Audible rethinks royalty clawbacks and pledges to pay audiobook authors for sales returned more than a week after purchase

Audible is pledging to pay authors royalties for any title returned more than seven days following purchase after protests that the company’s exchange policy allowing customers to return titles up to a year after purchase was hitting many authors.

The new policy is effective from January 1, 2021 and comes in response to a letter sent recently to Audible from the Authors Guild about authors having royalties deducted ‘when a purchased audiobook is returned or exchanged, days, weeks, or even months later, regardless of whether or not they have listened to the entire book’.

The AG says in the letter that it has seen ‘alarmingly high rates of return, from 15% to as much as 50% or more of lost sales over time’. It adds that in many cases, authors may not even be aware their royalties are being debited for returns because Audible only lists ‘net sales’ adjusted for returns.

Audible says if it determines that the benefit is being overused, it can and does limit the number of exchanges and refunds allowed by a member. But it claims the benefit allows active Audible members in good standing to take a chance on new content and says ‘suspicious activity is extremely rare’.

The company’s ‘Great Listen Guarantee’ terms and conditions state, ‘A member who is not fully satisfied with his or her listening experience may return such book for a full refund within 365 days of purchase. Audible reserves the right in its sole discretion to limit the number of refunds allowed by each member, including, but not limited to, in cases where Audible suspects abuse of the program. Audible may change these terms and conditions or may cancel the program with respect to any or all participants at any time.’

Audiobooks have been a booming sector for several years and Amazon-owned Audible is by far the biggest player, but the market is clouded by a lack of transparency. There are several tiers of royalties plus the additional factors involved in producing audiobooks compared with ebooks or print books, including royalty splits for authors and producers, and there is also the fact that you cannot set a price for your audiobook with Audible as the company sets the price itself.

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