Oct 12, 2023 2 min read

Authors criticise lack of transparency around Spotify's new audiobook offer

The UK’s Society Of Authors has criticised the lack of transparency about the deals Spotify has negotiated with book publishers in order to include access to audiobooks as part of its premium subscription package

Authors criticise lack of transparency around Spotify's new audiobook offer

The UK's Society Of Authors has hit out at Spotify's recent announcement that it is adding access to audiobooks as part of its premium subscription package in the UK and Australia.

While Spotify has agreed deals with book publishers to make that happen, it seems that little information has been shared with authors and their agents about how those deals work. It's all so fucking familiar.

"As far as we are aware", the authors organisation said earlier this week, "no authors or agents have been approached for permission for such licences, and authors have not been consulted on licence or payment terms".

A big part of the economics of music streaming debate has been about the lack of transparency regarding how the deals between the streaming services and the record labels, music distributors, music publishers and collecting societies work.

Artists and songwriters are one step removed from the deal-making, even though those deals have a fundamental impact on how their individual music-maker businesses work. They are also often left in the dark about each licensing model, and how their business partners are interpreting old record and publishing contracts - especially those that don't talk about streaming or even digital - in the context of these new revenue streams.

More information has been made available over the years, partly through initiatives like Spotify's Loud & Clear website, and partly through things like the Digital Dollar project led by the Music Managers Forum in partnership with CMU.

Part of the UK government-led work on streaming has been the creation of a new transparency code for the music industry that is now in the final stage of negotiation. But plenty of information is still unavailable to artists and songwriters - and sometimes to independent labels and publishers who also rely on business partners to access the streaming services.

And now authors are seemingly similarly in the dark about the new Spotify audiobook deals. In a recent feature in The Bookseller, a number of author agents said that Spotify's big move into audiobooks is probably a good thing, potentially bringing new opportunities and audiences to the sector, and challenging the dominance of Amazon's Audible.

However, as one agent put it: “We have yet to get clarity from any publisher about how our authors are to be remunerated. While it is clearly a good thing that Audible will become less of a monopoly in the audio space, I fear we need to be circumspect until we are able to agree terms”.

The Society Of Authors has made a number of demands of the book publishers regarding their new Spotify deals, including that they "inform their authors and agents with full transparency about the deals they have negotiated".

And then "negotiate an appropriate share of the receipts on a clear and equitable payment model, which should equate to no less than the amount that would be received from a sale of the same audiobook".

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