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AUDIOBOOKS
ACX Cuts Audiobook Narrator Royalty
Income By 20%. What To Do Now?

March 1, 2014

By David Lawrence XVII

Voice Actor, Actor, Producer, Coach

I’m going to warn you right now – this is going to take a wee bit longer than 60 seconds to read. But I promise, it will be worth it.

So. When ACX (Audiobook Creation Exchange) announced on February 27 they were reducing royalties by 20%, doing away with escalating revenue sharing based on sales, while increasing the bounty payment, but only if your book is "the first purchase of a new AudibleListener™” the furor among rights holders and narrators alike was visceral, almost universal and, frankly, predictable.

Here is the ACX February 27 notice:
We’re posting today with an important update regarding ACX royalty and bounty payments, effective March 12.

For titles started on or after March 12, 2014 that are distributed exclusively through Audible, Amazon, and iTunes, a flat 40% net royalty will be paid to the Rights Holder; on royalty share deals, this amount will be split equally between the Rights Holder and Producer. For titles that are distributed non-exclusively, the Rights Holder will receive a flat 25% royalty.

We’re also revising our $25 Bounty program. Now, a $50 bounty will be awarded to the royalty earner every time their book is the first purchase of a new AudibleListener™, instead of any of the first three purchases. In royalty share deals, this $50 is still split evenly between the Rights Holder and Producer.

Note that any completed audiobooks – or audiobook productions that have an offer extended to a producer before March 12, 2014 – will still accrue royalties under the existing royalty structure.

We’re sure you’ve got some questions regarding this change, and we’ll answer a few below. You can also visit our FAQ page, or email support@acx.com for further information.

What is the reason for this change?

We are lowering the royalties as we continue our mission to accommodate more audiobook productions. Our royalties still remain well above those offered by traditional audiobook publishers. Furthermore, we want to encourage authors and Rights Holders to promote their audiobooks with the increased bonus payment from $25 to $50 (or from $12.50 to $25.00 on Royalty Share deals).

What happens to my existing audiobook contracts?

There will be no change to your existing audiobook contracts. Your existing contracts will continue to accrue royalties under the 50%-90% royalties that escalate for every 500 units sold. In addition, you can now take advantage of $50 bounties.

What happens between now and March 12?

If you make an offer before March 11 at 11:59PM ET, and that offer is accepted before it expires, your book will earn royalties beginning at 50%, escalating up to 90%. If your offer is not accepted, cancelled, or terminated at a later time, the new royalty rate will apply.

We sincerely thank you for your loyalty as an ACX user, and we assure you that the changes detailed here will allow us to continuously work to improve your ACX experience. And remember, you can always contact us to discuss your questions by emailing support@acx.com.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?

What does this mean to you as a narrator? The overwhelming consensus is that this is a sucker-punch in the gut.

As artists, we were enjoying a free-to-join, free-to-work-on, free-from-commission, artist-friendly so-different-from-Voice123-and-Voices.com site, that let us audition for whatever we want, whenever we want and decide on how we work, how we manage our clients, and how we get paid.

It felt to some like a total betrayal.

But to a few, it was taken as a new piece of data to use in their business process, me included.

BUSINESS DECISION - NOT ABOUT ART

Today, after all the outrage, the screaming, the open letters, the petitions, the threads and the threats, I’m asking simply, "What does this mean to you as a business person?”

Business decisions should be, and smart ones are, made in the cold harsh light of logic and economics, not righteous indignation and emotion.

Business is rarely about art, and always about your standards, practices and level of risk aversion (those are fancy words about how financially capable and willing you are to take a chance on something that could go really bad).

IT'S AUDIBLE'S BALLPARK


So, what does the ACX policy revision mean to your business?

Humor me. Forget for a moment the incessant demonizing of Audible (ACX parent company) for this. You plays with a monopoly, you takes your chances.

See, the truth is, it’s their decision, because it’s their ballgame, their stadium, their league, their rules.

We play with Audible because it’s attractive and profitable, money-wise or other-wise. And they have far more narrators than they have books to be narrated – 15,266 producers versus 3,856 titles at this very moment – so it’s buyer’s market.

And as artists, we’re often tempted to sell our work to buyers for little or nothing. (I try to lobby against that at every turn, but then, I’m looking out for your ability to pay the rent and put food on the table with your art.)

DECIDE YOUR BOTTOM LINE

But we all have our own personal business lines that we draw in the sand. We won’t work for anything less than X, or we don’t do THAT kind of book, or whatever.

Look, don’t get me wrong: 20% is 20%. And that’s a hit, no matter how many new AudibleListeners we draw to audible.com and coach on how to accurately make our book their "first purchase.”

We’re going to make less money than before. 20% less than before. That’s a fact.

In any other instance, like a supermarket giving 20% less of a discount, or charging 20% more for their items, you’d maybe do nothing, or maybe, you’d vote with your feet and your wallet and go shop elsewhere.

You can do that here. You can stop working for ACX. If enough of us do, they’ll make some changes pretty fast.

I have a feeling not enough of us are willing to do that. I have a feeling that although some of us aren’t willing to take this kind of abuse, others of us don’t look at it as abuse at all – and might even want to have a dialogue with Jason and Mike and the rest of the ACX crew and find out why this, why now, and why 20%.

ASSESS YOUR OPTIONS

The question is: what are you willing to do about it? Here are some options.

1. Are you willing to continue to work for them, even at these reduced rates, because things are actually pretty good? I mean, you figure even though a 20% royalty isn’t the 25% royalty it used to be, 20% is still a lot higher than the 1%-3% royalty the authors themselves got as royalties in the old days, right?

2. Are you willing to try to persuade them to change their mind with a reasonable and professional tone and temperament, but still work for them?

3. Are you willing to only take reasonably well-paying (on par with union rates) PFH books on ACX, and completely abandon royalty share, stipend enhanced or not?

4. Are you willing to sign a petition demanding change, organize a boycott of Audible’s audiobooks, encourage other narrators not to work for them, and other methods to try to shame them into going back to the old royalty schedule?

5. Are you only willing to sit on the sidelines and take whatever results the rest of the really exercised narrators are going to get accomplished?

Or ...and here’s the big one:

6. Are you willing to quit working on ACX projects altogether?

Any or all of these are completely up to you – and I’d suggest you decide, as an artistic entrepreneur dedicated to making a living at performing. I have. And I’m at peace with it.

So? What’s your decision? Where is your line in the sand? Tell us in the comments below.
--------------------
ABOUT DAVID
After a 30 year career in radio, David H. Lawrence XVII has been seen on ABC's epic series LOST, CBS' legendary CSI and military thriller The Unit, The Mentalist, How I Met Your Mother, NBC's spy comedy Chuck, Good Luck Charlie and ANT Farm on Disney, Touch and The Finder on FOX, and is best known as the creepy evil puppet master Eric Doyle on NBC's smash hit Heroes. His film career includes on-camera and VO work on Men in Black III, Pizza Man, The Changeling, The Hulk, Iron Man, Percy Jackson, Unstoppable, Too Big to Fail, A Special Relationship and countless others. Lawrence helps actors create their own voice over careers with his award-winning VO2GoGo voice training service, and was BACKSTAGE's Readers' Choice for Favorite VO Teacher and Favorite VO Demo Producer for the past 4 years. On radio, the Emmy-award winning and Clio-nominated Lawrence hosted The David Lawrence Show, Online Tonight, and has been heard on over 300 radio stations and both XM and Sirius Satellite Radio. He is also considered to be the first podcaster in history, having delivered daily RealAudio and MP3 "podcasts" via email from early 1994.


Email:
davidlawrence@gmail.com
Web:
www.vo2gogo.com

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Comments (4)
Jack Wallen
3/2/2014 at 1:53 PM
David,

Thank you for sharing your insight here. This reminds me of when I was a member of AEA and found the union (one that was supposed to help foster a positive working environment and experience for its membership) started cutting us off at the legs. Pay began to decrease, insurance was cut, and jobs were getting scarce. So bad were the changes that I retired from the profession.

I am only now starting to really gain momentum as a narrator. Do I want to stop? Not at all. Is there an alternative? I'm not sure (if so, I'd love to find out about it). Am I willing to make less money for the same amount of work? Probably not. This could mean I might only now be willing to audition for hourly-based pay projects. I haven't decided.

Ultimately, I would like to know why they made these changes. When audiobook sales are soaring, this shouldn't be the case. Is this an instance where someone greedy wants to be richer? Or did ACX see an increase in overhead they need to cover?

I realize they own the playground and, if we want to play in it, we have to follow their rules. But I would like a bit of transparency here. If this is out of necessity, I'll gladly accept it and go on as is. If this is to pad the bottom line, I might not be so willing.

Anyway, thank you for helping to bring this to light.

Jack
David Lawrence XVII
3/2/2014 at 7:42 AM
As a follow up to my article (above), since like a thousand people have asked me what I was going to do about this, here's a link to my decision and the business reasons for it:
http://www.vo2gogo.com/what-im-doing-about-acx-and-their-royalty-rate-change
Elizabeth Holmes
3/1/2014 at 1:54 PM
David -- Thank you for this concise summary of the issues, and your helpful perspective. I hope it sparks a lively discussion.

Paul -- Thank you for putting the budgets and opportunities in perspective. By these numbers, it appears that ACX is only willing to offer a living wage on 11% of its offerings.

I've been an avid audiobook listener for nearly 30 years. I enjoy an average of a book a week, and my lifetime listening total is nearing 1,200 titles. So my perspective on this issue is both as a listener and a voice actor.

Audible has done an incredible job of breaking down the barriers to audiobook acquisition. I used to pay up to $80 for a single book on cassette tape. They warped and tangled, and took weeks to arrive by mail. Now, I pay about a quarter of the price I used to pay and get nearly instant gratification when I download a book to my MP3 player. Plus, Audible customer service is outstanding.

No WONDER audiobook listening is an exploding market! It's affordable, convenient and (ahem) addicting. And I'm not alone in reading series after series because I just can't get enough of the author/narrator partnership.

Audibooks are a valuable commodity in a society that craves constant entertainment. And the costs to produce them are comparatively low, especially in contrast to movies and television. For these reasons, it behooves producers to attract the best possible creative teams behind each title by offering them as much monetary incentive as possible to participate.

ACX's royalty share changes are a bad deal for the talents who bring audiobooks alive. Yes, I signed the petition. Yes, I'm encouraging my narrator friends to seek work that pays them a living wage, and reject bad deals that masquerade as "opportunities."

We teach other people how to treat us by the behavior we accept or reject. I'm sad to see ACX treat its narrators so disrespectfully.

Paul Strikwerda
3/1/2014 at 10:27 AM
The market for audiobooks may be exploding, but only because ACX put a bomb under royalty deals.

I've always believed that sharing royalties with an unknown author for an unknown book without a budget for promotion was a bad deal. Now this bad deal is getting even worse.

The Amazon-Audible-ACX conglomerate is a force to be reckoned with, but that doesn't mean that we have to make peace with whatever it decides to do. Doing nothing and saying nothing sends out a clear signal: You can do whatever you want and we'll roll with the punches.

It's a lame response for a profession that's getting paid to be outspoken.

If someone hands me a gun so I can shoot myself in the foot, don't expect me to be okay with that.

I also refuse to play the victim of a take-it or leave-it scenario. I don't want to leave ACX, but I'm not going to quietly accept rates that show little respect for my time and for my craft. That's why I signed a petition asking ACX to reconsider. That's why I am speaking out today.

Based on the new breakdown, the 3678 ACX titles currently up for a royalty share are not for me. I run a for-profit business. What's left, you may wonder?

117 titles in the $0 - $50 per finished hour range
185 titles in the $50 - $100 range
72 titles in the $100- $200 range
44 titles in the $200 - $400 range
1 title in the $400 - $1000 range

So, out of 4,097 available ACX titles, 45 would interest me based on budget alone. Slim pickings, indeed!

On their website, Audible says: "We're great listeners, too."

That's why I hope you'll join me and let ACX know where you stand. Remind ACX that without storytellers, there wouldn't be any audio books.

ACX, stop creatively shortchanging rights holders and narrators!
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