LBF: Audible $1 move ‘extremely damaging’

Bloomsbury executive director Richard Charkin clashed with Audible c.e.o. Donald Katz over the digital audiobook retailer’s newly announced scheme to pay authors who sign up to Audible Author Services $1 per audiobook download in a direct “honorarium” that will bypass their publishers.

Speaking at an LBF c.e.o. keynote session this week, “The Great Transformation: Is Our Business Sustainable?”,  Charkin said Katz had chosen to go down an “extremely damaging” route. “Donald is frustrated that he doesn’t have enough audiobooks from publishers. We do sell as many as we have rights to. But because Donald couldn’t achieve what he wanted in the normal way, he has chosen to go a new way which most of his suppliers would say was extremely damaging.”

Charkin added: “The key is the author; [the publisher] can serve them with market research, high editorial standards—by far our biggest cost at Bloomsbury is editorial. Anything that breaks that relationship is bad for the industry and bad for our business models.”

But Katz retorted: “Getting the author a little bit more money is a bad thing?”, saying that he struggled to understand Charkin’s point “unless you are insecure about your relationship with your authors”.

Earlier Charkin had outlined what he saw as a danger of a loss of trust within industry relationships. “We used to have a business practice we understood and shared,” he said. “If you said you would publish a book, you would publish the book. The author and the agent trusted us. Publishers sometimes failed but we did try to do our best. Now authors’ agents say: ‘We want a review of the royalty rate every two years’. Imagine the overhead of that.”

But Katz said there was also an issue of trust around ensuring an author’s income reached its potential: “As a writer, you entrust your intermediaries with a panoply of rights that can be exploited around the world. If they don’t do that, they are letting authors down. It’s a matter of moral trust—you would expect those rights to go exactly where they need to go.” He added: “All that really matters is the author and the reader.”

Fellow-speaker George Lossius, c.e.o. of Publishing Technology, warned the industry that business models would remain in regular flux henceforward. “It’s impossible to predict the future,” he said. “We need to stop trying to do it and wondering who will win, and get used to the fact that in the future, business models won’t last 10 years.”