This morning, I was pleasantly surprised to wake up to an email from ACX (Audible’s publishing platform), more or less saying that starting in January 2021, they will now start refunding audiobooks that are returned more than seven days after the purchase date. They are also looking into adding a returns column for sales data, but didn’t give a concrete timeline on that.
This is a step in the right direction, even if it doesn’t address all of authors’ grievances. It promises nothing about compensating authors for the rampant returns that have occurred up to this point, but it does tell me that ACX is aware and listening.
It seems from the language of the email that readers will still be allowed to return a book up to a year after purchase, but if they do so after seven days, the author will be compensated for that. This is similar to how it works with kindle e-books, although in that system returns don’t become possible after seven days. I agree with ACX that it’s important for readers to feel comfortable exchanging audiobooks which helps them take a risk on a new author. Of course, it will do little to curb system abusers who go through multiple audiobooks a week, as seven days is nothing to them and we will likely not be seeing the missed royalties from that. Time will tell whether seven days is truly enough, but I do expect lost royalties to go back up.
That said, I speculate the majority of the returns come from binge listeners who will blow through a book in way less than seven days. Of course, there’s no way to prove this since we don’t have access to the data, but there is one way I can think of it to combat it: not allowing the return after an 80% listen, or Amazon covering the return if it’s returned any time after an 80% listen. I think 80% is a generous amount of time for a reader to decide whether or not the story works for them. If Audible still wants to allow the return, that’s their prerogative. However, it would be fair to compensate the author in that case.
My main fear is that most authors will be happy with this and think the fight for complete fairness ends here. As for myself, it’s a step in the right direction, but I hope more will be done to make this agreement as fair as possible. As said before, if the majority of those returns are happening before seven days is up, well, then all this means almost nothing. If we finally get a returns column, however, we will finally have hard data to make a more accurate judgment.