I know that most people who build authority sites aren’t really in the Amazon ecosystem other than for affiliate stuff. But for those of you, like me, who do have books and/or audiobooks as part of your monetization then this is something you’ll wanna pay attention to.
Having had the experience of using the legal system to get money owed to me by Amazon, I always pay close attention when I see people talking about Amazon not giving them the money they’re owed.
Usually, it’s one person trying to blow the whistle on some nefarious shit that Amazon is doing and they are met with a chorus of people telling them how awesome Amazon is, how Amazon is such a good company that would never screw anyone over, how the money they’re complaining about is a drop in the bucket for Bezos, etc.
I’ve been that person.
I’ve seen the shit they try to pull in court when challenged for their shitty behavior.
I’ve seen a judge rule against them.
I’ve seen them try to get an NDA signed before they pay out the money awarded by the court.
I’ve got stories I can tell. But right now I’m telling you about someone else’s fight – #Audiblegate.
Note that I am not a member of the party alleging the improprieties and this blog post is written based on my opinion.
What’s Going On?
I don’t listen to audiobooks, so you may already know this but one of the ways that Amazon has advertised an Audible membership at various times is that you get free returns and exchanges for 365 days.
When I look at Audible on the Amazon website, I don’t currently see this being advertised as a benefit. That being said, I’ve had enough dealing with Amazon for my opinion to be that they likely updated their site once this shit started hitting the fan.
I’m told that the screenshot below is an example of how this has been advertised recently.
So, you might be thinking – Big deal, who cares how Amazon is advertising and promoting Audible memberships?
Well, it IS a big deal because some audiobook creators are stating that they seem to be doing it by effectively stealing money from these audiobook creators and narrators (source).
As I understand it, here is what’s allegedly going on:
- Customer uses Audible credit to buy book #1
- Book #1 author/narrator gets a credit for the sale
- Customer exchanges book #1 for book #2
- Book #1 author/narrator has the sale deducted from their reports
- Book #2 author/narrator gets a credit for the sale
- Customer exchanges book #2 for book #3
- and this cycle repeats itself for infinity
This means that Amazon is allegedly selling several audio books but only ever paying for one single book sold. Meanwhile the money for that one sale keeps getting shuffled around as the customer exchanges for a new book. (another source)
Apparently, since Amazon allegedly promotes this exchanging of books as a benefit, they seem to be encouraging people to use Audible as a library. And Audible customers seem to feel entitled to this benefit of unlimited exchanges based off a single credit.
After all, Amazon allegedly
told encouraged them to do it by promoting it as a benefit.
The Reporting Seems Hinky
As previously mentioned, I do not sell audiobooks via Audible, but from what I have read the reporting that the authors/narrators receive does seem to be (in my opinion) a bit hinky.
I’ve read that returns are not listed or detailed in their reports, but instead just subtracted from total sales. So, you may sell 10 books and have two returns but all you ever see is 8 sales on your report.
At least that’s how I understand it.
So, basically the authors who sell audiobooks on Audible have no way of knowing how many returns they get each month because it’s never listed out in their reports.
As an outside observer, I can’t help but think — Why hide that info?
If you’re like me, then you’re thinking – how the heck did these authors find out about it if the reporting of the returns is hidden?
Well, apparently there was a “reporting issue” from September 25th through October 19th where Amazon wasn’t subtracting returns from author reports. So, they did it in bulk on October 20th.
This seems to have made it quite noticeable to the authors selling audiobooks. And that is when the shit hit the fan.
They started talking amongst themselves, in forums and groups, and writing blog posts like some of the ones I’ve linked to above.
After realizing how widespread this was, they all basically grabbed their pitchforks.
Honestly, I’m glad they did because too many people let Amazon get away with their bullshit.
What They Did About It
After learning how widespread this whole thing is, these authors started emailing Amazon about it.
If you’ve ever had to email Amazon Associates about a problem, then you already know the calibre of bullshit cookie cutter responses these authors were getting back.
They started asking for full audits of their accounts with the returns separated out from the sales.
Apparently it wasn’t long before the Amazon reps began telling them that they were aware of #Audiblegate and someone from their finance department would pull something together and get back to them.
Shit Hits The Fan: The Sequel
Anyone who has a corporate background knows what was wrong with that response from Amazon reps. Audits are always done by a third party.
You don’t audit your own fucking self.
Apparently when they responded as such to the reps, they got stunned silence back.
But wait, it gets better!
These authors are pissed off, and rightfully so, and they’ve brought in the big guns to help them in this fight.
So far, I’ve seen that they have Equity, Romance Writers of America, Author’s Guild, and some some agents who also have a financial interest in this whole thing joining their fight.
Though I have to say, I feel like they’re not asking for enough.
They want returns stopped when someone has listened to the entire book, clearer reporting, and a retroactive payment of monies owed due to this accounting practice.
In my opinion, they should be going for other damages. At a minimum, you’d think there is interest owed on that outstanding royalty money.
But these authors also claim that there is zero mention of this “accounting practice” in their contract with audible, so that seems like breach of contract too.
Why This Should Matter To You
If audio books are a part of your monetization strategy, this is is 100% relevant to you. And you should definitely jump in the Fair Deal for Rights Holders & Narrators group to keep up with what’s going on.
Anyone can join the group, so even if you’re just interested in how this all plays out you can join.
For the rest of you, if you’re using Amazon for their affiliate program, FBA, Amazon Merch, etc, then you should keep up with this simply so that you know who you’re in bed with.
In my experience with a variety of companies, it’s seldom just one spoke of the wheel that’s rotten – it’s the whole damn wheel.
Let’s assume that Amazon ends up settling with these authors and narrators, or is found liable for damages in court, then what? They’ll likely have to pay out some money.
And when you run a business and have some unexpected expenses, what do you do? You look for where you can trim the fat to make up for that expense.
If this allegedly shady accounting is found to be true, then they could just level it up in other areas of the business where no one is complaining. Or they could do things like further cuts in the affiliate commission rates, jacking up fees for FBA sellers, etc.
The reality is that when something happens to someone who is in part of the mega corporation ecosystem, it affects everyone who is in that ecosystem eventually.
This seems like a good time to remind you to aim for multiple monetization streams on your site. And your end goal should always be your own products for those sites that you want to hold onto for the long haul.
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