Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Audio Books and Audio Rights

Dear Rejecter,

I found your blog via Nathan Bransford's and Eric of Pimp My Novel fame.

As a yet un-published writer and an entrepeneur considering a small press venture, I found your blogs on money and royalties extremely useful.

Something I did not see addressed, however, was audio books. I have several friends who cannot or have difficulty reading - I myself prefer to listen to a book in the car on a long drive. Unfortunately, not every book published becomes an audio book so I have to assume that there exists audio book making companies and the rights to do produce these are sold separately.

Is this correct or am I making things up? Any information you could share about audio books 'from the inside' would be very much appreciated. I am just beginning my own research now, but your insight would be invaluable.

When a book and a CD player love each other very much...

Seriously, this is how audio books happen: When you sell a book to a publisher, they will specify what rights they're buying, and the overwhelming majority of the time that will include audio rights, followed by a royalty percentage that's generally higher than royalties on book format. I'm sure they exist, but I've never seen a contract that didn't include audio rights.

This means it's the publisher's responsibility to find a company that will produce the audio book, if they feel that it would be worth their investment - and for most mid-list authors, it won't be. For those that it will be, major publishers generally have an in-house production group responsible for it, while others might hire out. Someone will be in charge of setting it all up, especially if a celebrity needs to be hired to read it.

The author actually can't make the audio book themselves because they've sold off the right to do it to the publishing company, so if the publishing company decides, "Hey, not worth it," then they're probably right, and also no audio book for that particular book. If the small press didn't buy audio rights (which is weird, but OK), the author can hire a company to do it and distribute it, but it will be wicked expensive.

When the Kindle first came out, it had a text-to-speech option, which was quickly disabled because it violated the copyright on audio rights held by publishers (Amazon was doing it without permission). Or maybe it was another e-Reader, but I'm pretty sure it was the Kindle.

EDIT: The above paragraph is disputed in comments. Other people are probably right.


C. N. Nevets said...

It was the 2nd generation Kindle, and my understanding is that Amazon didn't entirely disable the feature, but that they left it up to the publishers of copyright holders to enable the feature for given content.

Of course, I can't imagine text-to-speech coming close to replacing a good George Guidall reading.

But copyright isn't about quality, it's about property, so... *shrug*

jmnlman said...

For the record text-to-speech violates audio book rights in the same way that having a friend read the book out loud to you does, that is to say not all. There's no act of distribution of content.

Gabrielle D'Ayr said...

Thank you! Very helpful indeed, and sorry about not proofing my email to you well enough.

Best wishes

Miles said...

It was the Kindle, but text-to-speech conversion pretty definitely does NOT infringe copyrights at all. However, the publishers certainly didn't like it, and they have a lot of leverage with Amazon, so the feature was changed. I believe now it's set up so publishers can choose whether or not to allow any given text to be converted to computer speech.

The Rejecter said...

How doesn't it violate copyright? I'm not trying to argue a point; I actually just want to know. The publisher is the one with the right to copy and print the book. It just gives booksellers the books themselves and the booksellers get a cut when a copy is sold. Text-to-speech implies production on the bookseller's end, because the Kindle, which belongs to Amazon, is producing.

C. N. Nevets said...

I haven't looked into the legal precedent, here's why I think it might not infringe on audio book rights or other copyrights:

There is no permanent reproduction. Text-to-speech is a transient interpretative device like one of those reading machines that magnifies the size of the text on a screen.

It alters the transmission of the written word, but there is no recording or performance, simply a computer-aided interpretation of the written text that vanishes the moment its expressed.

So, there is no "copy." It really is rather like a technological variation on having someone read to you.

That said, it might violate public performance rights or other deals that are made with companies that produce audio books for the visually impaired. I've not seen those contracts or any court documents.

But it's not cut and dried, I don't think.

Stephen said...

First - the Kindle does not belong to Amazon, it belongs to person who bought it.

Second, the publisher is not the only person with the right to copy a book. I can photocopy a book I own a paper copy of, put the book in a safe place, and read the copy if I wish. I can scan a book I own, OCR the images, and create my own ebook. I can read the book aloud for my child, record the results, and allow that child to hear my own home-made audiobook when I'm not home. None of these acts breaks copyright unless I distribute the results. It's just like copying a CD into a MP3 player, or a cassette tape. The music industry has often tried to stop this happening (they'd rather sell you two copies), and the courts have fairly consistently slapped them down.

What copy right gives you is the right to distribute a work, not copy it, it's a misnomer. So the argument in this case is whether Amazon is distributing a different copy, or allowing you to make it yourself.

The loser in all this are the blind, or those with really bad eyesight. In fact, in some jurisdictions (mostly in Europe I think) it is illegal to deliberately disable such devices, so I'm waiting for the first lawsuits against publishers from there.

Anonymous said...

Why do publisher buy audio rights if they find it too expensive to actually have one produced? Wouldn't it be better to not buy the rights and leave it to someone who actually wants to create it, so they can also drive more people to buy the paper version?

Jo said...

As an older writer with limited computer expertise, I am intrigued by the possibilities of Kindle, not only because of the ease of reading new books without having to store them on my over-flowing bookcase, but also because I hear that my unpublished fourth novel can be self-published as a Kindle offering. Un-fortunately, I do not have the vocabulary to understand what Amazon is trying to get me to do to accomplish this. And, I wonder if it is true that publishers/agents scan these self-published novels for promising prospects? Is this kind of publishing worth the effort (and the cost of hiring a teenage computer wizz) in terms of getting an agent?

Danielle said...

As a (currently) former audiobook producer, I thought I'd add to your excellent explanation that the holder of the rights (usually the print publisher, to whom of course the author need not sell the audiobook rights) sometimes also sells a "restricted license" to audiobook production houses which produce them for the use of the "print handicapped", usually via library borrowing or a special purchase arrangement. This means not only those who are vision impaired in some way but also those with a physical disability or illness which prevents them from grasping a book, holding it for long periods or holding it still for long enough to read (such as the tremors that comes with Parkinson's.) In this way, books which are unlikely to be considered commercially viable as audiobooks are converted for those who could not access them any other way.

In Australia, Vision Australia Foundation (where I began my career and whose commercial arm is called Louis Braille Audio) have a wonderful service which allows those eligible to join the Audiobook library to receive audiobooks made under such restricted licenses via post. Thanks to a long standing agreement with Australia Post, the postage both to and from the library member is free.