We are Libro.fm, an audiobook platform that makes it possible for you to buy audiobooks directly through your local bookstore. We are fiercely independent and we oppose Amazon’s efforts to prevent independent bookstores and libraries from providing certain audiobooks, called Audible Exclusives.
One frequently-asked question we get from Libro.fm listeners is why certain audiobooks aren’t available on our platform—like Born a Crime by Trevor Noah and Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb.
While Libro.fm has a catalog of over 250,000 audiobooks—and more than 99% of all The New York Times bestsellers—some titles are unavailable due to exclusive licenses granted by audiobook publishers and authors to Amazon’s Audible.
What does Audible Exclusive or Audible Original mean?
For Audible listeners, the yellow band on a book cover reading “only from Audible” facilitates a feeling of access to premium content, but for the rest of the book world, it’s an access barrier.
It means that the audiobook in question can only be sold through Amazon’s Audible. No other retailers or providers can sell or distribute the digital audiobook, including bookstores and libraries.
Books should be equally accessible to all, and Audible Exclusive audiobooks—also known as Audible Originals—are the antithesis of that.
How does an audiobook become an Audible Exclusive?
This is going to get a little technical, but stick with us. It begins with the Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX), a marketplace launched by Audible in 2011 that connects narrators, authors, agents, publishers, and rights-holders to create audiobooks. The decision to make an audiobook Exclusive is made by authors, publishers, and agents—it depends on who is granted the audio rights to a book.
Why do these parties choose this option? ACX promises higher royalties to creators (i.e. more money from audiobook sales) if they opt for Exclusive distribution. If a creator wants to distribute their audiobook to other audiobook platforms or libraries, they will earn 15% to 20% less of retail sales from ACX. The ACX system rewards exclusivity, so it’s easy to see why authors and publishers spring for this opportunity—but even then, there has been speculation that Exclusive creators are being paid less than the promised royalties.
Within the ACX world, Audible Studios is the production arm of Audible. They pay authors like Mark Manson (Love Is Not Enough), Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid’s Tale), and Alice Walker (The Color Purple) giant sums to keep their audiobooks exclusive to Audible, and prevent bookstores and libraries from selling and distributing them.
What does this mean for audiobook distribution?
Libraries, bookstores, schools, and anyone who isn’t affiliated with Amazon cannot distribute audiobooks that are Audible Exclusives. This means Libro.fm can’t sell Audible Exclusive audiobooks, which means our 1,600+ bookstore partners can’t sell them, either.
Audible Exclusives also work in direct opposition to the basic principles of libraries—free access to books, both digital and print. By limiting distribution, Amazon aids in making books, perspectives, and information inaccessible to certain communities and users.
To reiterate: There are audiobooks being published that bookstores cannot sell, and libraries cannot lend.
This hurts bookstores because they are consistently missing out on sales for big releases. When they aren’t able to sell audiobooks that are in high demand, potential customers will opt for Audible over their local bookstores. This, of course, only continues to increase Audible’s (and ultimately Amazon’s) power and influence within the publishing industry, resulting in more Exclusive deals and increasingly restricted access to audiobooks for the rest of the market.
Because audiobooks are a digital product, they’re inherently easier for Amazon to monopolize. For example, the superstar-stacked audiobook for The Sandman by Neil Gaiman and DC Comics is only available on Audible:
Audiobooks are also a vital means of access for some readers with disabilities:
How else does Audible bar audiobook access?
Audible pays some publishers to embargo new audiobook releases for 90 days—meaning that for the first three months of sales, the audiobook can only be found on Audible.
Audible also doesn’t allow Libro.fm and bookstore customers to make certain audiobooks redeemable with membership credits—books like The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante and Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad.
By rewarding Exclusive distribution, striking Exclusive deals with influential authors, and paying publishers to delay the distribution of new releases, Audible’s creeping monopoly pushes independent bookstores and libraries out of the audiobook industry.
I’m an author. How do I prevent Amazon’s Audible from shutting out independent bookstores and libraries?
First, understand the contract with your publisher. Are they producing the audiobook, or licensing it to another publisher? Either way, add language into your agreement that requires your audiobook to be sold through independent bookstores and made available through libraries.
Second, if your publisher is planning to contract or license the audiobook version, ensure that your publisher puts language in their licensing agreement that prevents the audiobook publisher from selling your title exclusively to Amazon’s Audible. If your audiobook is currently Exclusive, you might be able to change the distribution rights after a year depending on the payment option you have chosen. Learn more here.
Looking to learn more about offering your audiobook through Libro.fm? Read our Author Guide.
How is this any different from television and movie streaming platforms that produce originals?
Most original series and movies are still available to loan from your public library, and you can purchase DVDs online. The level of accessibility to all is much higher. Audible Exclusive audiobooks are only available through Amazon’s platform and not available through libraries or bookstores.
How can we work together to make change?
1. Make the #AudiobookSwitch.
When you choose Libro.fm over Audible, you support our 1,600+ bookstore partners, invest in your local community, and get audiobook recommendations from real booksellers—not an algorithm.
By spending money with intention, we can collectively work to not let audiobooks become another form of privatized entertainment controlled by a single entity.
Make the switch from Audible to Libro.fm. The more people we move away from their platform, the more power we take away from a singular provider in the industry. With Libro.fm, you get to choose a local bookstore to support, so you’re putting money back into your community.
2. Reach out to authors and publishers.
Authors can change the story by ditching Audible, so reach out or tag authors on social media who have chosen the Exclusive path and share your feelings. Sharing this post with them might be a good place to start, perhaps with the statement “Choosing Audible Exclusive for your audiobook restricts audience access and hurts bookstores and libraries.”
We recommend Author’s Republic as the ACX alternative. Their audiobooks will be available on Libro.fm, libraries, and wherever audiobooks are sold or distributed. Publishers can also produce their own audiobooks and distribute to Libro.fm via Ingram Plus, Findaway, and Zebralution.
3. Spread the word.
If you’re a member, tell your friends, family, colleagues, and everyone you know about Libro.fm—when you refer someone, you get free audiobooks. We also offer bulk audiobook purchases for organizations through our Libro.fm for Business program.
Even if you don’t make an account with Libro.fm, it’s important that people are informed and aware of the harmful tactics that Amazon’s Audible uses to control the audiobook market. When you choose Libro.fm over Audible, you support our 1,200 bookstore partners, invest in your local community, and get audiobook recommendations from real booksellers—not an algorithm.
Want to read more?
A testimonial: “Audible Exclusives limit disabled audiobook fans like me.”
“US Publishers, Authors, Booksellers Call Out Amazon’s ‘Concentrated Power’ in the Market”
“We Need to Talk About Audible” by Cory Doctorow
Have more questions about Audible Exclusives? Want more action items toward encouraging fair access to audiobooks? Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and a real, audiobook-loving human will get back to you.
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When you start a new Libro.fm membership in support of bookstores, you'll get a bonus audiobook credit.