UK: Society of Authors Questions Spotify’s Publisher Deals

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Spotify’s October 3 announcement about including audiobooks in its UK subscriptions prompts sharp demands from the Society of Authors.

Image: Spotify

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

See also:
UK and Australia: Spotify Opens ‘Audiobooks in Premium’
In England: The Society of Authors’ CEO Nicola Solomon is Retiring

SoA: Streaming Audiobooks ‘Compete Directly With Sales’
In a statement provided to Publishing Perspectives for today’s report (October 11), the 12,400-member Society of Authors in London is expressing “deep concern” in learning from press reports last week that ‘all major book publishers’ have agreed new limited streaming deals with Spotify.'”

As our readership knows, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek led an invitational press conference on October 3, announcing the opening in Australia and the United Kingdom of its premium audiobook offer. The move is said by the company to make available at least 150,000 audiobooks as part of Spotify Premium subscriptions, subscribers receiving 15 hours of listening time monthly.

As Anne Steele pointed out in her article for the Wall Street Journal, Spotify says it has made agreements with the Big Five publishing houses and many independent publishers.

“As far as we are aware,” the society’s leadership writes, “no authors or agents have been approached for permission for such licenses, and authors have not been consulted on license or payment terms.

“Publishing contracts differ but in our view, most licenses given to publishers for licensing of audio do not include streaming. In fact, it is likely that streaming was not a use that had been invented when many such contracts were entered into.”

This may quickly develop as a prevalent talking point in the Literary Agents and Scouts Center and across the vast exhibition floors at Frankfurter Buchmesse next week (October 18 to 20), as the major houses have preferred in the past to stand out from subscription programs.

The society’s messaging is clearly checking the “no” box, specifically in relation to the streaming element of the Spotify operation.

“We know the devastating effect that music streaming has had on artists’ incomes,” the Society’s statement reads, “and the impact of streaming and subscription video on demand platforms on screenwriter incomes and their working conditions. 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 because books are typically only read once, while music is often streamed many times. 

The Union Turns to Publishers for Response

The organization references Sian Bayley’s October 3 announcement story at The Bookseller in making its point.

“The streaming of audiobooks competes directly with sales and is even more damaging than music streaming because books are typically only read once, while music is often streamed many times.”Society of Authors

In that article, as the Society of Authors points out, Bayley wrote, “Book publishers have long expressed reservations about subscription deals for digital content, but Spotify has offered variations of the typical pooled income arrangement, with a more limited offer that publishers believe will assure agents and authors that their income streams will not be undermined.”

The Society of Authors statement goes on even to allude to what might be an appearance of collusion, writing, “Authors and agents have simply not been contacted about such offers, let alone reassured. The fact that all major publishers have entered such arrangements at the same time seems to raise questions that perhaps should be reported to the competition authorities.”

The Society of Authors then concludes with a concise list of what it sees as its requirements in this development. It writes, “We demand that all publishers:

  • “Inform their authors and agents with full transparency about the deals they have negotiated, to seek permission in full respect of their right not to give permission and to remove their books from the Spotify catalogue.
  • “Negotiate an appropriate share of the receipts on a clear and equitable payment model, which should equate to no less than the amount that would be received from a sale of the same audiobook.
  • “Ensure that with all licenses that Spotify applies frictions, as with e-lending, such as time limited loans and guarantees of payment, whatever proportion of the book is read.
  • “Ensure that licenses are time limited and should not allow sublicensing or use on other platforms.
  • “Indemnify authors if the unauthorized use conflicts with existing film or other such deals, or if it leads to claims of copyright infringement by rights holders of quotations or images included in that.
  • “Ensure that licenses include safeguards to prevent pirating of authors’ and narrators’ works and voices including for use in AI systems.”

The controversy here is based in serious considerations about how authors, their literary agents, publishers, and distributors handle the agreements behind the kind of offer Spotify and others may make to consumers for streaming access to copyrighted content.

Until it’s clearer what these agreements involve, it’s hard to assess what kind of standing authors may have in this situation and how publishers understand their partnerships with Spotify.

Image – Getty iStockphoto: Halfpoint

A programming note: At Frankfurt, our Publishing Perspectives Forum includes an Audio Mini-Conference on the afternoon of Frankfurt Thursday, October 19. 

This sequence of events will open with a keynote video from audiobook reader Dion Graham (2 p.m.) and Erin Cox’s moderation of “The Evolving Audio Marketplace” (2:15 p.m.) with Bookwire’s Spanish markets general manager Mariana Féged, Audible Germany country manager Oliver Daniel, and Podium publisher Victoria Gerken

And in partnership with Guest of Honor Slovenia, we’ll present “Does Size Really Matter? Audio and Small Markets” at 3 p.m. on Frankfurt Thursday, October 19, with:

At 3:40 p.m. the audio program features Matthew Gain, senior vice-president and head of Audible Europe as well as managing director of Germany’s Audible GmbH.

The Audio Mini-Conference concludes at 4 p.m. with an Audio Networking Reception sponsored by Bookwire.

More on the Forum and its programming is here

And more from Publishing Perspectives on audiobooks is here, more on the Society of Authors is here, more on copyright is here, more on Spotify is here, more on Frankfurter Buchmesse is here, and more on the United Kingdom’s publishing industry is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.

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