Thursday, 2 October 2014
My meeting with ACX, Audible, and KDP...
So, yesterday I attended a luncheon meeting in Whitehall, along with Matt Shaw, the UK's current number 1 horror writer (and 23rd worldwide). It turns out that Matt is a funny guy in person and a lot taller than I am. Free wine was provided which Matt drank copiously before staggering out of the pub and telling me that he "never drinks."
At the meeting were several other authors (mostly from other fields such as erotica, historical thrillers, literary fiction, et al). Excitingly, there were also several Amazon executives from various departments, notably ACX, Audible, and KDP. I was fortunate enough to speak with most of them and had a chance to fire some questions at them.
I will briefly go over the issues I raised and provide a summary of the responses I was given. I will say, right now, that I didn't get anything concrete, as the main focus of ACX is still pretty fluid in terms of directions. It seems like Amazon are letting it grow organically rather than strategising and pushing it in a forced direction. This is not dissimilar to KDP during it's infancy. It was very much under the radar at first, before gearing up substantially into what it is today. I got a similar feeling that ACX is destined to do the same, and as such will only improve and grow from what is already an exciting platform. Here are some of the questions I asked.
1.Why did ACX recently lower the royalty rates?
The reply to this question was somewhat defensive, and the answer I eventually got was that the initial royalty rates were designed to generate interest and were never sustainable in the long term. It was stressed that ACX and KDP are entirely different platforms (and companies) and that a change in one does not signal a change in the other, so there is no need to fear that the 70% KDP royalty rate is likely to change. I suggested that the disappointing news of a royalty drop was put to authors rather patronisingly (Matt Shaw shrank back in his chair at this point), and I was asked what would be the best way to give bad news without upsetting people, which I thought was a fair point. The overall point that I gleaned from this question was that the current rate is not going to change for the foreseeable future so we will have to get used to it. I don't personally agree that ACX warrants 60% of profits and it would be nice to be shown a breakdown of how they arrived at that figure (i.e. costs incurred by ACX etc). Still, it's their ballgame and no one is forced to sign up. Sometimes, we lose sight of that and forget that no one is entitled to anything. The only power we have is to go wherever the terms and conditions are best, and currently that is ACX.
2.Why is a 7 year contract term required to use ACX?
I asked why this appearingly arbitrary number was chosen as the contract term, seeing as ACX is essentially a distributor and not needing to recoup any major upfront costs. I was told that 7 years is industry-standard and in line with other publishing contracts. I felt this was a little contradictory as ACX is not like other publishers. Other publishers cover costs of audiobook production and provide advances, whereas ACX does not. I'm not sure if there is any flexibility on ACX's stance on length of contract, but I did stress that if they want authors to commit to such a long period of time, then ACX should sweeten the pot with things such as promotional tools etc. Which leads me onto...
3.Can we have promotional tools to help bolster flagging sales?
I explained that ebook sale numbers on KDP are constantly fluctuating and that the most entrepreneurial authors are able to influence their levels of success by shrewd and frequent use of the promotional tools given to them by KDP (such as Countdown Deals, freebies etc). I explained that my own ACX titles tend to start off very well before dipping to a much lower level of sales (a level where they sadly remain for the most part). I then have very limited means to create future spikes in sales during that long 7 year contract period. I explained that there would be no point in an author caring much about pushing their ACX titles after that initial sales spike as there is little means for them to affect things; this hurts ACX as much as the author as it leads to stagnant older titles. By providing promotional tools, ACX can ensure that authors retain a continuing interest in their backlist titles - as they do with KDP titles currently - and can boost flagging sales by running regular promotions and stoking renewed audience interest.
I am happy to report that this discussion went down very well and was something the ACX/Audible execs were very happy to consider. Interestingly, I was told that if I had an active promotion of my own running (a paid advert for example), that I should email ACX support and let them know about it as they would be happy to feature my titles simultaneously to maximise returns. They also stated that if an audiobook sells well enough, they might be willing to issue more freebie codes (like the 25 given out upon initial publication). To do this, an author/narrator should email support. The gist of this is that ACX seemed very open to working with authors on an ad hoc basis, so if you want their support with a promotion you are doing, then let them know. They will help if they are able.
4.Why is reporting two days behind and so primitive (in relation to KDP)?
Reporting is 48 hours behind due to the coordination required between separate companies (including one not associated with Amazon at all). ACX has to receive sales data from Audible, Amazon, and Apple, before it can pass those figures onto us. It was expressed that reporting was a key improvement area for ACX and eventually they would like to have a dynamic dashboard similar to KDP, or at the very least Createspace. I would expect improvements to come incrementally like they do in KDP and I have every confidence that the website, reporting, and feedback from ACX will steadily improve. I also stated that it's nigh on impossible to know how much one is earning in realtime as the royalty tariffs are so confusing. I was told that ACX are currently trying to work out what is the best way to pay authors per sale and that it will likely change at some point. The utopia would be that one day a dashboard exists for Createspace, KDP, and ACX all in one, where authors can manage their entire business and link products together into cohesive promotion campaigns. That won't happen tomorrow, but it sounds like an awfully nice idea.
5.Can we do bundle deals with ebooks, paperbacks, al a "Match Book"?
It was expressed to me that there are complications regarding this, as audio rights are separate to digital and paperback rights. It wasn't rejected as an idea, and there are already occasional offers for customers to purchase discounted audiobook for ebooks they have purchased in the past. I imagine that if bundling products together becomes workable, it will happen at some point in the future.
6.Can we have variable royalty share terms?
I put forward an idea for a 25% royalty share (instead of 50%) and part payment (instead of full). I would be happy to give my narrator a 25% royalty of sales and pay him $1000 up front (instead of his usual $2000 fee). Currently I am giving him 50% royalties with no fee payable. This idea was received well and will be reported up the line of command. ACX seemed to be very interested in flexibility as it is a good way to increase the amount of authors using the service.
7.Can we change artwork after publication?
I can't currently find a way to do this, but I was told that I should be able to and that if I have a problem just contact support who will do it manually. Again it's good that ACX support are willing to help with issues on a one to one basis.
8.Can we apply the ACX structure to translators for foreign editions?
I was told speculatively that their are already mumblings within Amazon concerning ways for self-publishers to exploit foreign rights. It may not happen tomorrow, but I would expect Amazon's next publishing venture to be aimed at getting translators and authors together. Apparently, Amazon has been assembling a small stable of translators within their businesses, but the the exec who spoke to me said it hadn't been stated from above exactly why. Interesting indeed.
Those were the main points I discussed. What I will say is that the Amazon execs were all young and passionate about helping authors. I left feeling excited and comforted that Amazon's goals are in line with my own. We often worry about Amazon pulling the rug out from under us, but I did not get that impression at all. The KDP UK exec was only 3 weeks into the job but she gave me the impression that authors and other content providers are regarded very highly by Amazon and a key part of their future strategies.
ACX is currently a win win in my opinion; a no brainer. It is the best way to exploit your audio rights and is likely to get even better. From personal experience I can say that the income is not unsubstantial. It is not currently as lucrative as KDP but it far exceeds my paperback sales. I believe audiobooks are a growth area and I got the overall impression from the luncheon meeting that ACX and Audible will be ramping up soon and that sales and exposure for audio titles will increase, maybe even rocket.
It is a fun experience working with narrators and hearing your book in audio. My own colleagues, Chris Barnes, and the wonderful Nigel Patterson, are both great to work with, and highly recommended. Give them your work and you won't be disappointed.
You can sign up to ACX here: www.acx.com. I could post a guide to using the site, but it really is quite straight forward once you get into it. So throw yourself in.
Incidentally, my own audiobooks are something I am very proud of and you can get them all here (with more coming soon): UK US
Posted by Iain Rob Wright at 12:52