.fm, an audiobook platform that makes it possible for you to buy audiobooks directly through your local bookstore“

Can someone explain how this works? Do we actually buy from a local bookstore or do they just pass a commission to the local bookstore on each sale?


They pass on a commission. I've found a couple articles that claim it's a 50/50 split (https://www.fastcompany.com/90489801/libro-fm-kanopy-audiobo...), but I don't know if that's true at all or true for every store. Since they don't disclose it, I'm guessing they have different deals with different stores.


That was a lot of text to convey the point that Audible is doing to audiobooks what the Epic Games Store is doing to games: paying publishers extra (in this case, a better cut of the price) to release only on a single platform.


Last time I checked there wasn't even a good way to filter on Audible exclusives. They're typically the only audiobooks I get through Audible, as I'd otherwise wait for them to be available in my library app.


Library app? I didn't even know those exist. I thought everything is copyrighted and DRM-ed right now. You mean there is actually a way to read/listen to new books without buying them, like, "legally", not "stealing" them from torrents?


Yes! Overdrive and Libby apps. Login with your library card. Enjoy!


Huh, cool. Not in my country, though.


I have been enjoying downpour.com lately. The token system means most books are $15 or so. Heard about them from an anti-DRM advocacy group and was pleasantly surprised at the prices and huge selection


Libro.fm is good too. No DRM, fairly good selection.


I second this.


Off topic but, why would anyone want to buy audiobooks via their local bookstore? I haven't seen this anywhere else: when is it something desirable to ADD a middleman rather than removing them?


It's not that anyone wants to buy books at a local bookstore, but that people don't want to be forced to buy things from just one place. The core issue here is that exclusivity further strengthens monopoly, and that, I think, is the fundamental gripe.


How does Amazon replacing the local bookseller eliminate a “middleman”?


In case of Libro, you have both Libro and the bookstore as middle men. In the Amazon case, you only have Amazon.


Do people think in terms of "middlemen" when buying stuff. I don't think so, latte sippers.


Have people used the Libro.fm Android app? I've used the Audible Android app for years and it's trash, even compared to something like OverDrive. No other audio app on Android gets shut down in the background like Audible does (if it lasts more than 30 minutes without being actively played that's a long time). It takes forever to boot because they want to trick me into purchasing more credits and showing ads. Whenever there's a notification, it pauses for like 8 seconds, twice as long as any other audio app.


Strange. Works beautifully on iOS.


Did anyone else read the headline initially as "Audible Explosive Audiobooks"?


"we all know amazon is evil, but did you know that when a book becomes an audible exclusive, libraries cannot buy copies of that audiobook? did you know that capitalism is the enemy of accessibility?"

Evil capitalist Amazon is also the greatest creator of book accessibility since Gutenberg.




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