Why I Need To Side With Amazon/Audible

by James Wallace Harris, 1/1/23

Daniel Greene just posted The Audible Situation on his YouTube Channel. Greene is not attacking Amazon/Audible, but he is reporting on a controversy that began when author Brandon Sanderson posted “State of the Sanderson 2022” about why Sanderson wanted to publish his audiobooks first with Speechify rather than Audible. Amazon/Audible is moving towards becoming a monopoly for indie publishers and Sanderson wants to counter that and give other publishers a chance. Greene sides with that idea, and I sympathize completely. However, I need to explain why I and probably many other readers will stick with Amazon/Audible.

I’ve been buying audiobooks for maybe thirty years and buying them from Audible for twenty. I’ve been buying ebooks since the Rocket eBook came out, which was a little over twenty years ago. I have over a thousand Kindle books in my Amazon library and seventy-four pages of audiobooks (20 per page) in my Audible library. That’s a huge library of digital books I want to protect, and Amazon/Audible does a fantastic job of helping me. If my house burned down I’d lose all my physical books along with my iPad, iPhone, and Kindle. But I could buy a new iPhone, log in and have instant access to all my Amazon/Audible books.

Over the decades I have bought ebooks and audiobooks from companies not owned by Amazon/Audible. Nearly all of them have been lost as I moved from computer to computer, or forgotten the places and accounts I bought them from. I’ve bought books from Kickstarter, Apple, Barnes & Nobel, Recorded Books, Downpour, Humble Bundle, Phoenix Picks, O’Reilly Books, and many other publishers. I also bought audiobooks on cassettes and CDs, For example, we bought all the Harry Potter books on CD as they came out, but recently when my wife wanted to hear them again, she rebought them on Audible because it was convenient and because they will always be in her library.

Some of the ebooks I bought I sent to a Kindle device, but they don’t stay there as I’ve moved to new devices. And they don’t always look right in my Amazon library.

Years ago I realized that the only secure way of “owning” a digital book was to buy them from Amazon/Audible. I know they could change their policies or go out of business, but since Amazon is so big I’m betting they will be there until I die.

Amazon/Audible has become my trusted library to store digital books. They keep them fairly well organized and easy to find. They bought Goodreads and that helps me remember and review my books. That ecosystem makes for a very good digital library system. Even when Audible stops selling an audiobook I still have my copies. Of course, with thousands of books, some may have been deleted and I haven’t noticed.

There are times when I remember owning a book and going to Amazon/Audible and not finding it. When I search my mind I realize it’s missing because I bought it elsewhere. Sometimes I can still find them on my computer or remember the publisher and my account, but as time goes by, that’s becoming rarer.

If we thought of books like buying a movie ticket and watching a film, then buying books from any publisher wouldn’t matter. It would be a one-time experience. But if you buy books to build a library that doesn’t work.

I often see wonderful deals on Humble Bundle. I would buy them if they instantly became part of my Amazon library. And that’s true for deals from other publishers. But I’ve stopped getting those deals because I can’t easily keep up with their books for the long haul.

I do agree that it’s wrong that Amazon/Audible has gotten such a stranglehold on the industry. And I don’t see why Amazon/Audible must demand exclusive deals from authors. Amazon/Audible should stop that practice just to show goodwill to the book world.

I can think of some farfetched solutions to this problem. If there were an international registry of digital ownership that was separate from the publishers and sellers that would track what digital works a person owns, then that would break the monopoly. Booksellers would offer readers the best deal, and readers could pick from whichever seller they liked. But their purchase would be added to the registry. And they could then always download a copy of that book even if the bookseller or publisher went out of business. Such a system would even allow readers to leave their library to someone when they died.

Of course, Amazon/Audible has already created such a registry, and that’s why they are so successful.


14 thoughts on “Why I Need To Side With Amazon/Audible”

  1. Hi Jim:

    While I have bought Kindle ebooks and audible books over the last 20 years, I stubbornly continued to prefer print copies. However, in the last year I have been migrating from my print books to ebooks mostly because even though I have the print book somewhere I can’t find it and it so much easier to just search my Kindle Library. Also I like the ebook highlighting feature and the ability of access highlights easily especially when the Kindle books are synced to Readwise.

    Thanks for an interesting description of your experience with Amazon/Audible. It is helpful in clarifying my thoughts on this topic.

    1. I forgot about that. I love being anywhere and being able to call up an ebook or audiobook instantly.

      And like you I’ve come to depend on highlighting and annotating Kindle books.

  2. I agree completely. Amazon is a behemoth, Goodreads is cluttered, and I WISH that Audible did not require a monthly subscription – I can’t listen fast enough. But I do value the integration of my kindle books and audiobooks. Currently, I’ve paused my Audible subscription and subscribe to Scribd, but Scribd’s monthly price has gone up and invariably when I’m searching for an audiobook, Audible has it and Scribd does not. So I’m thinking of moving back to Audible exclusively. I guess I need to do the numbers on just buying audiobooks from Audible with and without a subscription.

    1. I buy the Audible 12 pack to keep the price down. I also do Scribd to save money. And I’ve started using Libby. But I’m always disappointed when I think I own a book and it’s not in my library because I forgot I read it on Scribd or Libby.

      1. What is the Audible 12-pack? Is that just buying 12 months’ worth of credits at one time? Thanks for the tips!

          1. This is not available in all countries. In Germany I can only buy 3 credits at a lower price, if I have 0 or 1 credit left. There are no other offers. So far, at least.

  3. It isn’t the reader experience that’s the issue. They could simply pay authors a higher percentage, like Spotify and Speechify do, and the reader wouldn’t be affected at all.

    1. Actually, I think the reader experience is better with Amazon/Audible. Their complaint is indie authors are being coerced by Amazon to be exclusive with them. There are tons of self-published authors out there that wouldn’t have any success without Amazon. But I can understand how they would feel squeezed by Amazon too. Amazon also reduces indie writers’ royalties if they don’t make exclusive deals with them. I don’t see why Amazon even bothers. Their competition is so slight it shouldn’t matter much to their bottom line if indie authors do sell through other booksellers. Amazon is both generous and bullying.

      Sanderson wants to help indie writers sell through other sellers.

      By the way, Spotify pays musicians extremely low rates. If given a chance they’d probably squeeze writers for all the could too. I can’t believe they pay some podcasters millions.

      1. For ebooks, Amazon doesn’t reduce indie authors’ royalties if they’re not exclusive with Kindle Unlimited. An author is either in Kindle Unlimited, in which case they must be exclusive, or they’re not in KU at all and they can publish their ebooks elsewhere.
        As for audio books, Amazon/Audible royalties are absurdly low, giving only 40% if exclusive, and 25% if non-exclusive. Brandon Sanderson signed with Speechify for 70% royalties, a rate also available for indie authors. Brandon is primarily trying to get Amazon to pay a more reasonable royalty rate for audio books because, as you’ve pointed out, they have most of the market share. He’s not necessarily trying to push people to publish outside of Amazon, but rather trying to make it less of a monopolistic practice. Also, as you’ve said, Amazon doesn’t really need to punish people so much for publishing their books and audiobooks elsewhere, because they already own most of the North American market.
        The reading/listening experience is not what he’s focusing on, other than trying to get Amazon to pay more so that even more indie authors will be comfortable publishing audio through them.

    2. My implication is Spotify and Speechify probably won’t attract many buyers. I’m guessing Sanderson is shooting himself in the foot.

      Writers should be able to market their work everywhere. As a consumer I dislike exclusive deals. I like to pick my merchant and be able to get everything I want. For example, I prefer shopping at Kroger but they have dropped many name brands to push their exclusive brands. This forces me to shop at two and three stores. I like Amazon and Audible because I can usually find anything I want. Except exclusive items other sellers make to compete with Amazon/Audible. If I shopped at Walmart I’d want them to offer everything too. There is problems with my attitude but that’s the way marketing has been evolving.

      The internet and computers have created a near perfect way to shop. However it’s monopolistic. I hate shopping so Amazon is perfect for me. But I can understand why others are against them.

      I think the solution is to create several super-sellers like Amazon. But companies fighting Amazon will use exclusives to gain market share and Amazon will use exclusives to keep it.

  4. My heart is certainly with independent and small businesses…to a degree. But if my heart is where my wallet is, then my heart is definitely with Amazon and Audible, for all the reasons you list.

    I backed Sanderson’s Kickstarter and am loving listening to the audiobook of the first story. But I downloaded the individual files to my phone and thus have to start each chapter as it isn’t one continuous file. There is probably a way to make it so, but that isn’t how I want to spend my time. If this book continues in the way that it has been going and I enjoy it all the way through to the end, I can still see myself wanting to give Amazon my money in the future to get a copy of it on Audible, thus making it easier to find and easier for my wife to enjoy it as well.

  5. One way to ‘integrate’ ebooks you buy elsewhere is to maintain a digital library of your books on your own computer, similar to your personal bookshelves / library. I believe there are a few options for this, but the app I use is Calibre.
    It adds a step, as you have to import the ebook file into it, but from there, you can read it on your computer, or export it to your ebook reader. It supports quite a few readers also, including older ones.
    There is also the possibility to deDRM your books, for PERSONAL use / backup only, so that you can read them on your computer, rather than just your reader.

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