When searching for some of the latest news and developments surrounding the publishing industry, I felt compelled to see what new changes may be surrounding audiobooks. I didn’t choose audiobooks because I particularly like them or am familiar with them, in fact, I’ve never actually used one ever before. To me, audiobooks seemed to have more of a link to the future of publishing for a number of reasons. First of all, an audiobook is a highly accessible type of medium for people of all ages and can be experienced in a diverse range of environments. Secondly, these books fit harmoniously into the age of digital consumption, where readers are more often using their phones to get access to news and current events on the go.
With a set of headphones, readers can not only listen and experience their favourite books while in transit, but they will also retain some sense of individual privacy to the books they are enjoying as opposed to reading a codex version and revealing their personal interests to those who see the handheld book’s cover. Andrew Piper argues that we relate to reading books as individuals, and that it also serves as a form of individuation based on how we do it. Yet, at the same time, when books are placed in social media websites or apps and changed into audiobooks, Piper also argues that there can now be more of a collective association through integration with our shared online personalities.
In this case, we can understand how audiobooks are able prosper, as Piper claims: “How different technologies facilitate or inhibit the act of sharing will be a key determinant not only of their future success, but of the way we think about reading.” (Piper, 2012).
Again, I admit that I don’t use audiobooks at all despite their benefits and effective integration with today’s technology, but I was very intrigued to find out that YouTube (something I do frequently use), has been recently considered one of the five most five useful sources for free Audiobooks. After seeing this news article, it was then that I realized that YouTube was actually one of the first places that I had ever come across an advertisement for Audible, Amazon’s portal for audiobooks. One of my favourite YouTube personalities was offering a special promotion code to Audible by embedding a sponsored message at the end of his own video content, which was different from seeing the standard types of commercials or advertisements before videos that you could skip over after a few seconds. During this promo message, I understood that audiobooks wouldn’t normally be a free service, and that some sort of subscription-based business model would be in place for the premium audio libraries such as Audible. In fact, Audible is listed among the free sources in the article mentioned above, but the supposedly “free” content is the rotating list of 50 titles in the Audible catalog that only Amazon Prime members will have access to. Essentially, after a 30-day free trial runs out of Amazon Prime, Canadians would be spending an annual fee of $79.00 plus applicable taxes to enjoy their premium audiobooks. A lot of what makes these audiobooks “premium” seems to revolve around the fact that they’re bestsellers, or that they even have celebrity narrated classics to keep listeners even more riveted with their chosen genre of book.
However, audiobooks don’t really need these elements to thrive, as YouTube has managed to prove that truly free access can be the most enticing thing necessary. By adding a YouTube account like AudiobooksFree to an RSS feed, users can essentially create their own basic subscription service of free published content to their hearts content. One classmate in my publishing class has already confirmed that he’s made the most of YouTube to find some of his favourite novels in audiobook form, but he had also admitted to it probably being “totally illegal”.
This is where books seem to begin following in the footsteps of music, which is one of many art forms that has constantly been at war with copyright infringement and illegal downloading during the digital age. There is a great irony to the fact that books are following suit, especially if we consider how music and movies seemed adopt characteristics of the book medium throughout the years by the process of remediation. By definition, remediation is “the representation of one medium in another” (Bolter and Grusin, 1998), and we see examples when we hear terms like “music libraries” or “albums”. Now, however, it seems the tables have turned so that audiobooks are inadvertently adopting the bad characteristics of music listeners by getting tangled up in copyright infringement and piracy because of their popularity online. It should then come as no surprise that authors are similarly going to war over piracy with listeners and fans of their work once it is handed out freely and loses its market value.
The aforementioned article by MoneyTalksNews reveals that many audio books on YouTube belong to the public domain, this means that their copyright laws are most likely expired and over 100 years old, or they could also be forfeited. Alternatively, many other uploaded audiobooks could very well be illegally recorded or shared, which blurs the lines of ethical sharing if users are free to access it and don’t want to know the difference.
Take this worst case scenario for best-selling author Ryan Holiday as a nightmare example, as he recently discovered his own audiobook was free to access on YouTube after reading a comment for his audiobook on Amazon where it was being sold. Holiday was forced to file a copyright claim on the videos of his audiobooks on YouTube that were collecting thousands of views and thus ruining his chance collecting earnings through Amazon. What’s worse is that authors like him are at a massive disadvantage for ensuring that their audiobooks are prevented from piracy through the use of YouTube’s ContentID tracking technology that helps to locate copyrighted material. Normally, only big publishing houses are granted the ability to use ContentID as a preventative measure to locate the illegally shared material on YouTube in the same way that copyrighted music or video files can be. Unfortunately, audiobooks are more often published by smaller companies who aren’t given the same access to this tracking technology, and are forced to hunt down the specific accounts who post pirated material. Audiobooks are also at a great disadvantage to other pirated files like podcasts because they don’t adopt the same practice of having advertisements embedded in them to guarantee some return of revenue.
Therefore, YouTube is a great vessel for the audiobook as it surges in popularity, but for the amount of legal concerns that will arise from pirated content, the website is severely lacking in adequate ways to deal with the negative impacts on authors. The publishing industry has already resorted to outsourcing their anti-piracy efforts to third party companies who help to generate the takedown requests for any e-books or audiobooks that are shared for free. As a result, the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) has reportedly doubled its takedown requests in October this year and set a new record from the amount that was sent in at the same time last year. From this emerging trend we can connect back to Piper’s quote about the success of books based on how different technologies can inhibit or facilitate the act of sharing, and especially how it determines the way we think about reading. Those people who choose to illegally upload audiobooks are contributing to the success of the book in terms of popularity, but are also robbing the authors of their fair share of profits and tarnishing the book industry. We can relate back to music sharing again because of the way that people are able to easily download whatever they want, but they inevitably contribute to negative implications that will impact the artists and marketplace. Audiobooks can continue to be successful themselves, but as their collective audiences continue to make a habit of cheating their way to free access, the authors will be faced with an increasingly uphill battle to regaining fair compensation.
Bolter, Jay David, and Richard Grusin. 1998. Immediacy, Hypermediacy, and Remediation. In Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge: The MIT Press.
Holiday, R. (2016). When Will YouTube Deal With Its Audiobook and Podcast Piracy Problem? Retrieved October, 2016, from http://observer.com/2016/08/when-will-youtube-deal-with-its-audiobook-and-podcast-piracy-problem/
Kozlowski, Michael (2016). DMCA Takedown Requests Set a New Record. Retrieved October, 2016, from http://goodereader.com/blog/digital-publishing/dmca-takedown-requests-set-a-new-record
Neiman, Melissa (2016). 5 Sources of Free Audiobooks. Retrieved October, 2016, from http://www.moneytalksnews.com/5-sources-free-audiobooks/
Piper, Andrew. 2012. “Sharing”. In Book Was There: Reading in Electronic Times. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 83-108.