Thanks for reading, and if you are a new subscriber; Welcome and thanks for joining us! This week let’s talk a little bit about Amazon/Audible’s Audiobook Creation Exchange – ACX.
What IS ACX?
In short, ACX is an online casting site that matches the Rights Holders (RH) of (most often) independent books with narrators for the purpose of producing audiobooks from the author’s titles. The RH of a book is the person or company that holds the rights to the audio version of a book. Most often, on ACX, the RH is the author themselves, but sometimes it is a publishing company or an individual who has purchased the rights from the author.
Who owns the rights?
Typically, the author of the book is the original RH for all versions of the book. Depending on how the book is originally published, and what the contractual arrangement with a publisher may be, the RH COULD be the publisher of the book or maybe even a third party who has managed to purchase the rights from the original RH. For books in the public domain there MAY not BE a RH at all. It can get pretty confusing, but generally, on ACX, the RH is either the publisher or author of the work. What you need to know is this: SOMEONE (not you) owns the rights to the audio version of a book.
How does it work?
The concept behind ACX is pretty simple: A RH posts their title to ACX (The print or kindle version of the book must be available on Amazon to qualify) and then narrators audition. The RH selects a narrator, offers the book to them and after negotiating rates there is a contract through ACX that describes the terms of the relationship. All pretty straightforward in concept. If only it were that simple in execution.
Good, Bad and Ugly.
There is good and bad (and sometimes a little ugly) on the ACX platform though, and since people are involved, of course it gets a little more complicated in execution.
Types of contracts through ACX.
Generally speaking, there are three types of relationships between RH’s and narrators on ACX: Royalty Share (RS), Per Finished Hour (PFH) and a hybrid call RS Plus (RS+). Each has advantages and disadvantages that you need to be aware of, so let’s spend a little time talking about that.
Essentially, a RS arrangement means that the RH offers the book for production and the narrator produces the book without any money changing hands up front. Once the book is complete, and passes ACX QA standards, the audio version of the book goes on sale at Audible, Amazon and iTunes. For each sale of the audio version, the cover price is split between ACX, the RH and the narrator. ACX (which is owned by Amazon, BTW.) takes 60% for their part (which is a pretty high percentage IMHO, but that’s a topic for a different day) and the RH and narrator split the remaining 40% 50/50. ACX tracks sales, and pays both the RH and narrator monthly.
For the math wizards out there…
Just in case, like me, you don’t do math problems easily in your head, that means both the RH and narrator each take 20% of the cost of the book. It doesn’t sound too bad, but the majority of audiobooks sold through ACX are based on “credits” and the cover price typically doesn’t account for much. Neither the RH nor the narrator have any say in what the cover price is. My experience is that the 20% cut for most books produced amounts to $2.00 or less. Usually less. Usually, WAY less. You can make money doing RS titles, but if you want to support yourself this way it becomes a numbers game – you need to produce a lot of titles.
Per Finished Hour.
On a PFH contract, the RH and narrator negotiate a rate of pay for each finished hour of an audiobook. The narrator is paid that rate, times the actual number of finished audio hours that comprises the finished product. WHEN the payment is made is negotiated directly between the RH and narrator; ACX is not involved at all in the payment for PFH titles. Typically, a narrator must pass the first 15 minute checkoint with the RH before expecting even partial payment, but it is really up to you to negotiate that with the RH. If you are working with someone for the first time, it’s probably a good idea to ask for some portion of the estimated number of finished hours after the first 15 minute checkpoint and before the book is produced.
A bit about rates.
I’ve talked about VO rates in a previous post, but just a quick aside about audiobook rates. First, ALWAYS check the GVAA Rate Guide, but generally speaking $250 Per Finished hour is the MINIMUM you should be working for. If your project is RS+, you should be asking for about ½ of whatever PFH rate you charge (minimum $125). If not, at LEAST make sure you are asking for enough to cover any production costs such as an audio editor or proofer.
Royalty Share Plus.
RS+ titles are a hybrid of the RS and PFH model. The RH and narrator negotiate a reduced PFH amount and then share in the royalties based on sales. The reduced PFH rate is paid directly to the narrator by the RH, and the royalties are paid monthly by ACX. This model allows the narrator to cover production costs and reduces the risk of not making any money on a given title.
Speaking of risk, if you’ve followed along so far, you’ll note that for the narrator RS is the riskiest model. Since on average it takes anywhere from 2-8 hours of work to produce ONE finished hour of audio (based on the narrators experience and workflow), the narrator can spend many hours on an RS title, only to have it not sell very well. Since you only get paid with this model when the title sells, if it DOESN’T sell you (as the narrator) get paid a pittance for a lot of work. PFH is riskiest for the RH (and least risky for the narrator) and RS+ means the RH and narrator SHARE the risk.
Much less risk…
Have you noticed who is NOT really at risk here? Right, ACX. Don’t get me wrong, ACX (a la Amazon) is providing a service, and should be compensated for that. I’m just not sure they should take the largest cut for the least amount of risk of ANY of the publishing models.
The good thing here is that the platform provides a way to connect RH’s and narrators to produce many audiobooks. They have also established and enforce minimum quality standards so that really terrible (note I said MINIMUM quality standards) audiobooks are not published on their sites. It’s likely that MANY very good audiobooks exist today thanks to the ACX platform, and likely many narrators exist that previously would only be “aspiring” narrators.
There are, however, some bad things about ACX. ACX does not vet the authors or the books up for production except to insist that the print or kindle versions are for sale on Amazon in order to be able to post them at ACX. This means it is up to the narrator to vet the titles to decide if they might sell well. ACX does provide some handy tools to do that, showing the narrator the Amazon ranking of the non-audio versions of the book along with a link to the title at Amazon so you can see reviews. This helps you decide which titles to go for. And there are some bad titles on the platform. You’d think they could at LEAST make sure that the book is not chock-full of grammatical and spelling errors before allowing it to be listed. This is not terrible I suppose, and narrators should absolutely insist on seeing the full finished manuscript BEFORE accepting an offer to produce anyway.
But it gets worse. Not only are there some books by authors who just aren’t very talented there (which, I guess, goes under both good AND bad, maybe) there are also a LOT of scams. When I say scams, what I mean is there are people who claim a title from Amazon as their own, but do not actually hold the rights to the title. Typically, they offer the book as a RS project, have someone produce it and then they download the audio files for their own use once ACX takes the title down. The narrator never gets paid. Just today I saw a Harry Potter book on ACX offered as RS, and you just KNOW J.K Rowling is not posting that to ACX…besides, there is ALREADY an audio book published! You’d think ACX could do SOMETHING to at least reduce the number of these offerings on their platform, but they don’t vet the books AT ALL.
Well, narrator beware anyway. If you are going to work through ACX, you’ll need to get good at spotting scams and books that won’t sell well. Remember that well known authors and their publishing houses are NOT listing books on ACX (generally) and when they do, they offer a decent PFH rate because they want to keep the full 40% of royalties. As a general rule, always remember: If it seems too good to be true; it is.
At the end of the day…
ACX is, or CAN be, a great place for narrators to find titles to work on and connect with authors. Just know that if you decide to start using ACX as a platform, you’ll need to be aware of the scams that lurk there, understand the payment models used, vet the titles well to decide if they’ll sell (if doing RS) and for PFH jobs make SURE you are negotiating a fair PFH rate!
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