Audible VS Indie Authors
A detailed breakdown of some great audiobook alternatives
There’s new drama in the realm of audiobooks, specifically with Audible’s business practices when dealing with independent authors and publishers.
Speculative fiction author Brandon Sanderson has taken a stand against the audiobook giant after successfully completing a Kickstarter of four secret novels. During his search for an audiobook publisher, he—technically as an indie author in this case—realized how Audible was treating smaller creators. As an alternative, he’s chosen to partner with Spotify and Speechify in order to get his books out to fans. This is what he had to say:
The books will not be on Audible for the foreseeable future.
This is a dangerous move on my part. I don’t want to make an enemy of Amazon (who owns Audible). I like the people at Audible, and had several meetings with them this year.
But Audible has grown to a place where it’s very bad for authors. It’s a good company doing bad things.
The problem seems to be that Audible’s royalty rates are far below the industry standard. This is likely due to the fact that Audible monopolizes a vast majority of audiobook sales; nearly 75% of sales for Sanderson’s most recent book were through Audible. Therefore, he’s willing to take the hit on profit margins in order to potentially create a more competitive marketplace for audiobooks.
For the sake of clarity, let me explain further. As I understand it, Audible leverages their market size against authors by chopping the royalties down to 40%, or even as far as 25% when going exclusive with them. Since I haven’t gone through this process myself, I had no idea this means the author is potentially losing money with this arrangement. For context, the industry standard for royalties on other sales, such as for eBooks, is 70% or higher.
This is not an attack on Audible. They’ve done great things in the way of making audiobooks mainstream. I’m remaining a neutral party to this whole affair. My purpose in writing this is to highlight the fact that there are plenty of audiobook alternatives like the ones that Sanderson has gone with. If switching up your audiobook supplier is of interest to you, I’ve curated a list of some great options down below.
Or, if you’d like to hear more about the Audible controversy, check out this great summary from Daniel Greene, where he reads Sanderson’s statement in its entirety and provides his own analysis:
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The Best Audiobook Alternatives
Scribd (pronounced skribbed)
I’ve almost exclusively used Scribd for audiobooks since 2019. I say almost because I periodically redeem free trials for Audible to get those credits (can you blame me?). The reason I still do that is because new releases aren’t generally available on Scribd, so if I wanted a new Sanderson book, I’d normally have to get it on Audible, which, funnily enough, isn’t possible now. Spotify, here I come.
I like Scribd because it functions like a streaming service where you get unlimited access to their entire library rather than the Audible credit system of one or two books at a time. Audible has recently released Audible Plus, which appears to be their direct answer to this, but, from what I’ve heard, the selection is likewise limited. I’ve always had something to listen to on Scribd regardless of the lack of new releases. They have nearly all of the classics, which is a huge plus.
In addition to the audiobooks, Scribd also has a massive library of eBooks, magazines, podcasts, sheet music, book summaries, and an assortment of popular PDF documents. Pricing is currently $11.99/month for the entire library. They can throttle you if you’re deemed a “super user”, but I’ve only had that happen once in the 3 years I’ve used it. All that happens is that they take some books in your saved library and put them on a waiting list until the next month’s payment goes through. In their explanation for this, they explain that they are losing money if you listen to more than one book per month.
Similar to Audible in that it costs $15 a month for one credit to redeem one book, plus an additional 30% off purchases. The thing that stands out with Libro.fm is that when you create an account, you can choose your favorite local bookstore to purchase the books through and they get a cut of the profit. Here is an explanation from their About page:
Whether you are paying for monthly membership, giving an audiobook gift to a friend, or buying audiobooks for yourself or your organization, Libro.fm splits the profit from your purchases with your local bookstore.
I think this is a very cool idea, and if I end my Scribd subscription soon, I’ll probably go with something like this. I have a few local bookshops around me that I like, the hard part will be deciding which one to support!
Libby - The library reading app
I need to get on this ASAP. My town (yes, I live in a township) just built a brand new library in 2020 and I have never set foot in it. I’m honestly ashamed of myself.
Libby is free. It lets you sync your library card to the app which basically imports the entire library into your pocket. It lets you read across devices, you can download eBooks and audiobooks for offline usage, and it can send everything to your Kindle. No late fees!
I’m going to get a library card this month. Someone hold me to that please.
This is a weird one for me. I had Speechify on my phone for a year and didn’t know they had content. I used it to listen to .pdf files and that’s it. That’s what I thought the app was for! Well, apparently it has audiobooks now.
It states that the first audiobook is free, but then the yearly plan is $199, breaking down to $16.60/m for only 1 credit a month. Yikes. The website claims that you get access to the latest releases and thousands of free classics. But that price is only for audiobooks, whereas other apps on this list offer extra perks.
The last thing I’ll say about this company is that during their free trial, the constant throttling of the experience in its attempt to upsell you for a subscription felt very predatory. Didn’t enjoy that aspect, despite the overall concept being a really good one.
Another oddball. I love Spotify. It’s my go-to music app, has been for years. They made waves with their foray into podcasting and signing Joe Rogan as an exclusive show. I listen to a lot of podcasts via Spotify, including Arthadian Anthologies!
The issue here is that you have to individually purchase the audiobooks you want on their website before you can access it in the app. This is likely to skirt Apple’s monetization of in-app purchases. Epic Games, creator of Fortnite, has been battling Apple in court on this for some time.
Anyway, it doesn’t matter whether or not you have a Spotify subscription, you still have to purchase books individually on the website. So the only appeal is getting Sanderson’s audiobooks early.
I’ll likely showcase this again in the future, but this one I want to pay more attention to. These audiobooks (actually called ‘shows’) are more immersive and on a whole different level. Here is what Realm is in their own words:
Realm is the audio entertainment company that creates original fiction podcasts and audiobook series, including official continuations of popular franchises. Based in New York, LA and beyond, Realm collaborates with bestselling and award-winning writers, directors, artists, and actors from film/tv, animation, publishing, and gaming to create expansive, diverse, and immersive shows.
I’m all-in on immersive audio if you haven’t noticed. I did a Showcase of The Sentinel Creatives and they have some of the coolest ones out there right now.
Pricing for Realm is much lower, likely due to the smaller catalog. Annual membership is only $29.99, while the monthly costs $3.99, totaling $47.88/year. Not that bad considering.
LibriVox now has an app. It’s almost entirely public domain, but there are some really good ones. And if you’re a fan of Daniel Davison’s narration, you can search for him specifically on there under the ‘reader’ tab to find his recordings. It has a bunch of annoying ads in the app that can be removed for only $2.50/year. This is what they are all about:
LibriVox volunteers record chapters of books in the public domain, and then we release the audio files back onto the net for free. All our audio is in the public domain, so you may use it for whatever purpose you wish.
Librivox is a non-commercial, non-profit and ad-free project
Librivox donates its recordings to the public domain
Librivox is powered by volunteers
Librivox maintains a loose and open structure
Librivox welcomes all volunteers from across the globe, in all languages
Okay, I’m going to wrap it up here. I’m missing some like Kobo and Apple Books, but they are more of the same, and it comes down to preference (like how I prefer the Apple Books app to Kindle). Do you use any alternatives for audiobooks that I haven’t mentioned here? Please share those with us!
What do you think about the Audible situation? Is Sanderson doing the right thing, or is this a publicity stunt?
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😲😲😲😲😲😲 not done but that’s my reaction so far. I didn’t even know about alternatives to audible
Thanks for sharing some alternatives! Will investigate