Last autumn, I ran the most successful audiobook crowdfunding campaign ever, raising nearly $270k with ATTACK SURFACE, the third Little Brother book:
As successful as the campaign was, the delivery was a nightmare. Part of that was down to some pretty poor digital distribution tools on my fulfilment partner's side, but the real problem was mobile devices and their operating systems.
Early mobile devices made it simple to synch and listen to audio you downloaded from the internet. Just plug in your Ipod, wait a few minutes and unplug it, and you'd have all your music synched and ready to listen to.
That's no longer true. If you download a zip file of MP3s to your laptop and want to transfer them to your phone or tablet to listen to on the go, the process involves many, many steps, and it baffled hundreds of my backers, who found themselves stymied by the complexity.
Of course, it's rare that we get digital assets by downloading them direct to our devices or transfering them from laptops - these days, it all comes through an app and "just works." So why not deliver everything via app?
For the same reason I had to do a Kickstarter, as it turns out. The market for audiobooks is monopolized by Amazon, through its Audible division. Audible has a mandatory DRM policy.
To sell a book through Audible, you have to let Amazon wrap it in its "digital lock." That lock can only be removed by Amazon - if I give you a tool to liberate my audiobooks, I commit a felony under Sec 1201 of the DMCA, and can go to prison for *five years*.
Locking my customers to Amazon forever is not good for my future. Amazon, after all, is notorious for squeezing its suppliers, and while we authors associated with major publishers aren't yet in the vice, indie audiobook authors are.
Amazon has stolen tens of millions of dollars from indie audiobook authors, who are also contractually forbidden from withdrawing their books from Audible:
Amazon hasn't exercised forbearance for us "big name pros" out of respect for our stature - we've been spared this wage-theft thus far because they know our publishers are powerful enough to push back. But Amazon gains power daily, and once they can squeeze us, they will.
I'd sell my audiobooks through Audible if I could. My agent tells me that not selling through Audible cost me enough to pay off my mortgage and probably most of my kid's college. But I've turned down that money, because I WON'T lock my readers to Amazon.
Economists have a name for the extra money that companies like Audible are able to extract from buyers and sellers by dint of owning a choke-point in the market: this money is called "economic rents," and Audible is a "rent-seeker."
The founder who builds a factory and the workers who make it function contribute something to its product. The landlord who owns the dirt underneath it contributes nothing, but extracts rent, raising prices and lowering wages and profits.
Adam Smith railed against rents, describing markets as "free" when they were *free from rents*, not free from regulations. For centuries, a "free market" was a market where buyers and sellers operated without interference from rentiers, not regulators.
This is the subject of my latest Locus column, "Free Markets," which makes the connection between Amazon's rent-seeking on audiobooks and the reason I couldn't deliver my audiobooks by app.
The short answer? If you sell stuff through an app on either of the major mobile app stores, then Google and Apple require you to use their payment processors and pay 30% for the privilege.
Apple recently cut its app tax to 15% for some sellers, but the actual cost of processing a payment is 0.5-3%. It's ironic that two of the most aggressive corporate tax-evaders in the world are levying a 30% tax on anyone who uses mobile devices.
But it's not merely ironic, it's fatal. One of the audiobooks I sold in my crowdfunder was the Random House audiobook of LITTLE BROTHER; which retails for $20. I get a 20% wholesale discount on it (I make $4/copy).
If I sold that book to you on an app, I'd *lose* $2/copy.
Which brings me back to the massive regression in ease-of-use for downloaded media on mobile devices, the massive retreat in usability from the first Ipods to their distant descendants in our pockets today.
It's possible that this is a coincidence. Maybe the fact that unusable web-downloads corral sellers into using app stores and handing over 30% commissions are just a coincidence.
But maybe not. Maybe mobile devices intentionally suck as download devices because wrecking the once-functional download workflow makes billions for the mobile duopoly.
I crowdfunded an audiobook to escape Amazon's rent-seeking, only to get caught in the rent-trap of Googple. Once we dreamt of free markets, where buyers and sellers could transact without rentiers sticking their hand in the till.
Today, we have *unregulated* markets that are anything but free. Sure, the ferryman is free to buy out the bridge company and shut it down, and force all the other ferry services out of business and then charge merchants 30% vig to reach the market.
But the "free market"? It's nowhere to be found.
@pluralistic The way I like to put it is, 'Markets are regulated into existence.' They don't exist in a state of nature, where the strongest caveman hits another caveman over the head and takes his stuff.
@pluralistic I wonder if Bandcamp treats creators and customers sufficiently fairly.
I've certainly downloaded DRM free music from them, and they seem to be willing to carry audio books.
"My audiobooks are all up on Bandcamp. https://neilgaiman.bandcamp.com If you've been meaning to listen to any of them, why not get them on Friday?"
They also have a streaming app.
@pluralistic ye it's been ups and downs regarding this I used rsync for Android for a bit now I'm using nextcloud and sync client on the phone. Self hosed from house connection. Works a treat.
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