Society of Authors Raises Concerns Over Spotify’s Audiobook Rollout — ‘Authors Have Not Been Consulted’

Society of Authors raises concerns
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Society of Authors raises concerns
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Photo Credit: Dushawn Jovic

The Society of Authors raises concerns over Spotify’s audiobook rollout and the claims that ‘all major book publishers’ have agreed to new deals with the company, saying ‘authors have not been consulted.’

UK trade union The Society of Authors (SoA) is demanding transparency regarding publishers’ streaming deals with Spotify, raising concerns over the company’s claims that “all major book publishers” have agreed to deals with no input or approval from authors.

“As far as we are aware, no authors or agents have been approached for permission for such licenses, and authors have not been consulted on license or payment terms,” the Society of Authors wrote on their website yesterday (October 10.) “Publishing contracts differ, but in our view, most licenses given to publishers for licensing of audio do not include streaming.”

“We know the devastating effect that music streaming has had on artists’ incomes, and the impact of streaming and subscription video on demand platforms on screenwriter incomes and their working conditions,” the SoA continues. “We have long been concerned about streaming models for books.”

The streaming of audiobooks competes directly with sales and is even more damaging than music streaming for artists. That’s because books are often only read once, while consumers typically stream music many times.

Spotify’s new audiobook offering gives subscribers access to up to 15 hours of audiobook content per month through the platform, from a catalog of over 150,000 titles. The SoA cites an article in The Bookseller that points out that, although book publishers have long expressed reservations about subscription models for digital content, Spotify has offered variations of the “typical pooled income arrangement” with a more limited offer publishers think will assure authors and their agents that “their income streams will not be undermined.”

“However, authors and agents have simply not been contacted about such offers, let alone reassured,” says the Society of Authors. “The fact that all major publishers have entered into such arrangements at the same time seems to raise questions that perhaps should be reported to the competition authorities.”

“Subscription services are a good deal for publishers and a bad deal for authors,” says Robert Gottlieb, Chairman of Trident Media Group. “Subscription services build into the market expectations of low prices, which have negative reverberation for authors going forward with consumers.”

The SoA asks that publishers contact authors and agents immediately to inform them of the details of the proposed deals and to seek their approval, and respect authors’ right not to give permission and to remove their books from the Spotify catalog if requested.

The trade union also asks to negotiate shares of the receipts on a clear and equitable payment model, and to ensure that licenses include safeguards to prevent pirating of works, including narrators’ voices, for use in the training of AI systems.