The Authors Guild is working with a number of other writer organizations to gather signatures on a letter protesting a policy by Audible and its Audiobook Creation Exchange that enables Audible Premium Plus customers to exchange audiobooks they have purchased within 365 days.
As part of the program, the letter says, when a customer returns the audio, Audible deducts those returns and exchanges from authors’ accounts. “This policy is in clear breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing implied in the authors’ agreements with Audible and ACX as it allows books to be purchased and listened to without paying the authors and narrators their royalties,” the letter states.
The letter, which had more than 12,000 signatures as of Tuesday morning, will be sent to Audible CEO Bob Carrigan and Stas Zakharenko, general counsel.
In a statement issued on November 24—seemingly in response to news about the letter, which has yet to be sent to Audible—a Audiobook Creation Exchange representatives argued that, "in instances where we determine the benefit is being overused, Audible can and does limit the number of exchanges and refunds allowed by a member," adding that "suspicious activity is extremely rare." Still, the statement continued, "in recognition of these concerns, moving forward and effective as of January 1, 2021, Audible will pay royalties for any title returned more than 7 days following purchase."
Mary Rasenberger, CEO of the Authors Guild, told PW the matter was first brought to the Guild’s attention last month by independent authors using Audible’s ACX publishing platform. While monitoring their accounts, authors were seeing high levels of returns, Rasenberger said, and at least one author saw “negative numbers” in their account after the exchanges were deducted. Rasenberger said the Guild isn’t clear on how long this policy has been in place, but she said it seems to be gaining wider use by Audible customers since the company began promoting the option in what Rasenberger said is part of a marketing campaign to recruit new members.
The letter, which is also endorsed by Novelists, Inc., the Alliance of Independent Authors, the Dramatists Guild, Romance Writers of America, and Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, says that allowing customers 365 days to exchange a product “is not a real return or exchange policy, but a rental or subscription arrangement is disguise—which is outside of the scope of the rights authors grant to Audible when they assent to its terms of service.”
Rasenberger said the matter of deductions is further complicated by what she, and the letter, argue is a lack of transparency on Audible’s part. “The difficulty in ascertaining the exact losses to authors and narrators from the exchange benefit is compounded by the lack of transparency of the reporting and the subsequent difficulty being experienced by authors requesting reports on their returns, including the obdurate manner in which these requests have been met,” the letter says.
At present, it is not entirely clear if the exchange program also applies to authors from traditional publishers. Rasenberger said the Guild has reached out to representatives from the Big Five trade houses. “It appears that at least some of them may have contractual provisions that protect them from the overabundance of returns,” she told PW.
Rasenberger said the Guild wants Audible to change the policy, “or at the very least” ensure that exchange payments are not deducted from author accounts. “If Audible wishes to continue to permit the returns and exchanges of audiobooks after more than a reasonable time, say 48 hours, then Audible must do so at its own expense and pay authors the royalties due for the sales,” the letter states.
This story has been updated with further information.