Progress and Regress

There’s good news and bad news.  The good news is that the new Vatta book has hit 50 pages, and though it’s going slowly, it’s still alive so far.  Ky and Rafe and Stella sound like themselves, and the twins are a hoot.

The bad news is that Audible has gone bananas, peanuts, and crazy-cake with a new idea that’s a BAD idea for writers and publishers.  I have no problem with books being presented in an audio format as well as a print format.   But those are two separate formats, and book contracts specify who gets which chunk.  Books, audiobooks, and movies (audio-visual) are *different things*.   A book you read to yourself is not the same as a book you hear read without looking at the text, is not the same as a movie you watch on a screen (any size screen) with actors playing the parts and so on.  That’s why the rights are sold separately: print rights to print publishers, audio rights to audio publishers, and movie rights to movie companies.

Why this matters right now.  Audible (and its parent Amazon) have decided that it would be nifty-cool-great to add *captions* to its audiobooks so people could read along if they wanted to.   Several lines of text would display at a time, as the book was read, moving ahead with the voice actor’s reading.  They rolled out this program in July (I was busy in July; didn’t notice.  Ditto August.)   There are several problems.

On the minor side, audiobooks are not all unabridged texts–some do not all contain all the words in the book.  Thus the “text” of the captions might be different from the books, and create another text version, which–in publishing–means they would need a separate contract.  Which they don’t have.

On the major side, even if the audiobook contained every single word in the original…someone else already has the publishing rights to that format.  And that “someone else” will be peeved to find that its rights have been infringed…Penguin Random House, for instance, or Baen Books, would not be happy to find that Audible is putting out, essentially, a print edition without its permission.    This is why several major publishers have filed lawsuits against Audible’s addition of visible text to its sound recordings.  And if their suits lose, and Audible puts the text out there…these publishers might even sue me, for allowing Audible to do so, as a breach of my contract with them (and a way to get some money back) even though it’s also Audible’s breach of a contract with me…since their contract permits them to make, distribute, and sell *only audio format.*

However, even if these lawsuits are won by the publishers, and Audible is enjoined from treating books from those publishers that way…what about the writers who have reverted their books from publishers, or are self-publishing, but have audio contracts with Audible?  As was just explained to me by my agent, if I won a lawsuit against, say, Wal-Mart for doing something that damaged me, it would not stop Wal-Mart from doing the same thing to someone else.  Audible, which is being less than cooperative about this rights-grab they’re into, intends to do it willy nilly.   (And it is a rights-grab.  There’s nothing in my contracts with Audible that gives them the right to reproduce visible text…only sound files, not visual files.)   At present I have two books in that dangerous position.  Remnant Population‘s Audible contract is due for renewal fairly soon.  I will not be renewing that, even though it means no audiobook will be available until we find another audio publisher.  It’s the only power I have, to refuse to deal with them. The other’s Audible contract has a few more years to run.  And I do have books with my publishers that will be affected, depending on how the publishers’ lawsuits come out.

So tired of the tech sector deciding they’re so clever with this new! shiny! they’ve invented that we must all accept it and cheer for it.  Bah, Humbug.

 

5 thoughts on “Progress and Regress

  1. Elizabeth,

    Are you able to get the ISBN people involved? They would need to get a new ISBN number to add the text to the audio file format.

    Daniel Glover

    1. Daniel: I don’t get directly involved in contract negotiation, but I’ll mention this to my agent (who’s probably already thought of it.) Then again Audible may be ignoring that, and just using the audiobook one; they’re planning to convert *all* their audiobooks to the new format.

  2. I completely understand your concerns. It does seem as if Audible is engaging in an unauthorized rights grab.

    Just a couple of thoughts. I have a hearing impairment so I don’t use audiobooks. I think what Audible is doing is interesting from an accessibility standpoint because it might mean I could now use audiobooks because I could understand what is being said by reading along in text. I am not interested in doing so but I wonder if someone else might file a lawsuit on accessibility grounds.

    But, apart from that, I can see where publishers and authors are rightfully upset. If people can buy one product that combines both audio and text, they might not buy the text only product (although I rather think that there is a qualitative difference between buying a book and buying text that can only be read two lines at a time, with a narrator droning in the background). So, if Audible is contemplating issuing audio/text works then, going forward, there should be contracts specifically contemplating loss of revenue on the text only side and providing for that.

    Of course that doesn’t solve the problem of the current Audible contracts. I feel like this should be a slam dunk win for the publishers but it could be the equivalent of what happened a few years back with the advent of non-traditional media (e-books, etc.) which raised the question of who had rights that were not previously contemplated of, and disposed of, by traditional publishing contracts. I’d like to see the wording of the current Audible contracts and the relevant print contracts.

    On a more personal note, I’m sorry you have to deal with this aggravation. Not fun! Hope the situation resolves quickly in a satisfactory manner.

    1. “Text that can only be read two lines at a time, with a narrator droning in the background”

      Amazon/Audible’s next trick: Kindle editions of their audiobooks?

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