Brilliance Audio, Amazon, and the Great Un-downloading

On January 4, OverDrive sent an email to all of its libraries with a bombshell announcement, (quoted here from Infodocket)

“Effective January 31, 2012, as instructed by the publisher, BrillianceAudio will suspend the availability of all download audiobook titles for library purchase across all vendors. This change does not affect any titles currently in your library’s catalog. You will not, however, be able to add any additional copies.”

Compared to the Harper Collins 26 checkout limit or the Penguin/Kindle “will they/won’t they” drama, the Brilliance withdrawal notice has generated only a few ripples in the pond. The tree fell in the forest, and there were surprisingly few people around to hear it.

And the voices that have spoken up have cried out against OverDrive. Before we “shoot the messenger”, let’s take a look at the message again.

The loss of Brilliance audiobook downloads is bad news for OverDrive. They license a lot of Brilliance audiobooks, and some are definitely going to be missed from library collections. J.D. Robb, Nora Roberts, Nevada Barr, Tom Clancy, Robert Crais, W.E.B. Griffin, Dean Koontz, Jayne Ann Krentz, the list goes on. These are all authors where my LPOW had long hold queues on OverDrive and licensed multiple copies, up to our maximum. And we bought physical audiobooks, and print books, and ebooks if available and every other format imaginable. OverDrive is going to miss their slices of that revenue pie. This Brilliance withdrawal is not in their interest.

So who benefits? Amazon owns Brilliance Audio. Amazon also owns Audible, which sells downloadable audio direct to consumers. (Full disclosure: Reading Reality is both an Amazon Affiliate and an Audible Affiliate)

Amazon has a track record of cutting out intermediaries wherever they can. They are offering self-published authors terrific deals in order to get agents out of the picture. They have become a traditional publisher as well, with several imprints under their banner ranging from romance (Montlake Romance) to mystery (Thomas & Mercer) to science fiction (47North) to international (AmazonCrossing).

This holiday season, Amazon tried to directly cut out local bookstores (not that they haven’t been doing an indirect job of that all along) by encouraging customers to take the Amazon “price check” app into their local bookstore and then compare the local price to the Amazon price for a $5 discount off the Amazon price. Ecosalon called this out as one of their “Most Offensive Ad Campaigns of 2011

Last but not least in the list of Amazon’s effort to remove obstacles between themselves and the direct consumer, there’s the Kindle Lending Library. Which attempts to eliminate libraries. Amazon Prime members can borrow one book per month, as long as they buy everything else.

So, if Amazon owns Brilliance, which makes audiobooks, and Amazon owns Audible, which sells downloadable audiobooks, who would be responsible for the decision to stop letting OverDrive and all other library vendors (Ingram, Baker & Taylor, 3M) license Brilliance downloadable audiobooks to the library market?



What can we do about it?

Attacking OverDrive will not help.  Amazon is a 900 lb. gorilla, if not bigger. There are very, very few entities that have been able to successfully negotiate with Amazon and come away winners. The one time I can think of is when the publishers managed to break Amazon’s lock on Kindle book pricing by withholding content. But the publishers had something that Amazon wanted, bestselling author content.

What do we have that Amazon wants? Can we use our image of “mom and apple pie” and how much we do for the public good to make Amazon see reason?

The Brilliance audio download tree fell in the forest. It’s up to libraries to make Amazon hear our message.



3 thoughts on “Brilliance Audio, Amazon, and the Great Un-downloading

  1. “Can we use our image of “mom and apple pie” and how much we do for the public good to make Amazon see reason?”

    Don’t be silly. We need to appeal, not to Amazon, which is simply doing its capitalistic job, but to publishers, authors, libraries, and readers, all of whom will ultimately be the victims of Amazonian hegemony over the print, eBook, and audiobook worlds.

    Publishers must take the lead in self-preservation, and if they don’t do so soon, their authors are going to be leaving them in large numbers to enjoy the greener (for the time being) grass on the Amazonian side of the fence.

    The End of Libraries

    1. In the case of Brilliance Audio, Amazon is also the publisher. Amazon purchased Brilliance Audio in 2007.

      Downloadable audio is a peculiar beast in particular. Even without the need for physical media, it is still more expensive than a book. And people seldom think they are going to play a book through a second time because of the time factor. But downloading is very convenient.

      Most people who use audiobooks do think of their libraries first, because audiobooks was the one format that libraries owned until downloads came along.

      Because audiobook users have come to the libraries first and for a long time, this is an attitude that libraries could capitalize on through PR. It could be a wedge to start getting our message across.

      Whether it gets used, and whether it gets listened to, time will tell.

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