Authors talk about their ‘book’ in the singular, but actually that one manuscript can be split into many different kinds of intellectual property rights.
Most authors now understand that they can produce a number of different kinds of ebooks as well as a print book and an audiobook. But did you know that each can be further split into many other rights?
Back in October, I was at a business masterclass in Oregon and I discovered that I was wrong in thinking that “audiobook rights” were just one thing.
Actually, there are many different kinds of audio rights and by signing an exclusive contract with ACX, I had made an error. I’ll be going non-exclusive with ACX in future, and if you read on, or listen to the audio, you’ll understand why.
I put this conversation out on the podcast about my time in Oregon, but it’s important in its own right, so I’m producing it here as an audio clip and also transcript below. Listen below or here on Soundcloud.
J Daniel Sawyer is a science-fiction, fantasy and mystery author as well as a podcaster, media producer, filmmaker and philosopher/polymath. He’s also one of the smartest people I know in terms of intellectual property rights, specifically for audio. Dan will be coming back on the show in 2017 for a full interview on audio, so watch out for that if it’s a topic you’re interested in.
Here are the highlights of the conversation, and the full transcript is below. We cover:
- The different types of audio productions and rights authors can sell
- What it means when ACX is the fiduciary of your audiobook productions
- Recommendations for those wanting to do audio versions of their books
- Reflections on Author’s Republic, and Overdrive
- On audio box sets
You can find Dan at www.JDSawyer.net and on twitter @dsawyer
Transcript of the interview with J. Daniel Sawyer
Joanna: Who are you, what do you do?
J Daniel: My name is J Daniel Sawyer. I write science fiction, fantasy, mystery and non-fiction. I produce podcasts and full cast audiobooks, the occasional movie, and I’m a professional photographer.
J Daniel: But basically, if it was a hobby at one point or another, I made it into a career.
Joanna: That’s brilliant, and that’s kind of what I wanted to talk to you specifically about audio because you are an audio guru. And we’ve been talking about copyright at this workshop. You said something yesterday, which really intrigued me. Most authors think that audio is just one asset.
J Daniel: How deluded they are.
Joanna: How deluded we are, I know. And I’m shocked because I consider myself to be quite educated, but clearly not.
Can we discuss specifically on audio, what are the types of rights that people can sell, license?
J Daniel: There’s your standard audiobook, one reader reading the text of the book. Then you can have two readers, or you can have generic multiple readers.
Any of those you can pair with a production level: bare bones meaning voice only, enhanced audiobook, which means with some music between the chapters and that sort of thing.
A full production audiobook, which would include environmental sound effects and sometimes fully or a really lavish production with an original score going through it like a movie. So at the most complex end of each of those, you get full cast, which means you’ve more or less got one person reading each character or at least you’ve got a distinct voice for each character because some people can do lots of voices and a full production. It basically sounds like an audio movie with a narrator hanging around for the hell of it.
Joanna: Was that everything?
J Daniel: And then you can do any of those abridged or unabridged.
And then you can also do dramatic adaptations where you cut the narrator out, rewrite the dialogue so it’s more like a radio play, or in fact is a radio play.
And then you can get really creative and go and invent whole new things from there. There’s audiobooks paired with slide shows like they call them audio comics where you get comic book cells and then you read the book along with the comic book cells or with a photo slideshow to give you a sort of a storyboard feel walking through the book. It goes on and on and on.
Joanna: Wow. You talked yesterday, I mentioned, about ACX.
Explain what you told me yesterday about what ACX takes and why that’s a bad thing compared to the production rights.
J Daniel: So when you do a royalty split through ACX, I have to clarify that because you can go through ACX and use it like you would use KDP where you just upload something you’ve already done. But if you’re using ACX to administer a royalty split between you and the producer, you as the author or publisher, the rights holder, ACX becomes the fiduciary, which means the person responsible for handling the money.
And it’s part of the contract that you are exclusive with the production through ACX on an auto-renewing seven-year basis. So if you want to pull it out, you have to write them 60 days before your thing is coming up for renewal, or it’ll automatically kick over for another seven years. You want to put that on your calendar if you ever want to get out. That exclusivity applies to the story, not the production. So your story will be in the Amazon Audible ecosystem, whatever that entails, and nowhere else in the world.
Joanna: Yes, so just to be clear, if you do that which I have done, I can’t for example license for a full production audio?
J Daniel: That’s right because they grab “audiobook rights” in a generic, broad sense. So you can’t then do that. You might be able to license out for a radio drama because that’s an adaption. But any of those other kinds of audiobooks, you couldn’t do another one of those.
Joanna: That was kind of a shock for me. I was like, “I didn’t realize that.”
If people have signed a contract with the publisher, a publisher would also take that story audio rights, not specific production.
J Daniel: If you have signed away audio rights to your publisher, they now own not just the audiobook rights, but anything else. Audio comics and the radio dramas and everything else like that. You want to hold those rights. Those are important.
Joanna: Right, okay.
What would you recommend then for people wanting to do audio? So what should I be doing?
J Daniel: There’s three basic categories of ways to do things. And then there’s a whole bunch of ways you can futz with them.
You can do them yourself, meaning that you produce them yourself whether you’re reading them yourself or not, and you own everything. If you’re hiring voice talent, then you will have to pay the voice the talent. You can pay them in cash, or if they trust you to be a fiduciary and you’re willing to take on that responsibility, you can pay them on a royalty split. If you do that and you want to protect your business relationships, not get in legal trouble, be very meticulous about your bookkeeping and pay on time. People get pissed when you don’t do that.
Or you can approach a audio production house to sell your rights to, and you can then slice those really fine. For example, my house will occasionally buy full cast, full production rights from authors who I’m fairly sure I’ll be able to make my money back and have a good long term asset for. And if you were to come to me and I had the money, which I don’t right now otherwise I would be pitching you this. If you were to come to me I would say, “Yeah, actually, let’s do a deal for full cast, full production rights because your books would make really fun full cast audiobooks.” And so I would then buy that from you and you would retain all of the other rights, audio rights to your book.
Joanna: I could still have a single narrated version that I did with somebody else?
J Daniel: Right. And that’s kind of important because they do serve different market segments. There are some people who absolutely, deeply and with a white hot hatred loathe anything other than a person reading in monotone about the book that they’re reading because they just want the words and want to do all the interpretation themselves.
And then there are people like me who like to put the most lavish production on they can while they’re working on something boring, and just soak into the story universe and any extra cues that are there, just make it better. And there’s a whole range of people in between.
Joanna: Which is really interesting. I’ve been too narrow in my thinking of what audio rights are.
J Daniel: Of course anything you produce yourself or hire done, you can take into the Amazon Audible ecosystem through ACX.
Joanna: Just non-exclusive?
J Daniel: Non-exclusively.
Joanna: Yes, yes.
J Daniel: Well, you can take it exclusively, too if you really want to. But just keep your eye on that renewal date. At the moment, going exclusive with Amazon Audible is not an awful thing because they have 80% of the downloadable market. So you are cutting yourself off from a bit of the market now.
The question is how quick on your feet do you want to be able to be when the market shifts? It will at some point. I don’t know whether that’s going to be in one year or nine years. Monopolies don’t stay monopolies without state support. It’s just a basic rule of economics. They get lazy because they don’t have to compete, and someone comes in and undercuts it. So it depends on how fast on your feet you wanna be.
You could go exclusive and keep your eye on that renewal date. And because you’ve produced it, you can pull it out and take it elsewhere. Whereas if ACX is acting as the fiduciary, you can’t do that unless you reach a separate deal with the producer at a later point.
Joanna: Yes. I like ACX because I like them handling the payments. I want to have that with E-books so that we can do more collaboration in the community and not have to be the one uploading it to KDP and managing all the payment split at the end of the month. That’s something I’m talking to other people about. Was that all the options?
J Daniel: That basically covers all of them, yeah.
Joanna: What are your thoughts on Author’s Republic?
J Daniel: My thoughts are mixed. I’ve just finished negotiating with them. And of course, now, I finished negotiating with them, I’m not going with them because of everything going on with Kobo. I’m holding myself back for about six months to decide whether to make the leap because Kobo has just bought OverDrive.
And if I can get into OverDrive through Kobo, I’ll get a better royalty percentage than going through Author’s Republic, in which case, Author’s Republic can jump off a cliff.
So the good and bad of Author’s Republic. The good is they get almost everywhere that the Amazon ecosystem doesn’t get right now, which is fantastic. It saves you a lot of legwork because you can negotiate directly with all of those places. They’re not locked up with Author’s Republic as their only distributor. So you could go in as a publisher and say, “Look, I’ve got 20 titles. I want to be in your store. What kind of deal can we do?” And they’ll talk to you. You can call audiobooks.com and everybody else. Of course, you have to track them down and it takes time.
Joanna: I’m not gonna do that.
J Daniel: The value Author’s Republic brings to the table is they cut all that out. They’ve already done that.
Joanna: So basically, one could go non-exclusive ACX and use Author’s Republic for the other stuff.
J Daniel: Right. Now what Author’s Republic does demand is seven years of exclusivity on the production only. So you could release an enhanced E-book through Author’s Republic and a single read through somewhere else, and you’re fine.
Joanna: And you’re fine. Ooh, sneaky.
J Daniel: I talked to them in some depth and they won’t shorten their exclusivity period. I rammed my head against that wall for a while, and they won’t do it because ACX takes seven years. That’s the industry standard because they own the industry, so we’ve got no incentive whatsoever to be different.
Joanna: Fair enough.
J Daniel: You know, I can do it. But the reason that they’re going for exclusivity is they don’t want duplicate listings in catalogs. So if you were to strike a separate deal with Kobo and take the same production into Kobo, then there’s two listings of exactly the same production in the same catalog. Who gets the sale? They don’t want that confusion.
But if it’s a separate production, they don’t care. So it’s a much less handcuffy version of exclusivity. I still shudder at exclusivity myself. But if you’re going to have someone take exclusivity, grabbing it over a narrow slice, it’s much better than grabbing it over a broad slice. And like ACX, it’s an auto-renewing unless you provide written notice, etc.
Another good thing I’ve gotta say in their favor is they are remarkably accessible and easy to talk to. I read their boilerplate. I had six problems with it, so I wrote them. I said, “I’m the author of ‘Making Tracks.’ I’ve been telling people for years that this kind of service is due to come available. I heard about you. I was excited.
Then I read your boilerplate and I’m like, ‘I can’t recommend this to anybody,’ because you have these problems with it. Your language is unclear here. This makes it sound like you’re trying to get a whole bunch more rights than the rest of the contract makes it sound like you do. And I would like to do these changes. And if you can make these changes, I’m all yours.” And they came back and four of those six things, they changed.
Joanna: Oh, great.
J Daniel: And not only changed for me, they changed it in the boilerplate. So it’s not the kind of thing, and of those things was the exclusivity period. They’re just not gonna budge on. And the other one is something that they might budge on for a particular company because they’ll negotiate a la carte too. So they might negotiate it for me, but they’re not gonna put it in their boilerplate because not everyone’s gonna ask for it.
Joanna: And you’re an audio guy.
J Daniel: Right. Not just that, but there is the incentive. From their perspective, if not everyone is going to ask for it, why put it in the boilerplate? Because then you get to keep more. But they’re very easy to talk to. The person that does negotiation for them is really straightforward, doesn’t play a lot of power games. I like them. I’m just not quite ready to go there yet myself because of what else is going on in the industry at the moment.
But if you are an international author wanting to get into the Amazon ecosystem, they’re your way in.
Joanna: Yes, because ACX is only open to U.S. and UK residents.
You said what’s going on in the industry right now, what do you think is shifting?
J Daniel: I have to talk carefully.
Joanna: No, I realize that. Is there anything that you can share?
J Daniel: Okay. Here’s what I can say without breaching anything someone told me on the QT. Rakuten bought OverDrive. They are now piloting programs for their E-books to get into OverDrive.
Joanna: Why is OverDrive useful for people?
J Daniel: OverDrive is one of those ecosystems that’s not measured in that 80% to 90% figure because OverDrive is not sales. OverDrive is library borrows, but they pay like sales. So the chunk of the market they are is a big question mark. But in terms of libraries, they serve about 60% of the libraries in the U.S. and a non-trivial percentage in Canada.
Joanna: And also they do Australia too?
J Daniel: They do Australia too? Okay, cool.
Joanna: I think. I believe so, yes.
J Daniel: Nice. So they’ve got a big market of libraries around the world, which are otherwise a royal pain in the ass to get into. And if I can take my audiobooks to libraries, I’m a happy guy.
Joanna: Yeah because actually, when you think about libraries, they’ve always had a lot of audio in, like in the tape decks and things. That’s where I used to get audiobooks when I was a kid. You go and get them from the library, so I think you’re right. That could be a really big market.
J Daniel: I suppose I should mention the other market that doesn’t pay anything, but in terms of marketing, is a really good idea is Libraries for the Blind. They don’t pay out, but you can donate audiobooks to them and they will keep them around in case people want to borrow them.
Joanna: The other thing I’m interested in right now is this audiobook box set thing.
J Daniel: Oh boy, I was so excited to hear about that too because I have an audiobook box set, and it’s not my books but it’s a set I produced. And it’s a box set of short stories.
Yesterday at the conference we’re at, someone was talking about the weird price structure that Audible has and how it incentivizes super short and super long purchases. And books of an intermediate length just don’t move. Well, I have a box set of short stories that I now, of course, next week immediately gonna break out into individuals as well because it sells okay as a box set, but as individuals, it’ll probably move a lot more.
And I’ve got a novella sitting right in the middle, and it moves nothing, which is a continual source of frustration for me because the production itself is fantastic and everybody who hears it loves it. I’ve been hitting my head against the wall trying to figure out why it’s not moving. Well, I’m not an Audible customer, so I had no idea. Now I know, well okay.
I’m in the middle of producing the next two books in that series, both of which are longer books, so as soon as those are done, the box set is going up the next day, same day as the next two books.
Joanna: Just to explain to the listeners, I joined Audible to work out what the hell was going on. And I get a 7.99 credit. And so when I log on to get my book for my credit, I want something that’s worth more than 7.99 because my customer head goes, “Oh, that one’s 24.99. I want that one. I don’t want the one that’s 5.99 and the one that…that’s based on how long it is.”
So if the audiobook is super long, then you’re like, “Oh, that’s a really good deal,” so you buy that. What I’m doing is putting my novels into three-book audio box sets. So now instead of 8, 7 hours, they’re getting 21 hours.
And because of Whispersync, when you do a BookBub, something on a box set, the audio will also spike. So I think this is amazing and I know there are some people are doing this already. You can see it on Audible. But I think it’s quite a new concept that indies can jump on.
J Daniel: I’m really excited about it even though the concept is only 24 hours old to me.
Joanna: It’s so interesting because I think I first heard about it probably a year ago, and I did not get it. And as we know, there were people listening yesterday who haven’t done E-book box sets yet who didn’t really get it either.
But I get so much income from E-book box sets. I’m really hoping that it’s going to make a difference to my audio sales. I think that’s a really great tip for people is to just why not? We can do this. You can do this type of bundling because, on ACX, you claim the E-book.
If you have an E-book box set, why not do an audio?
J Daniel: And not only do you claim the E-book, you can actually put an audiobook out without one, which I found out the hard way.
Joanna: Fair enough.
J Daniel: Gail Carriger’s “Crudrat”, she wrote it at the same time she wrote “Soulless”. I think it’s a far superior book, and I loved “Soulless”. But her publisher packaged her up in steampunk and threw her at the world. And so they wouldn’t take her science fiction. They’re all, “We don’t care how good it is. You have a brand in our eyes.” And I’m like, “This book is not getting lost to history. Gimme.” I produced it and put it up. And she, at the time, was not interested in doing the E-book because she didn’t wanna piss off her publisher.
So I went to Audible with this. We crowdfunded the production. We got this great production together. I took it to Audible and they’re like, “We don’t know what this book is. Go away.” And I was on the phone. It took me three days on the phone with different people before someone would finally tell me, “Oh no, we can only distribute something that’s already in the Amazon store.” So then I had to go figure out how to do print-on-demand CDs to get into the Amazon store.
Joanna: You can still do a print-on-demand CD?
J Daniel: Yeah, to establish an AISN.
Joanna: Do people buy them?
J Daniel: Sold about 12 in the last year.
Joanna: Yeah, but it worked for the download.
J Daniel: But it worked, yeah.
Joanna: That’s awesome. Right. Well we can talk for ages, and you are going to come back on because you’ve got a new version of “Making Tracks”
J Daniel: Yeah, a new version of “Making Tracks” is going to come out in 2017.
Joanna: Great, so you’re going to come back on the show and we’ll talk more about that.
J Daniel: For sure.
Joanna: …because things changed quite a lot.
J Daniel: And I’m doing a lot of re-branding in between now and then too so I can report on some of those experiments.
Joanna: That’d be really good, but tell people where they can find you right now.
J Daniel: Indeed. You can find everything I do at www.jdsawyer.net. Lots of fiction, lots of non-fiction, and a ridiculous amount of blogging and podcasting.
Joanna: Fantastic. Thanks so much, Dan.
J Daniel: Thank you, Joanna.