Roughly 60,000 years ago, one man in a small clan of hunter-gatherers in what is now called the Sun Coast, spent several months drawing the fanciful tale of a hunt, on a cave wall where his band of nomads had taken shelter for the winter. Creatorus, that was his name, which in the language of his people meant ‘eater of squirrel guts’, toiled over his masterpiece for months. He’d earned his name because Creatorus had little to offer the clan in the way of physical labor. As such, he got whatever food the others didn’t want, most commonly squirrel stomachs and intestines, and even for that he had to wrestle with the cat. Nor was he allowed to be close enough to the common fire to cook the rodent innards.
Working night and day in dim lighting until his back ached and his vision failed, once he’d finished the cave painting, Creatorus invited his clan to enjoy the fruits of his long labors. In return, he only asked for an arrowhead, or a place closer to the fire for one night, or maybe a hind leg instead of a squirrel’s bladder.
Instead, the biggest member of the clan, an ugly brute named Amazonus, shoved Creatorus aside and he collected the payments, keeping most for himself and only tossing Creatorus the stuff he didn’t want. Amazonus told Creatorus to be happy he was allowed to paint his stories at all, and to get back to work painting more. Having no other choice, and hoping for more scraps, Creatorus dipped his bit of horsehair into the red pigment and started his next story. Amazonus laughed and grew fatter.
Until one day Creatorus decided he’d had enough. He left the cave and never went back. Maybe he died a horrible death at the hands of a saber-toothed tiger, or maybe he met a cute Neandertal, fell in love and made lots of little Creatoruses. That’s kind of not the point. The point is that Amazonus overplayed his hand and Creatorus refused to create more stuff for him to show people in return for their hard-earned treasures.
Sixty millenia later, Amazon is doing the same thing to authors and narrators. Not only can amoral and unscrupulous parasites return audiobooks for full credit after listening to them, only if you subscribe to Audible, the authors and narrators get charged back for them with no accounting of those returns from Amazon. In essence, then, if you pony up the $15 to Audible every month, and if you’re also a weasel, you can listen to as many audiobooks as you want. Audible, in essence, is a lending library that only costs $15 a month.
Think if Costco did that. You’d pay your yearly membership fee, buy whatever you want, food, garden hoses, Triple-A batteries, whatever, use the items until they wore out or you were done with them, and then you returned them and got all of your money back. In the case of the food it would be stinky, but you just know that some people would do it anyway. And Costco then turned around and charged back the various vendors for the items you returned. That’s exactly what Amazon is doing.
Now, I get that Amazon wants to screw as many people as possible in pursuit of the bottom line. That’s what corporations are supposed to do, and I have no problem with it. This blog entry isn’t a whine about capitalism or any of that nonsense. Nothing is forcing me to do business with Audible.
The point of this blog is that Amazon’s policy is extremely dangerous for them.
They are already being sued for anti-trust violations by the traditional publishing industry, via the American Booksellers Association, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Ebay and a host of others. Most of those lawsuits are sour grapes; the traditional publishers are angry that Indie authors no longer have to grovel for absurdly low royalties from them, but instead can reach their readers through Amazon. In other words, they’re suing to force authors to work for them again, with their pittance royalty rates. So I’m with Amazon on that one.
But Amazon has now done the same thing as the traditional publishers. They want authors and narrators to write great books and narrate wonderful productions, so they can sell more subscriptions and to hell with the creative talent. Is another anti-trust lawsuit coming against Audible? If so, could it be combined with the others into a class-action anti-trust case? Could this get Congress involved?
It would all be so interesting to watch if I wasn’t among those affected. Oh who am I kidding? It’s still gonna be fun to watch, which is poor compensation for how Amazon is treating their business partners in Audible, but at least it’s something. Nobody minds when the bully gets what’s coming to him.