Amazon's audiobook creation team (ACX) sent me a survey asking how my experience with them has been. This is what I said, and I mean all of it:
Where to begin. First off, I sincerely hope somebody actually reads this. I have a number of grievances, and honestly, would LOVE to use another service if only one existed. After having used ACX, I'm convinced that you are kept alive only by the life support offered by Amazon, as they have given you a monopoly.
Overall, ACX and Amazon is obviously trying to push costs as low as possible for the consumer not by increasing their own efficiency, but by crushing all margins out of the producer / seller of the book. You grow your business at the expense of the people providing you with goods to sell. Don't pretend you don't already know this.
Also, I've run a software company so I know exactly what's going on in there, and it's appalling. I'd love to talk to someone in person about this, but I suppose your weak attempt at customer service via a single question survey will do for now. Let's begin.
1. You charge 60%. What in the world justifies that? Has anyone there ever created an audiobook? Do you understand the work required to do so? And then you provide, what, hosting?? And charge 60% or more to do so? Hosting is probably 5% of the work that needs to be done, yet you take the majority of the revenue and then have the audacity (no pun intended) to word it as though YOU are paying ME a "generous" royalty. It's offensive to the author who has spent hundreds or thousands of hours writing and editing his book, then hundreds more to create a good audiobook. You've done nothing. Google Drive and Dropbox host files for FREE. I'm beyond offended by your outrageous royalty split.
2. The author only earns 40% IF he records his own book AND agrees to a SEVEN YEAR exclusivity arrangement. Even cell phone service providers aren't so bold. In fact, the only thing in my life I've ever seen with such a long contract length is a mortgage for a house. This policy is, again, outrageous, and as soon as a competitor decides to enter the market, you've made it impossibly easy for them to beat you on service provided to authors.
3. Once I did upload my book, it took you 10-14 business days to get it on Audible. It took me less time than that to produce the entire audiobook. I would absolutely love to know how it takes you 10-14 days to upload some files to a server. Oh and, by the way, the book still isn't on Amazon or iTunes. With efficiency like that, it's obvious you're not spending your 60% very wisely.
4. Once the book was on Audible (PS don't BS and tell yourselves that Audible is a different service and you have no control over it. You're all owned by the same company and are basically the same service, get together and work it out.) I was told I'd be sent 25 promo codes to give my book out for free. Great! Oh but then I read the part where it was going to take 5 business days to email them to me... Again, how could that possibly take 5 days?? What are you people doing in there? Automate this!!
5. Once I did get my promo codes, the email had a list of instructions I'm supposed to give to whoever gets a code so they can actually use it. This is a clear sign of terrible design. If your site is so unclear that you have to send me a list of instructions that I then have to send to people downloading the book, you've blown it. Completely.
6. It is painfully obvious that almost the entirety of Amazon's book, ebook, and audiobook operations are designed to benefit Amazon and further entrench it as the world's only option for books of all formats at the expense of not itself, but the authors. That sentiment pervades all you do and my hatred for your operations has deepened with every encounter as the curtain on your one-sidedness has opened.
7. You tout yourselves as a super consumer-friendly platform, and I know that's how you justify the unbelievable fees you charge. And yet, there is no way to buy an ebook through either the Kindle app OR the Amazon app on an iPhone. Major, major oversight. So, I have to go to my desktop to buy an ebook that I'll immediately send to my iPhone. Please tell me you see the friction here.
There are more. But I think you get the gist. And it seems that, given the incredible number and depth of offenses, your problem is deeper than a list of features. It is systemic. You seem to despise authors, and we feel it through your many ungodly policies.
I truly hope you understand that the only reason anyone uses your service is because Amazon forces us to. If this were left to the free market, you'd be dead.
I'm happy to talk more about this as I truly wish things were different. Let's talk.
As my business partner and I concluded our new business presentation in a small room in the business building, we stared into the faces of about eight judges. No one looked very impressed.
"So you're telling us you got it right the first time?" one of them asked condescendingly.
We kind of thought that was the point, but given the tone of his voice, we now knew it wasn't.
"Well... yeah," we replied sheepishly.
"No, no, no. Listen, this is the business model competition," he explained impatiently. "We want you to tell us how you tested your ideas and pivoted. We want to hear about what was wrong with your first idea, how you figured out that it was incorrect, and how you changed it. Then, we want to hear about how your second idea was wrong, how you found out, and what you did to change it. And your third, and fourth, and fifth, and fifteenth ideas."
Hm. We didn't really do any of that, I thought.
"...But what if we didn't pivot?" I asked.
As soon as I said it, the room shifted with silent exasperation, and I could tell I had just spoken heresy.
Irritated, the judge replied, "Oh please, of course you did. No one gets it right the first time."
As we walked out of the room and another team slid into place for the next presentation, the rest of the judges nodded in knowing agreeance and I began to think they knew something we didn't.
Getting it Right the First Time
Through years of classes and competitions, I was slowly converted to their philosophy, and for a long time believed that "getting it right" the first time was a mere stroke of rare luck. That people like Mark Zuckerberg, who created the first version of Facebook in about a week and had 75% of Harvard students using it within a month, were untouchable outliers. Results like that were reserved for either the unusually talented or the unusually lucky, or probably an even more unusual combination of the two.
But I've not come to realize that... they're wrong. People do get it right the first time. Lots of them. In fact, it may be more the rule than the exception when it comes to successful innovation.
Let me give you the facts.
The model the business competition judges were pushing is the build-test-measure cycle. Basically, you make a product, then test it out with users, they tell you everything that's wrong with it, you go make the changes, and repeat until you've found the right answer.
However, 50-80% of successful innovations are created by users initially for their own use. (You can read all about the research here: http://evhippel.mit.edu/papers/section-1/.) The creators don't do any market testing at all.
Typically, a product is only commercialized after the user has finished its design and been using it himself. When these products hit the market, they're already the right answer.
A few examples to help you through this:
The same goes for all the examples above and thousands more.
The founders of those companies actually did get it right the first time. They just built version one of their product, launched it, and it blew up. Like big time blew up. We're using B's here, not M's.
They way the founders did that was, basically, by making products they wanted to use. That way, they didn't need to test anything with the market. They were the market. They knew exactly what their products should be. (I wrote an entire book on the subject, btw, if you want to know more about this.)
So the question now is this: would you rather spend 9 months getting it wrong twelve times, or just get it right the first time? Because getting it right the first time is not only possible, if you follow the user method - it's likely.