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How Audiobook Authors And Narrators Are Paid By Audible-ACX. We Think.

How Audiobook Authors and Narrators are Paid by Audible-ACX. We think.

This is the second in a series of posts about the campaign known to self-publishing authors as #AudibleGate. ALLi would like to extend thanks to Colleen Cross for this post and for her work with the Fair Deal for Rights Holders and Narrators pressure group.

If you haven't already, please sign the #Audiblegate petition here . We will keep you posted as the campaign develops. Now over to Colleen, to explain how audiobook authors and narrators are paid.

How Audiobook Authors and Narrators Are Paid

Colleen Cross

As we await Audible to provide the audiobook returns data requested by authors and narrators since October 2020, it’s time to question everything about ACX/Audible “royalty” payments, or lack thereof.

Despite producing and publishing more and more audiobooks, many of us see dramatic decreases in our earnings per audiobook. The sparse details on our ACX/Audible “royalty” statements don’t provide enough information on returns or other adjustments made to our earnings.

Why?

It appears that Audible's Great Listen Guarantee (GLG),  a “free return or exchange” scheme, is nothing more than a disguised lending library cementing Audible’s monopoly, and paying nothing to authors and narrators, intellectual rights holders and creators.

All of this made me wonder what else besides returns (the subject of a future post) is eroding our Audible earnings.

Is the Audible “royalty” calculation even fair?

Authors and rights holders invest thousands of dollars in each audiobook produced. “Royalty” Share (RS) narrators invest many hours in exchange for an uncertain future compensation. Narrators often have out-of-pocket production costs as well. It takes many hours to produce one hour of finished audio. Unlike authors and narrators, Audible/ACX makes zero investment in time and money in audiobook production.

As rights holders, many of us expected our upfront investment in audiobooks would lead to future profits. We further assumed our “royalty” to be based on the Audible retail selling price. That is not the case. Audible bases much of our earnings on what they call a “listener credit”.

So what do rights holders earn per Audible listener credit? Short answer: Much less than you think.

Settle in for the longer answer.

What is ACX’s Service?

Firstly, for clarity, some facts about Audible/ACX.

ACX is not a separate company from Audible, despite what some ACX customer service reps tell us. ACX.com is simply a website platform operated and controlled by Audible.

ACX offers these services:

  • A matching service for narrators and authors. This is rife with scam books and narrators can be left spending hours and weeks on a project only to discover it will never be released. Their loss is not just in time but production costs.
  • Quality control and approval of audio quality prior to sale on Audible. Since 2019, the time taken for this has stretched from an advertised four weeks to sometimes nine months. All for books for which payment has already been made or time invested by author and narrator with “royalty” share. This is potential income loss to authors and creates uncertainty with marketing.
  • Delivery of the book to Audible, Amazon and Apple Store.
  • Calculate and pay “royalties.” Audiblegate outlines the issues with their opaque accounting and statements, and returns fraud.

Since ACX only supplies a service, and Audible is simply a sales platform and retailer where we list our books, let’s not call our income “royalties.” It’s sales income or sales earnings. What we pay Audible should be considered commission. (See ALLi's glossary for more on this).

This is an important distinction because 60% and 75% commission now sounds pretty expensive, right?

Audible Listener (AL) Royalty Category

These are the sales when an Audible member uses a credit to buy a book and is the second royalty category on your ACX monthly earnings statement. The sales in this “royalty” category have dramatically increased percentage wise vs. the a la carte direct sales to non-members, and ALOP (sales to members not using a credit) categories over the last year.

AL is the most profitable category for Audible, and the easiest to manipulate.

The AL category now forms the bulk of rights holder earnings. This is understandable with Audible’s aggressive marketing of the value of membership. It’s to these same members Audible markets their “Great Listen Guarantee” to first sell them a subscription and then habituate them to continue. $14.95 for as many audiobooks you like a month? That’s a great deal for a listener.

Not so great for authors when this unmonitored scheme is used as a perpetual library-style access to books. Royalties for this category are earned when members redeem a credit, but are clawed back each time a member returns or exchanges an audiobook. Members are led to believe Audible is funding this, not authors. Some even think it’s a glitch because it’s almost too good to be true.

It’s all in the hidden math…

If you’ve ever looked at the Audible ACX contract, you’ve seen the complicated sales earnings math (another future post!). For now, let’s focus only on the result: the amount of money which ends up in your bank.

The Audible ACX contract states a 40% “royalty” or 25% “royalty,” depending on which Audible distribution option is agreed, exclusive or non-exclusive. Cut that percentage in half if you are in an author/narrator “royalty share” agreement.

Well, prepare yourself for a nasty surprise.

It’s not 40% for exclusive pay for production. It’s not 25% for non-exclusive. Not even close. I compiled sales data from many Audible authors at different price points and came to the same conclusion for all. Authors are only paid a fraction of the stated “royalty” rate.

Why?

Because sales earnings are not calculated on the selling price on the Audible store like Audible implies here:

This leads authors to believe their audiobooks will primarily sell at the retail price, unless there is an occasional sales promotion. It also implies the selling price is the basis for the “royalty” calculation. Makes sense. Why wouldn’t it be calculated on the retail sales price? In assessing the viability of turning your books into audiobooks, you’d likely assess the probable payback on your investment, like this:

Cost: Narrator cost per finished hour (PFH) of $200 x Audiobook length 7 hours = $1,400

Earnings per audiobook: 40% x $19.95 retail price = $7.98

Breakeven point: $1400/$7.98 = 175.4 audiobooks

You need to sell 175 audiobooks, each earning $7.98 at 40% “royalty,” to break even on your $1400 investment.

That’s a smart way to assess the viability of your audiobook. Unfortunately, it’s wrong!

Audible never pays authors the stated “royalty” rate. Instead, they base the “royalty” on “Net Sales,” a number so heavily manipulated by Audible, that these “Net Sales” adjustments amount to a 50% deduction from the retail selling price.

This is the figure upon which authors’ share of the sale is calculated. Not retail price.

Does Audible deserve their lion’s share cut?

What, exactly, does Audible do to earn near 50% right off the top, before even calculating the split between you and them?

Audible didn’t produce the audiobook. They didn’t pay the narrator. They certainly didn’t write the book. There seems to have been little investment in the ACX interface since the launch of the company back in 2011. So, no author tech investment, either. No explanation has been given on the necessity to deduct almost half the retail price to arrive at this “Net Sales” amount.

So, let’s do the true ROI calculation

Rights holders need to understand the true breakeven point to make informed business decisions about audiobook production. So, now let’s adjust the math to what the real breakeven point is for this same 7-hour audiobook, using “Net Sales”.

Cost: Narrator cost per finished hour (PFH) of $200 x Audiobook length 7 hours = $1,400

Earnings per audiobook: 40% x $10.37 Net Sales* = $4.15

Breakeven point: $1400/$4.15 = 338 audiobooks

*the actual per unit payment for a 7-hour audiobook, per Audible earnings statement

Based on Audible math, you need to sell 338 audiobooks before you break even on your 7-hour audiobook investment. That’s near twice as much as the 175 audiobooks needed to break even when the “royalty” is based on the Audible retail price (not Net Sales).

You need to sell nearly an audiobook a day for a year to earn back your cash outlay, and that’s only if Audible doesn’t lower the price, or allow Audible listeners some of those “Great Listen Guarantee” returns. This represents a huge hurdle before you even make a penny beyond your original investment.

Okay, so hit me with the real “royalty”!

The above example assumes you chose the 40% exclusive to Audible rate. If you chose the 25% non-exclusive rate, your earnings—and breakeven point—will differ. Same if you are “royalty”-sharing with a narrator. Each “royalty” option is illustrated in the tables below, which compare the stated “royalty” % (what you think you get) vs. the effective “royalty” % (what you actually get).

In this Exclusive, Pay for Production example on a 7-hour book, you only received a 21% “royalty”, not the 40% stated “royalty” rate.

Apologies for the math. Painful as it is, it’s best to be fully informed before you lock yourself into a 7-year contract with a business partner who makes all the rules and takes 79-87% of the money.

A further warning if you think non-exclusive is the answer…

Many authors are now deciding to produce audiobooks on non-ACX platforms. Others have postponed or even stopped audiobook production altogether. If you decide to produce audiobooks elsewhere, please be aware most or all other audiobook distributors also use ACX or they use a boilerplate contract the same as ACX’s to publish to Audible, you will also be subject to the same sales earnings and losses from returns less the distributor cut.

Ask what terms apply on audiobooks they distribute to Audible…

If instead you choose to sell your audio rights to an audiobook publisher, be aware they are also likely locked in to the ACX contract. Ask them about Audible terms before signing a contract. Also know that the publisher royalty rates are a percentage of a percentage. For example, a 30% royalty rate will be 30% times the ACX non-exclusive rate of 13%, which amounts to less than 4% of retail price. Whatever road you take, ensure you are fully informed. Do the math if you paid for the production yourself. How much quicker would you own the book and be making clear profit?

Now the math:

See the tables at the end of this post to determine the net sales earnings you will receive under the four types if you contract directly with ACX.

Now you are informed and can make business decisions based on fact. It’s time for Audible to fairly compensate the content providers who supply the bulk of Audible audiobook content. Authors and narrators deserve to be paid fairly for their work. That’s all we ask.

Audible, are you listening?

Audible “Royalty” Tables

 

 

Author: Colleen Cross

Colleen Cross writes financial thrillers and white-collar true crime, drawn from her background in forensic accounting and fraud investigation. She is a CPA with CFO/finance executive experience at large multinational corporations. She believes in following the money to find the truth.

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This Post Has 52 Comments
  1. Colleen — thanks for this insightful article. How would you compare the royalty benefits of Audible/ACX with AuthorsRepublic.com? Which is better to host and sell the audiobook, in your opinion?

  2. I was putting together some e-books for a digital marketing campaign client, and began considering an audio book approach. Given the numbers provided here, with your research, I am reminded of scrupulous contracts in the music industry. It’s a damn shame to get less than a buck from a creation that took blood sweat and tears to make. I trust things will change. Perhaps authors can sell their books directly and skip the middle man? Gonna have to think of audio books like a “brand awareness” digital marketing campaign, and not so much a money maker. Disappointed if these numbers prove to be a revealing reality.

  3. I have had one <2 hour holiday-themed title that retails on Audible for $6.99. It's been up for several years. Because the sales are so few during some months, it becomes obvious that the numbers simply do not make sense. One month of 9 sales equaled a payout of $2.19. The only way the numbers remotely worked was that the 1 sale to a non-member (which *ought* to have been at full retail or Whisper-sync priced) was the only one I was paid for. The other 8 sales paid nothing, including 2 that were credits. Returns weren't a factor. Over the entire length of time it's been up with exclusivity, the "royalty" was about 21% of retail.

    A 79% commission to Audible is outrageous, but in truth, they are giving our work away for free to sell memberships, like a type of multi-level marketing. Because of the alliance with Amazon, they have created a virtual monopoly which allows them to dictate these terms. While they've cleaned up their language and practices around actively encouraging members to listen and return, they still allow the practice, just as Amazon allows readers to buy Kindle versions and return them after reading, no questions asked.

    Giving books away for free is a feature, not a bug, for both companies. Both companies believe that content supply is endless; they are un-boycottable and have no reason to listen to content creators. They scarcely listen to the large publishing houses, or the Very Big Name authors who bring them tens of millions in annual revenue.

    In the parlance of IT startups, Audible's especially egregious terms seem ripe for disruption but for one thing: no new company will get the partnership with Amazon. As long as that special placement on Amazon's (near monopoly for small and mid-list authors) site is not viewed as anti-trust, nothing will change.

    Thank you for this lengthy explanation – at least those small to mid-list authors who see it will have much more realistic expectations for the investment and rewards.

    1. Just to give the proof in numbers. My title is exclusive to Audible and retails for $6.99.

      I just received an “adjustment” to my earnings due to “reviewing their records.” It was for an unspecified time period and for 1 “AL” sale. From the spreadsheet:

      Net sales column: $0.08 – you read that right. They’re telling me that net of their various costs even before they take their 60%, they’ve “sold” my audio book for 8 cents.

      And then they took 60% off that. Net adjustment to me – $0.03.

  4. While I agree with most of this article and its core message I felt the way the math was presented was misleading. Let me state my background before going further: I’ve been selling audiobooks for my epic fantasy series on Audible for the last three years now. These are big audiobooks, 40+ hours long. I do have shorter books at 3 hours. While the retail on the bigger books are $29.99 most people are buying on a credit. Audible is actually paying 40% for on the credit price, its just 40% on the amount a customer paid (this is variable because listeners can buy credits for as low as $11). The $6.23 is an accurate 40% royalty, because most listeners are paying $15 for a credit (in fact it is slightly over 40%). I do see the occasional $12 royalty, so Audible is paying that out when a listener buys at the actual retail price.

    Now on the smaller books, this is where they’re not really paying out the 40% on a credit purchase. My 3 hour audiobook earns $1.45 per credit purchase, and not the $6.23. This amount is only 40% of $3.49, which no one buys a credit for that cheap. Now when people take advantage of the whispersync price for this shorter book (which is $4.49) the royalty is more than if they bought on a credit, $1.88. So I tend to push the whispersync price, plus it saves the listener a little if they go that route and I get paid more.

    So yes, there is something wrong with the credit system when you have shorter audiobooks. It’s not as egregious when you have larger books.

    My gripe with audible is that they should be paying out more to us who are giving them content. KDP pays 70% (minus their stupid delivery fee, which on my books is high because I have illustrations that bump up the file size, so the royalty is more like 55% on a $7.99 ebook).

  5. I’m one who’s beginning to look at the idea of Audiobooks and how I can produce them with no real budget for doing it. So for me, It’s good to read something like this that spells out not just the royalties but how the royalty share would work out financially.
    For me, I’m getting no income from audiobooks at the moment, so any step in that direction that leaves me with income is probably a good move, after all 10% of $15 is still $1.50 where 10% of nothing is nothing!

    1. Well, yes.. but it’s best to set yourself up properly so you are paid properly. A lot of our members save some of their ebook income until they have enough to pay for an audiobook narration. AI narration is also coming soon.

  6. I came across this article at just the right time. I am in the process of seeking an audiobook producer/distributor and ACX references keep coming up. Colleens investment figure of $1,400, however, is not what I’m seeing. Instead, the figures are north of $5,000 for a finished product.

  7. I am a first time author and have written a 2 Book Non-Fiction Novel. It took me over 2 years to write as the story evolved over a nine year period.
    I joined the Self Publishing School last November and have gotten help and good advice from its members. I have finished the books and they are edited and the book covers are finished. Amazon is the place that I was told would be best to market my book. I registered it in Hard copy, paperback, ebook and audiobook. I haven’t selected a launch date as yet and after hearing all of these people tell their stories about ACX and Audible, I have serious doubts.
    I do appreciate the input from all the authors who are being cheated and sincerely hope a lawsuit or something would bring positive changes. However, if their is any competition for them, I would like that information. Thank you all for standing up against greedy people.

  8. I actually wasn’t aware of this and learned about almost a year to the day this article came out. It’s pretty much ruined my day. Just gutted now.

  9. I’m not an author or a narrator and I’m appalled by the information in this article. I don’t have a problem with audible making a profit… but this system makes it impossible for people to make a living… which means they will do something else with there time and creativity leaving me the reader/listener with nothing.

  10. Hi All!
    So I’m a new narrator on ACX but it’s my ‘other’ job & knowledge I’m tapping into here. For the last 30 years I’ve been an exec in the IT industry – Forget the Obamacare website….. on my own, I could create a audiobook site, mobile app and cloud infrastructure to run a much Better audiobook marketplace in about 12 months. With a modest investment or closed-crowd sourced funding by member rights holders and that support it could be done in half the time.
    Given the amount of interest by Everyone involved except ACX, I have to assume that if it supports rights holders and provides a good interface for users, it would grow quickly.
    My question is, why hasn’t anyone suggested or made this effort? Could ALLI or another organization take this on as a non-profit owned by members? Honestly I think ACX/Amazon have created a huge opportunity for someone with the right knowledge and resources to usurp them and become wildly successful simple based on the failings of ACX…

    1. I’d be interested in investing in an independent, fairly-run ALLi platform for selling audiobooks. Audible published two of my titles years ago, and because my book publishers who did the deal went bust, I have never received a single royalty account. I have been exploring the use of some local studios to have the rest of the series recorded myself, and this article was a timely, and horrible, eye-opener as to the likely breakeven point for the venture. Anyone else out there prepared to take a punt on forming an ALLi audiobook collective?

    2. So, why doesn’t someone setup an alternative that charges a more reasonable commission – I hope they do and that it catches on, but I think it would be very hard for the following reasons:

      1. Remember the listener experience is actually pretty good on Audible – they pay a small fee and have a huge catalogue open to them (and probably don’t even know how little of the money makes it to the author, or even if they suspect, they probably feel uncomfortable about it and carry on anyway for the same convenience reasons that people use Amazon to buy a book or other items, rather than their local shops).
      2. It’s likely to be hard to get authors to sign up when there is no established audience, also for back catalogues I wonder how many have exclusive deals with Audible…
      3. It’s going to be hard to get customers to sign up if there is not a large catalogue of books available. When I hear of a new book that I want, I search Audible almost expecting it to be there.

      If you did launch a service like this, I guess it would need to be a different business model e.g., pay per book rather than a membership (because I doubt many customers would switch from their Audible membership if the catalogue were much smaller). But that limits what you can charge for each book if the user is used to paying £6 per book/credit (or whatever $ the US equivalent is).

      I think what the article and your comment aren’t really accounting for what Audible do bring to the table (for the Author) – it’s not so much the site, the app etc. – it’s access to their huge userbase. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s obscene for them to take the proportions mentions in this article and offer so little support in terms of upfront costs, but I can also see why they can get away with it, because they are in such a strong position.

    1. Terrific article, Colleen. Hugely useful – all authors should read it.
      Another point though about ACX/Audible. Their website for putting up an audio-book is APPALLING! It is hugely difficult for authors trying to push their book through the complex business of registering it, getting a producer/narrator, agreeing terms etc, etc. There are reams of advice pages, FAQ pages, and instruction pages, but finding anywhere to actually EXECUTE the demands is a nightmare. It has taken me several weeks (and a lot of exchanges from their part time advice team) to get my book ready to go.
      HOWEVER – having read your piece, perhaps it’s a good thing! I’m having serious doubts about using them now. Maybe the do-it-yourself way is the way to go.
      Robin Hawdon.
      P.S. perhaps you should start your own audio-publishing company on author-friendly terms. I’d join!

  11. As a avid audible listener I love their return policy, every time I finish a book I return it and get another one. If you don’t like it don’t participate. Amazon saved the book industry, when’s the last time you were in an actual bookstore. You complain that audible isn’t producing the books and therefore has no cost. Audible brings the audience. Without an audience your story is nothing. That’s why you want to force audible to your demands. Again this is a free country and no one is forcing you to work with audible or ACX. Suck it up, if you can’t sell more than 300 books you should probably be doing something else. This article makes it sound like audible is designed for actual authors that can actually sell books. Audible is awesome!

    1. Your opinion is about as useful as a chocolate teapot. M. Sterling Young, your abuse of Audible is exactly the problem. What you’re doing means that the authors who wrote the books you listen to and the narrators who produced those audiobooks get NOTHING for their work. How is that fair? If you buy a product and consume a product you pay for that product, otherwise you’re a thief.
      Audible IS NOT a library. If you want free books then use the library. I hope Audible catches you out and cuts off your privileges.

    2. No, Sterling, Amazon did not save the book industry! It, together with abolition of the Net Book Agreement, has almost wrecked it. Amazon and the supermarkets can now sell books for as little as 99p (aren’t you readers lucky?) – but the result is that authors who might have spent years writing their books, are hardly able to earn a living from them, and a plethora of amateur writers now flood the market with their inferior self-published stuff. It has also all but destroyed the small independent book shop. All this makes it extremely difficult for good writers to break through the quagmire, unless they are already best sellers or prize winners. OK for readers like yourself who stick with the famous names, but not at all good for the book industry generally. Jane Austen may well have never been discovered if she’d lived today!

    3. M Sterling Young

      So you get the fact that based on your buy, listen, return usage that an author can never get a dime for their work! The author can “sell” 5000 copies and make nothing if people like you return the book for no reason except that you have already listened to it! You are a thief in my book and audible/ACX encourages you to do it!

    4. PS. I buy about 20 audiobooks per month and I think of exactly 1 that I’ve ever returned… and it was an accidental purchase that I returned without ever downloading it.

    5. You sound like a truly inconsiderate human being. Very convenient for you to return each book after reading it hm, since you didnt have to write, edit, and produce the book it means nothing to you.

    6. You are a fucking moron. You dont work for $2/hr just because the work is there do you?

    7. This is such a fantastic opportunity to create another avenue for income. Thank you so much for your boldness. It helps those of us content creators to destroy Audible.

  12. well if you have 30 titles on the market and your royalties are $52.00 even under the constricting amounts that are currently being paid then you just did’t sell any books…..i think authors should be paid more but, when you hit a home run with a fiction novel your royalies even under the newly revealed amounts will be substantial…..they will be jaw dropping in the other direction…..keep writing…keep reaching…and Colleen…please continue your exposes.

    1. The publishing game is so incredibly confusing, as well as skewed toward profiting large companies, that one almost needs to be in it (meaning to get contracts, whether it be with Audible, traditional publishers, etc.) before fully learning the rules of the game. As far as making money after hitting a home-run, I think that hitting the home-run is only a fraction of the equation, while finding a way to get one’s work to the masses is the biggest hurdle, especially considering that every other player is in the game is mostly in it for the profit, while authors primarily start because of the love of the craft of writing. (That said, my husband Frank, who is an author, has had wonderful people to work with who are there to help new and newer authors as well as those involved in literary “movements”. In other words, I don’t believe everyone is just in it for profit.)

  13. Well, this is certainly enlightening, but downright discouraging. I absolutely LOVE audio books and I wanted so much to start the process on my own novel, Sister Jane. But truly, if this is all true, as I am assuming it is, what s sorrow. What’s happening with the big companies like Recorded Books, Books on Tape, Brilliance Audio, etc. Are they an outlet for authors or no? Please tell me there’s an alternative.

  14. As of today, I have seven published audiobooks and three more awaiting completion, all exclusive, all Pay for Production with ACX. My royalty reports are jaw dropping and not in a good way. I’m shocked at how little I earn per book no matter whether they sell via AL, ALOP, or ALC, and I don’t understand how they come up with such low net sales figures on which they base my royalty. If it weren’t for my hubby, my biggest fan, encouraging me to do this I probably would have stopped after putting out the first book or two. It’s disheartening to say the least.

  15. Class Action Lawsuit anyone? I hear they can be helpful. I’d love to see if this would be a possibility. As a narrator I’d most definitely join one.

    1. I currently have two very long Audibles out there The Tears of Heaven and The War in Heaven. My publisher is Destiny Image. I have a very old very good contract with my publisher, 50% on electronic media that allows me to do a bit better. The previous studio I worked with, I narrated and split royalties for narration with them 50/50. They cleaned up my audio and worked with my publisher. This was their first experience with audible. They held out for two books before giving up. It just wasn’t worth it. Now I am working with someone else. How Audible gets away with this I can not say. Yes, I am up to a class action suit. I suspect my publisher would be too. Let me know.

  16. A friend just told me about ACX, suggesting I get a fix on the opportunity for the audiobook project I’m working on. Amazon’s shoddy treatment of the publishing industry, at all levels is well known, so let’s just say I was ready to poke at this “opportunity” with the proverbial ten-foot pole. Thanks, Colleen. I was lucky that my search took me here first. Through the work you’ve done above you’ve gifted me who-knows-how-many hours. Gracias.

    1. Exactly, Ken. One would think that publishing a good book could be lucrative but that’s more for award winning authors. My odds of becoming an award winning author? About as good as becoming a celebrity… Haha. After reading this, I’m going to stick with using my degree and working by the hour. It’s not fun but it actually pays. I think corporate greed prevents a lot of good books from being written but it is what it is.

  17. I wonder if there is something specifically stating in the contracts that we can negotiate the terms. This just seems outlandish. I was ready to publish an ebook on here and now I am not considering it at all. Maybe there will be another platform, I hope.

  18. How does this work with the free book a month primer subscription? Does the author/vocalist still get paid the same amount?

  19. Hello. I am an avid audiobook fan and was googling the topic of fair pay/royalties and found your post. I boycott Amazon and am trying to find alternatives. Currently I subscribe to LibroFM with the money for the audiobook going to my local bookstore. Most but not all audiobooks are available through LibroFM. For the others, I’m wondering if you find that Apple Books pays more fairly than Audible. If not, are there any companies that are better? I’d appreciate any info and would share with my friends/family and online.

  20. Thank you for the in depth analysis! I have narrated/produced 30 titles through ACX. Nearly half have been RS+. Unless something is a best seller, most RS productions are little more than an unpaid internship for Amazon. In 2020 my average monthly ‘royalty’ was $56.52 so it’s little more than a glorified hobby. The ACX website itself is glitchy and titles are not vetted for scams. It’s a minefield. And with so many people working from home these days, everyone and their cousin is auditioning for the ever shrinking number of decent titles. Competition is fierce. I don’t see too many authors/producers motivated to do audiobooks with so little incentive.

  21. As an author who has several audio projects out with ACX (starting in 2015) I can absolutely attest to the low payouts. You’ll be lucky to make $4 on an audiobook that sells for $24.99 (that’s with the exclusive option). When I started to get my royalty statements, I was shocked. And I ended up selling the backlist audio rights because the earn-out was going to take years.

    Good point, too, about the traditional publishers being in the same horrible boat. Miniscule profits to the author, honestly.

    High time some regulatory agency held Audible’s feet to the fire!

  22. Wow. I wish I could say I was surprised that Audible/ACX are ripping off authors and narrators to this level, but sadly, I am not. One only has to look at Amazon’s overall unethical business practices to see the truth. From ebooks, to Audible, to refusal to pay income taxes, right down to how they cheat vendors and employees, this company is a scourge on earth. The last “shocking headline” was the theft of drivers’ tips to the tune of $62 million. Who is shocked, really?
    Yet, it’s worse than I imagined. I have my audio book production on hold due to the cost, so the actual level of royalty being paid is something I wasn’t aware of. It’s unimaginable that creators are making less per audiobook than on ebooks, considering the extra time and cost to produce them. Unimaginably unfair, that is.
    As some narrators have pointed out, $200 is an unbelievably low figure per finished hour for audio. $1400 for an audio book? As an author, that would be an incredible deal, but as a fellow creator, this is quoting a rate far too low for the provided services, as Emily pointed out.
    I feel the same way about my ebooks when readers complain $4 is too much or about my editing services when someone expects an extensive copyedit of 90,000 words for $300. Please don’t underquote the cost of professional services. Creators and artists are undervalued and undercut at every turn, like what we do isn’t a real job, with real value. We certainly entertained and helped a lot of people through 2020 with our stories, did we not?
    But thank you for taking this on. Seeing the author/narrator community standing together to take this on is amazing, and I do hope that as a group, we can make some real and lasting changes. In support, I signed the petition early on in the fight, and I am also in the process of replanning my business strategies to exclude the distribution of future ebooks through KDP (same company, and I don’t have any audible books to take away from them!) My way of saying “enough is enough, Amazon.”

  23. I second Amy M’s comment above. While you have written a superb analysis of a truly horrifying market situation, your use of such a low PFH rate for narrators is really upsetting. Especially because using actual market rates (union minimum of $250pfh plus a minimum of $75pfh for post-production costs) would make an even stronger case for how bad the numbers really are for authors and RS narrators. Please consider revising the post to acknowledge that.

  24. Hey, Colleen Cross! Your Audible “Royalty” Tables are most helpful for me. I appreciate you and your informative thinking.
    Thank you very much, Colleen!

  25. Let’s look closely at this line:
    “It’s time for Audible to fairly compensate the content providers who supply the bulk of Audible audiobook content. Authors and narrators deserve to be paid fairly for their work. That’s all we ask.”

    Not only do we, the rights holders, demand fair compensation for our products, we also demand that Audible back-pay us for their years of fraudulent and predatory practice – and then add the interest we lost on propping up their company with our hard-earned money.

    Thank you Colleen, Susan, Orna and the many others who have fought to bring the hidden behaviour of Audible into the light. Looking at these numbers it is now clear why Audible have said nothing, avoid meeting with our representatives, and continue to dodge owning the reality of their abuse. Like cockroaches scuttling along the kitchen floor, Audible’s management should well be frightened now that the spotlight is on them.

  26. Thank you for your thorough analysis. I appreciate having a more clear understanding of what anyone working with ACX is up against. But in presenting subpar narrator rates as if they are the norm, you are doing a great disservice to the narrator community, because it normalizes rock-bottom rates in the eyes of every author reading this article. While I assume you picked a random number as an example, you didn’t frame it that way – you framed it as the standard rate. However, the rate you listed is far lower than the norm for most experienced narrators (lower than the minimum to put an ACX job through the union) and doesn’t take into account the post-production costs on top of that amount that the narrator has to handle when they accept an ACH job – work for which they will have to pay either in money to hire production professionals, or in time by doing it themselves. If the goal is to present a realistic picture of what’s at stake, I would suggest talking to a wide range of experienced narrators, or SAG-AFTRA, and use accurate rates in your calculations. Otherwise, all you’ve achieved is setting the bar unrealistically low for anyone reading the article, thereby making it harder for narrators to make a living from their hard work.

    1. Yes, fabulous article, but my chest seized up at the quoted narrator rate… I kept thinking, “is this a Royalty Share Plus PFH rate being quoted”.

      I’ve been confused over the years as royalty income has fluctuated so greatly, depending on acx/audible’s current “program”. I agreed to several Royalty Share contracts when acx PAID us for distributing the pre-generated “free codes”… would I have taken on those projects and invested HOURS of my time, had I known said “program”(for lack of a better term/name) would be removed months later? Absolutely not!

      Thank you for your research and work at clarifying and articulating what’s really going on behind the scenes here.

  27. As shocking as this is … and it IS shocking … ACX/Audible no longer surprise me with the sheer audacity of the lengths they’ve gone to since their inception to hide their deception from authors and narrators. They do not hold up to their own contracts, they’ve never reported properly to any of us, and now we can see they’ve never paid us properly as per their very own contract terms … We must stand together to fight them on this and so many other shady dealings. I’m disgusted with how they’ve replied to me when I’ve pointed out these very same errors … or rather, how they’ve NOT replied. ACX/Audible must be held to account for this and so much more! #Audiblegate Thank you so much for all your hard work Colleen in uncovering this. We all appreciate you very much.

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