Audible and Its Detractors

Prolific fantasy author Brandon Sanderson, who wrote five novels during the pandemic while some of us were watching Schitt’s Creek and loading frozen turkeys into car trunks, has announced the audiobook editions of those novels “will not be on Audible for the foreseeable future.”

The reason? “Audible has grown to a place where it’s very bad for authors.”

If you want details, the current industry standard for a digital product is to pay the creator 70% on a sale. It’s what Steam pays your average creator for a game sale, it’s what Amazon pays on ebooks, it’s what Apple pays for apps downloaded. (And they’re getting heat for taking as much as they are. Rightly so.)

Audible pays 40%. Almost half. For a frame of reference, most brick-and-mortar stores take around 50% on a retail product. Audible pays indie authors less than a bookstore does, when a bookstore has storefronts, sales staff, and warehousing to deal with. 

I knew things were bad, which is why I wanted to explore other options with the Kickstarter.  But I didn’t know HOW bad. Indeed, if indie authors don’t agree to be exclusive to Audible, they get dropped from 40% to a measly 25%. Buying an audiobook through Audible instead of from another site literally costs the author money.

It’s particularly galling when you realize the royalty on an audiobook is based upon the price at point of purchase, and because Audible (and other audiobook retailers) constantly offers a smorgasbord of discounts, sales, and free trials, the percentage paid to the creators can be based on prices as low as $0. The publisher or indie author can discount the title themselves but they have no choice if Audible decides to discount it for them.

And yet audiobooks have never been more popular. For the year of June 2021 to June 2022, audiobooks accounted for more than 11 percent of all trade book sales, up from 10 percent in 2021 and 8 percent in 2020. These sales seem to be at the expense of hardbacks and — surprisingly to me — e-books, sales of which have been steadily falling: for that same period, e-books sales accounted for 12.7 percent of book sales. Audiobooks will probably displace e-books as the digital version of choice in the next year or two.

This very much jibes with my royalty statements for A Season of Whispers. I’ve literally sold hundreds of audiobooks for it and yet my royalties are pennies. As my publisher at Aurelia Leo said to me, the catch-22 of audiobooks’ popularity versus the poor royalty scheme and the high cost of producing them is, in her words, “a head-scratching conundrum.”

I can’t fault people for preferring audiobooks. I don’t listen to them myself but I do enjoy listening to podcasts while multi-tasking, like when I’m making dinner or on a long drive. I prefer the quiet solace of reading a book the old-fashioned way but I understand not everyone has the free time to do so.

So if I may make one request, it’s this: buy your audiobooks anywhere except Audible.

For years, Audible has offered an overly generous policy of allowing buyers to return an audiobook within one year of purchase, which means listeners could essentially check out a title, listen to it, and return it at no cost as if Audible was a library. Audible bore this cost as a loss leader to accrue market share, squeezing as many competitors as possible out of the marketplace. Amazon’s capital allowed them to sustain the losses.

Which is how we arrived at this point.

So if you like audiobooks and you want to support indie and small-press authors, Chirp and Spotify are the best options to listen to A Season of Whispers and other titles. Somebody will make money from my audiobooks and it would be a lot cooler if that somebody was me and my publisher rather than Jeff Bezos.

Bardot’s Wins Shirley Jackson Award

This past weekend, Professor Charlatan Bardot’s Travel Anthology to the Most (Fictional) Haunted Buildings in the Weird, Wild World won the 2021 Shirley Jackson Award for edited anthology.

The award was presented to editor Eric Guignard at the Boston Book Festival. Eric shared the award with Dave Ring, whose anthology Unfettered Hexes: Queer Tales of Insatiable Darkness also won.

Bardot’s Travel Anthology is presented as a guidebook edited by world traveler and occult expert Charlatan Bardot. My story, “A Tour of the Ramses,” portrays a guide leading a walk through a former luxury hotel, now fallen into disrepair after a tragic history.

The book is an amazing production. It has incredible cover art. The interior presentation features maps which pinpoint the settings of the stories while pieces of flash fiction serve as palate cleansers between longer works. Even the font choices and all-around deco vibe make Bardot’s Travel Anthology wonderful to behold.

You can order a copy at Amazon or explore other buying options at Goodreads.

Congratulations Eric!

Love Letters to Poe, Volume Won

Love Letters to Poe, Volume 1

Love Letters to Poe, Volume I: A Toast to Edgar Allan Poe won the 2022 Saturday Visiter Award in the category of “Original Works Inspired by E.A. Poe’s Life and Writing.”

The award was presented to editor and publisher Sara Crocoll Smith at the International Edgar Allan Poe Festival & Awards in Baltimore this past weekend.

The nonprofit Poe Baltimore presents the Saturday Visiter Awards to recognize a new generation of artists continuing Edgar Allan Poe’s legacy in the arts and literature around the world. The awards are named after the prize won by a young Poe.

My story “An Incident on Mulberry Street” appeared in the anthology, which collected a year’s worth of contributions to Smith’s web publication Love Letters to Poe.

This is the first time an anthology I’ve appeared in has won an award. Eric Guignard’s Dark Tales of Lost Civilizations and Professor Charlatan Bardot’s Travel Anthology were both nominated for Stokers but didn’t win (although Bardot’s is currently up for a Shirley Jackson Award, which will be handed out later this month in Boston).

The second book in the series, Love Letters to Poe, Volume II: Houses of Usher, was published in August and includes my story, “The Last Stand of Sassacus House.”

You can grab a copy of Volume I here and Volume II here.

Congratulations Sara!

The Baron’s Eyrie at 26

Dungeon March/April 1996

At the Dungeons & Dragons forum ENWorld, contributor (un)reason has been systematically filing through old issues of Dungeon and reviewing the adventures within. This week, he/she reached issue 58 containing my initial publication in the magazine, “The Baron’s Eyrie,” and had only good things to say about my work from… *does math* twenty-six years ago!?

Things get more interesting once you get inside the castle itself, as the infected lycanthropes hate their master, and would love for you to destroy him & free them, maybe cure them as well, but their magical compulsion means they can’t do anything directly against him. This does still mean they’ll be surprisingly civil if you don’t attack everything on sight, giving you the option to play the adventure in a more political way with various twists and turns as you uncover the various personalities of the place and their secrets. Some of those twists are sufficiently sneaky that I’m not going to spoil them here, and there’s enough of them that it’s unlikely your group will discover all of them, making this both an interesting read and of well above average replayability too.

Whole review here.

“The Baron’s Eyrie” was my first big sale. I was paid $580, which was more than my monthly rent — an enormous sum of money for me in 1996. I would go on to contribute two more adventures to Dungeon in the late 90s.

I fell away from D&D for decades before starting a pandemic group in 2020 that includes my sons, my nephews, and my brother. As a DM I generally try to provide an avenue for the players to resolve encounters by talking their way out of it, even if nine times out of the ten they wake up and choose violence. Having forgotten the particulars of “Eyrie,” it’s gratifying to see I was using that same approach last century too.

The Last Stand of Sassacus House

Love Letters to Poe Volume 2: Houses of Usher

Because the first was so nice we had to do it twice, Love Letters to Poe, Volume II: Houses of Usher is available today.

The anthology features 19 short stories and 11 poems of the Gothic and macabre inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s 1839 story, “The Fall of the House of Usher.”

My contribution, “The Last Stand of Sassacus House,” revolves around one man’s greed not for a house but rather for its absence:

Rueben Tolbridge coveted Sassacus House long before he coveted the woman who owned it. For years Tolbridge slowed his shay past the old Sassacus place in admiration — not for the ramshackle manor itself but rather for its position high above the gray waters of the Sound. Set back from the road, partially screened by tall weeds and braided tree limbs, it staggered his imagination that no one bothered to knock down the decrepit structure and develop the parcel.

Whoever took the trouble of clearing its overgrown acres, Tolbridge told himself, could build the mansion of his dreams, a magnificent home to spoil its owner, then net him a sizable profit when he sold it. If he sold it, and didn’t live out his life there.

Love Letters to Poe, Volume II: Houses of Usher is available in ebook, paperback, hardcover, and large-print formats.

Houses of Usher is the second volume of Poe tribute fiction by editor Sara Crocoll Smith. Meanwhile, the initial entry has been nominated for a Saturday Visiter Award in the category of “Original Works Inspired by E.A. Poe’s Life and Writing.” The winner will be announced in October at the International Edgar Allan Poe Festival & Awards in Baltimore, MD.

The Half That Matters

A little diversion of mine appears in the latest issue of the Australian anthology series Thuggish Itch.

Titled “The Half That Matters,” it’s a story of two fellows on an unsavory errand to dispose of something into the sea.

This one’s a favorite. Not only is it the first time my fiction has been published south of the equator (some of my nonfiction was reprinted in Oz years ago), but it’s also the first time I’ve published a piece of flash fiction.

I wrote “Half” almost back-to-back with “A Tour of the Ramses,” which appears in Professor Charlatan Bardot’s Travel Anthology to the Most (Fictional) Haunted Buildings in the Weird, Wild World. Both stories use a similar first-person perspective in which the action is verbally narrated to an audience, but in the case of “Half,” the narrator is even less trustworthy.

Some of the setting’s description is based upon a real place. There’s a hike I enjoy along a sea wall to a lonely peninsula which terminates in an automated lighthouse. I almost never meet anyone out there except for the peninsula’s inhabitants: a handful of feral cats who live among the rocks and dunes. Occasionally schools of bunker (menhaden) are stranded by the ebb tide on the beach’s mud flats, creating a feast for the cats; meanwhile pools of rainwater collect in the natural bowls of the landscape.

The cats and I observe each other from a safe distance, neither sure about the other. I suspect they live better lives than some humans.

You can pick up Thuggish Itch: By the Seaside over on Amazon.