That’s my summation of conversations I’ve had with Nicole Op Den Bosch, Associate, Content Acquisition, Business Development and Jennifer Bassuk, Senior Director, Content Acquisition and Business Development for the company. I spoke with Nicole via telephone Thursday morning, and then with her and Jennifer Monday morning. All after recommending hundreds of indie authors explore ACX as a possible revenue source for their independently produced audio books.
Even though the ACX website clearly states they offer non-exclusive terms and are actively seeking authors who narrate their own books, Nicole painted a different picture of the “intent” of ACX. She stated that they never really wanted indie authors, and instead only wanted the top few hundred titles from big publishing houses that weren’t already available as audio books. So much for this nugget also found on their website:
“The result: More audiobooks will be made.
Too many authors have been left out of the quickly growing and culturally repositioned digital audio market. Until now.”
But not, it turns out, if you’re an indie author who’s taken the route of offering up a free podcast version of your work. You, my friend, can take a flying leap as far as ACX is concerned. You are not welcome in ACX’s playground.
Someone look up the definition of “exclusive”. I am not sure that word means what ACX thinks it means.
According to Nicole, Audible members get their panties in a wad when they find a free version of the audio book they were overcharged for. On the surface, I can understand that. Audible’s terribly outdated “book of the month club” model doesn’t make it easy to enjoy more than one title each month, and their prices beyond that are notoriously high. So if I found a more-friendly alternative, I’d be a little pissed, too.
But that’s where Nicole’s argument breaks down. You see, the parent company of ACX and Audible is Amazon.com. And Amazon.com happily shows multiple formats of books at different price points side-by-side. Here’s a shot of Scott Sigler’s Infected:
Ebooks, hard cover, paper back, audio books… and even from other retailers and individuals. I count 12 different price points, ranging from eighty-one cents to about thirty-five bucks. That’s a healthy delta. In fact, it’s such a delta that I asked Nicole a point blank question: If we sold the podcast version for a penny, would ACX have a problem with that?
You can imagine how stunned I was when she said something along the lines of “No, that would be OK.”
So there you have it, overcharged Audible member; Audible thinks that you are so stupid as to not be able to tell the difference between a penny and thirty-five dollars. Do you also think that as long as you still have checks in your checkbook, that you have money in your account?
I tried to explain to Nicole (who, in fairness, seemed to understand what I was saying), that a free podcast version is very different than a fee-based downloadable audio book version. The former takes many many clicks to listen to. It takes listening to repetitive intros and outros. It requires patience to listen to some chatter from an author about a convention they attended three years ago or a now-defunct contest you can’t enter. And it requires exposures to commercials and special offers.
Contrast that with a one-click download for a complete and self-contained audiobook, where the only thing heard is the contents of the audio book itself! Sounds like a convenience some (though obviously not all) people will pay for, yes?
But not on ACX, it seems. Because even armed with that information — I like to call it logic — Nicole stuck to policy. She even admitted to hearing from a handful of authors from Podiobooks.com who tried to explain the difference.
Some of what I said got through, and Nicole tossed the ball higher up the food chain to Jennifer, whom I just got off the call with. Not surprisingly, there wasn’t any substantive change in the official ACX position. Jennifer doesn’t see how multiple price points for ebooks are relevant for audio books (“An ebook is just a photocopy of a book in a different format,” she said. No, not kidding.) and doesn’t understand how free and for-fee play together (“I don’t get what authors get from giving away free content“.)
It’s hard to argue someone away from that position. So I stopped trying.
The only slightly positive takeaway from the call with Jennifer was her comment that ACX does have plans to let authors who have already created audio version in their sand box in the near(?) future. But not if that author gives a different audio version away for free. Even for authors who don’t want to play in the free-space, they run the risk of having their content taken down if the alternate audio version is priced too low. So if you were thinking of selling your podcasted version for $0.99, think again.
Jennifer would like to keep the conversation going. I’m OK with that. As much as I’d like to ignore ACX and Audible — I can’t. They remain the near-monopoly in the space. I stand behind Cory Doctorow’s concept of giving people every possible chance to buy an author’s work, and that means getting books on every possible marketplace. (Side note: When I brought up Cory, Jennifer said something along the lines of “Yeah, we’ve talked to him. We won’t put his books up on Audible.“)
Many authors are wondering what they can do to turn the tide in their favor. Here’s one option: Call Nicole. Her office line is 973-820-0400. Tell her you are a rights holder who’d like to take advantage of ACX, but you’re not willing to burn the bridges you’ve established with your audience. Try (perhaps in vain) to tell her that a free podcast version isn’t all that competitive with a downloadable fee-based audio book. Tell her that authors like Cory Doctorow and John Scalzi provide .pdf versions of their books for free and still manage to sell tens (or hundreds) of thousands of their books in print and ebook form for their publishers. Tell her how hard you’ve worked to build your platform, and would like to give that platform one more chance to purchase a fee-based product. And that you’re willing to do the work to make the best possible product for sale.
In the mean time, there are other distribution outlets. If ACX won’t play, there are other market places who will. And who will pay a better royalty. Authors on Podiobooks.com have been extremely good about building their own audience without a powerhouse behind them. I think we can do it again. I recommend BackMyBook.com as an alternative. If you’re interested, reach out to Tay (firstname.lastname@example.org). He’s got a great model that gives you more than 80% of sales — and you set the sale price. We’ll work to fully integrate with them to make a seamless experience for those who want to pay you for your work.
And maybe, just maybe, ACX will change their minds and open up to the indie author who knows the power of using free to bolster for-fee. Here’s to hoping.