If you have ever browsed Audible, you are very familiar with the bright yellow “Only from Audible” banner that so many audiobooks on there have. But is it bad when the audio version of a book is an Audible exclusive?
There are many, many different aspects to this question. So, let’s jump in…
**The marked links and book covers on this page are affiliate links. If you use them to purchase something, I earn a fee at no additional cost for you. Disclosure**
Audible Exclusives are complicated!
“Audible is bad.”
“Audible is harmful and unfair.”
People have a lot of feelings about the way Audible conducts its business.
Personally, I have a lot of conflicting thoughts and feelings about this topic.
On the one hand, as a customer, I like to get good deals and be able to get audiobooks without any hassle and without breaking the bank. And, of course, I like when a book has an audiobook at all!
On the other hand, as an audiobook blogger, I sometimes get a look behind the scenes. And I want audiobooks and their creators to thrive and be able to create for a long time to come.
Why does that second point conflict with the first?
That’s actually very complex!
Audible and Indie Authors
Audible does a lot to make audiobook creators thrive. The system of Amazon Publishing, Kindle Unlimited, and ACX allows every person with a story to tell to publish their own book and turn it into an audiobook.
And that’s an immensely powerful thing!
Of course, Amazon doesn’t do anything out of the goodness of its heart. So, one thing at play here is Amazon’s war against publishing houses.
I can never quite decide whose side I’m on since both exploit their employees and creators. It’s all about the bottom line, innit?!
But the big publishing houses have been gatekeepers for a long time, and Amazon played a big role in making it possible for people to tell their stories without sending them away with the comment, “there’s no market for this”.
Especially Black and Queer authors could connect with their audiences here, and many readers were able to find stories that they would rarely, if ever, see in a bookstore.
The next step is that Audible ACX allowed these authors, who were ignored by traditional publishers, to publish their books in audio format, making their stories accessible to everyone who can only consume literature as audiobooks or simply enjoys them.
Now we get to yet another layer of this complex system. Audiobook royalties!
Audible Exclusives and Royalties
Audible is by far the biggest player in the audiobook market, with a share of 63%. If you create your audiobook through ACX, you can choose to offer your audiobook on several audio stores (“wide publishing”) and receive 25% royalties for any sales made on Audible.
Or you can choose to publish your audiobook exclusively on Audible. Then you will receive 40% royalties for any sale made on Audible.
As we just established, Audible is the biggest store by far. You will make most of your audiobook sales on Audible. So there’s a strong incentive to publish exclusively on Audible!
I always have to raise an eyebrow when I see a big, highly anticipated release like Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir as Audible exclusive. However, this is actually a bad example since Andy Weir started as a self-published author whose ebook was picked up by a then small audiobook publishing house.
But you see, that’s why I initially said that this is a very complex topic with many different aspects.
How many books are exclusive to Audible?
Every Friday, I post a bunch of Romance audiobook deals on my Facebook page. These deals are audiobooks that were released that same week and most of them are a deal because they are “Whispersynced“. That’s an Amazon system that syncs an audiobook and ebook if they are exactly the same.
Often, these audiobooks are offered at a discounted price. Most books I list have the ebook included in Kindle Unlimited, and if a subscriber borrows it for free, they can buy the accompanying audiobook for $7.49.
I mention this because it means I look at many, many new releases each and every week.
I also run the Library Extension plugin in my browser. Whenever I go to a book’s page on Audible or Amazon, this extension shows me whether the audiobook is available on Hoopla, Scribd, Libby, Libro.fm, and other audiobook platforms.
That means that I get a feeling for how many audiobooks are released as Audible exclusives.
And it’s a lot.
For self-published authors, it’s a solid strategy to put their ebook in Kindle Unlimited, then offer the audiobook as an Audible exclusive and hope it will get Whispersynced quickly with a $7.49 deal (authors don’t actually have any influence on this).
Romance audiobook listeners are voracious and absolutely love Whispersync deals. And chances are that a self-published Romance author earns more with 40% on an Audible exclusive Whispersync audiobook than offering their audiobook wide and hoping to make back enough through Hoopla and Scribd borrows.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying Audible is some sort of saint helping self-published authors! They’re not.
Those 25% royalties for audiobooks that aren’t Audible exclusive are a disgrace.
Actively cutting out libraries is a disgrace.
Audible makes its own rules. Audible exclusive could simply prevent authors from publishing in other for-profit stores but exempt libraries.
But Audible doesn’t do that. Because they will do anything to continue being the biggest fish in the audiobook sea!
And while they have benefitted self-published authors a lot, they do nothing out of the good of their hearts!
Audible “invented” the digital audiobook and established the low royalty percentage for audiobooks.
And Audible has not been good to audiobook creators!
There was the thing where it came out through a bug that audiobook creators paid for every single audiobook return. You know, the feature Audible heavily promotes to customers!
Audible did not take the loss from any returns. They just subtracted royalties from the audiobook creator.
While they have adjusted that in the meantime (after the giant outrage), this is still an absolutely shocking example of how little Audible really values audiobook creators, despite the many ways in which the company supports them.
Then there’s the thing with the 25% royalties, which is horrible. I can’t say it often enough.
Brandon Sanderson used all his weight as one of the biggest current authors to get Audible to react. His new releases will not be published on Audible at all in an attempt to pressure them to pay all authors more fairly.
He shopped around and asked each audiobook store how high the royalties are that they pay any author publishing their audiobook there. He didn’t want a special deal for himself, he wanted to support a store that, in turn, treats authors fairly.
As of yet, Audible has not reacted directly.
ACX authors have, however, heard from Audible recently. Audible will lower the prices for audiobooks across the board!
What exactly this entails is unclear. But there is definitely concern that this will do damage to the earnings of indie authors.
Now, I know all of this sounds pretty bad, and you could say that Audible sucks and that Audible exclusives are bad.
But there is one aspect in their favor that, in my opinion, weighs pretty heavily…
Amazon vs The Big Five
… and that is that you have to ask yourself how many of those Audible exclusives would have been published if this system of Amazon Kindle direct publishing and ACX hadn’t existed.
I already mentioned this earlier, but it is an important aspect I want to talk about some more.
When I see a new Penguin Random House release, I’m always annoyed because they are never offered on Hoopla or Scribd and are, sometimes, entirely Audible exclusive.
For example, why are the amazing new Terry Pratchett audiobooks Audible exclusive? They’re produced by Penguin Audio. There doesn’t seem to be any good reason other than that Audible made Penguin an offer they didn’t want to refuse. They could have. They just didn’t want to.
Which is even less understandable than when Audible Studios gets the rights to turn a book into audio format. Of course, Audible would make their own productions Audible exclusive. But why Penguin?
Sir Terry once said: “I taught myself more in the library than school taught me.” This doesn’t make him sound like the kind of man who would appreciate his books being kept out of libraries. Just saying…
So yeah, I think this is a shameful decision on the part of the publishing house. It’s definitely not the way to gain any moral high ground over Amazon Publishing!
Because a point could be made for Amazon Publishing not acting amoral if they publish books exclusively that they themself published. But books that are already out there in the world? Phew…
I would never blame a self-published author or indie publishing house for going the Amazon ACX route because it is a very promising way to make back what the audiobook production cost.
But the big publishing houses could start to act a bit more ethically.
In the end, the way I see it, it’s in the hands of other audiobook stores to combat this by offering higher royalties.
It’s already questionable why ebooks pay 70% royalties and audiobooks 40%. There’s certainly some room for Audible competitors to offer better compensation to audiobook creators so that the Audible exclusive route becomes unattractive.
Of course, the infrastructure to offer audiobook downloads is more expensive and demanding than that for ebooks. But again, there are many, many numbers between 40 and 70. Do right by your creators! Without their work, you wouldn’t have a product to sell.
Shopping Local vs Shopping Indie
There is one other aspect I want to talk about here.
You can’t think small in every aspect when it comes to books. You can’t cut out both Amazon and big publishing houses and expect authors to still be able to write full-time.
The biggest share of the book market still falls to print books. And a big reason for that are brick-and-mortar bookstores.
But it’s no news that bookstores are struggling. And that means they carry books they are sure to sell. They can’t afford to experiment!
If you have a small store and want to survive, you’ll rather stock 50 copies of Spare than get 1 copy each from 50 self-published authors.
And if you are a big chain, you only care about the bottom line and will get those bestsellers and nothing else.
Sure, it’s a romantic idea, the little independent bookstore helping you discover that indie-published book.
But the reality is that brick-and-mortar bookstores rely heavily on the big 5 traditional publishing houses.
And they are problematic all on their own!
I absolutely, truly love that Libro.fm made it possible to buy an indie author’s audiobook from an indie book store! And I will always, whenever possible, buy my audiobooks there and recommend this site to all of my readers here.
But you can’t fault any indie author for sticking to the system they know, the one that helped them grow, and pays the bills.
These days, self-published authors have several alternatives to publishing their audiobooks other than ACX. Be it Findaway, Authors Republic, or IngramSpark. These platforms help them to push their title to all audiobook stores and libraries.
But yeah, we can’t expect anyone to change the system of how they run their little business, endangering their earnings and spending a lot of time learning instead of writing.
What I’m probably trying to say is that I don’t blame Audible for offering this exclusive option with a higher royalty rate. I also don’t blame any indie audiobook publisher for choosing this route.
I do blame Audible for offering 25% royalties, though. That’s disgusting. Seriously.
And I also hope we will see Audible competitors increase royalties, instead of happily offering 40% royalties because Audible established this number while trying to build up their own library of exclusive audiobooks.
I hope all you audiobook stores will do better by audiobook creators! *shouting into the void*
And for you as a listener, the takeaway could be: It’s okay to buy from Audible. But if you can get an audiobook from Hoopla, Scribd, Libro.fm, or another Audible alternative, do it!
Monopolies never benefit customers or creators.
So, it’s good to try and spend our money elsewhere when possible. That includes Hoopla and Libby!
We want to keep Amazon Audible on their toes. But it’s also not necessary to have a bad conscience when you get a Whispersync deal. As I said, indie authors choose the route to be Audible exclusive, and it’s often the financially safest way for them to create an audiobook at all.
But when they publish an audiobook wide, it’s a chance for us fans to show them that Audible is not the only audiobook game in town and that we support them on the new route!
Eline Blackman (pronouns: she/they) fell in love with books as a child – with being read to and reading herself. 10 years ago, she bought her first Audible book. It was love at first listen! An average of 250 audiobooks per year has become the new normal and you will rarely see Eline without a wireless earbud. Romance and Fantasy are the go-to genres for this audiobook fan.