Author Earnings, the Publishing Industry and Chokepoint Capitalism
With the news that Amazon/Audible is now offering an ai narrator beta conversion for books in KDP Select…but that the resulting audiobooks will be offered in an all-you-can-eat Audible Plus subscription model, means that author royalties will likely take another dive (just like musicians have experienced with streaming on Spotify).
Unless…unless authors (who are also book lovers so can vote with our wallets!) wake up.
Most people who want to set up a business do at least a little research into the industry in which they’re hoping to make an income from. But for many reasons, writers, authors, musicians, artists and other creatives are often driven by the urge and need to create, relying on blind hope that the money (and perhaps renown) will automatically follow. This can lead to disappointment, out of control advertising and book marketing spend, battered self-esteem and burnout. Author earnings are just not keeping pace with the rising cost of living.
I regularly help authors who are in the process of writing a book, or are even at print stage, who have little understanding of the publishing industry and haven’t thought through the costs of production (from time spent writing that you could have been doing other things to manuscript appraisals, author websites to book launches and everything in between), marketing strategies and economics of getting their book into readers hands.
But I’m always learning too and am so grateful for being able to expand my knowledge and understanding of the book business thanks to this latest read (which yes, I highly recommend if you want to understand the business of being an author).
As authors Rebecca Giblin and Cory Doctorow explain in Choke Point Capitalism: How big tech and big content captured creative labour markets, and how we’ll win them back (Scribe 2022):
‘Few people are willing to spend twelve hours on an assembly line or grappling with bookkeeping without being paid for their trouble. However, humans are driven to create, even when there’s no prospect of any financial return,’ and this, the authors say, is why not just writers, musicians and artists are exploited, but so too are editors and administrators in ‘every passion-driven creative field’.
The exploitation of creatives has accelerated recently, as the authors point out, not just in hugely reduced advances, but also in the way publishers have offloaded a lot of their work (filtering manuscripts, helping authors improve manuscripts etc) to literary agents. And guess who pays for literary agents? That’s right, it comes out of 15% of author earnings.
‘Amazon shakes down publishers, and, in turn, publishers shake down their workers and authors…People’s passions are weaponised to facilitate their exploitation.’
According to the authors, a lot of this has been accelerated by the Amazon monopsony (a word I – and perhaps you have never fully understood or even heard of until this book.)
‘While monopolies occur when sellers have power over buyers, monopsonies are when buyers have power over sellers (such as traditional publishers, bookstores and indie authors)…Since monosponists are such powerful buyers, they’re able to drive the amount that goes to workers and suppliers below what they would be paid in a competitive market.’
And indie authors aren’t immune to the effect either. This is why more self-published authors are trying ‘wide’ marketing strategies and selling direct to reach their readers. You can get up to speed online about Wide Audiobook Marketing strategy thanks to Rebecca Hefner’s super helpful courses at Bold Authors – this is especially important due to Amazon Audible’s recent move to Ai narration and a subscription model.
Chokepoint Capitalism is thorough, eye-opening, in some ways devastating (when you see examples of how authors and musicians have been so badly ripped off) but also offers ideas for trying to break the stranglehold companies such as Amazon, Spotify, YouTube, Google, Facebook etc exert on creative industries.
It’s also liberating to learn more about the writing and publishing industry including:
- How publishers gave away the keys to their castles (to Amazon).
- How copyright laws and digital locks on books that were thought to help creators from piracy, have actually worked against authors (and musicians etc).
- How various countries have enacted laws that further entrench monopsonies.
The book finishes with some hope with chapters on:
- Collective action
- Ideas for amendments to copyright laws
- A move to radical interoperability (e.g.: if you download a book on Kindle or another gadget’s library, you could also transfer it to another device or system with ease/without penalty)
- A minimum wage for creative work
- Collective ownership
Chokepoint Capitalism is an incredibly worthwhile read for established authors, emerging authors and indie authors. Please order it in at your library so even more creatives can access the information within.
And a final word from the authors:
‘Instead of lending our support to whichever variety of Big Business looks like it will throw us more crumbs, we need to be thinking about how to fight their dominance.’
- If you’d like a one-on-one consultation about your book project, need a book coach or help with book marketing, I’m here to help, just get in touch.
- You can also get a copy of Look-It’s Your Book! which gives you a step-by-step guide to writing, publishing, distributing, marketing and leveraging your book.
- And if you’d like some great online, economical mini-courses to help accelerate your author journey, check out Bold Authors.