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Spotify Gets Ready To Go Big On Audiobooks


Today on Self-Publishing News: Spotify gets ready to go big on audiobooks, and they’re working with writers to “innovate and create something that is different.” Also, IBPA has set new guidelines for hybrid publishers, and artificial intelligence is now creating cover art—making many artists nervous.

These are among the topics discussed on Self-Publishing News with ALLi News Editor Dan Holloway and News and Podcast Producer Howard Lovy.

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Listen to Self-Publishing News: Spotify Gets Ready To Go Big On Audiobooks

Spotify gets ready to go big on audiobooks, IBPA sets guidelines for hybrid publishers, and AI creates cover art. Join @agnieszkasshoes and @howard_lovy for Self-Publishing News. Click To Tweet

Show Notes

About the Hosts

Dan Holloway is a novelist, poet and spoken word artist. He is the MC of the performance arts show The New Libertines Earlier this year he competed at the National Poetry Slam final at the Royal Albert Hall. His latest collection, The Transparency of Sutures, is available on Kindle.

Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 30 years, and has spent the last eight years amplifying the voices of independent publishers and authors. He works with authors as a book editor to prepare their work to be published. Howard is also a freelance writer specializing in Jewish issues whose work appears regularly in Publishers Weekly, the Jewish Daily Forward, and Longreads. Find Howard at howardlovy.comLinkedIn and Twitter.

Read the Transcripts: Spotify Gets Ready To Go Big On Audiobooks

Howard Lovy: Hello and welcome to the September 2022 edition of Self-Publishing News from the Alliance of Independent Authors. I’m Howard Lovy, ALLi’s news and podcast producer, and book editor at howardlovy.com, and joining me from Oxford University is ALLi news editor, Dan Holloway.

Hello, Dan, how are you?

Dan Holloway: Hi, Howard. I’m good. Happy autumn.

Howard Lovy: Happy autumn to you as well. We took about a month and a half off, and now we’re ready to get started with cool weather and some great podcast content too.

Opportunities for Indie Authors

Howard Lovy: So, I understand before we get into today’s topics, you have a few announcements to make?

Dan Holloway: Yeah, just a couple of things that it would be really good for people to think about taking part in. Both of them are going to be, or are, on the news column so people can look there.

The first is for anyone who writes for under 18s, who is an ALLi member. It’s a really great opportunity to get your award entry fees paid. So, Shelly at Children’s Lit has very kindly put forward two $100 scholarships for ALLi members to get their entry fees paid to any awards of their choice, depending on what they think might work for their books.

So, we all know that awards are a good way of raising awareness and publicity around your book, but it can be really expensive to enter. So, this is a chance for two authors to get their entry fees paid.

Howard Lovy: Wonderful. Okay, we’ll put a link to that in our show notes on the blog that’ll go with this podcast.

Dan Holloway: And the other is a survey into self-publishing, which would be really good for people to take part in. It’s run by Kingston University in the UK. For those who don’t know, Kingston is home to Alison Baverstock, who is probably the one academic in the world that everyone knows has been working on self-publishing for a long time and has produced some really good research. One of her students, Holly Greenland, is running a fascinating survey on the traits of self-publishing authors. So, trying to find out the intersection between personality traits, genre, whether people are self-published or traditionally published, to try and figure out if there is a self-publishing profile, I guess, that will therefore help us to work out what might work best for us, and what tips and tactics might suit us best.

Howard Lovy: Well, that’s interesting because as far as I know, we come from all over the place and all different types of personalities.

Dan Holloway: Yeah. So, do take part in those.

Howard Lovy: Quick update on what I’ve been up to, I’ve taken on a number of new projects from a rabbi’s memoir to a lawyer who writes about copyright law for artists and other creators, to a Broadway actress, to a new member of Congress.

One thing I have always enjoyed about journalism is the broad spectrum of knowledge you acquire, and it’s the same thing with book editing. I learn so much from my clients as I help them with storytelling techniques.

Dan Holloway: Yeah, one of them sounds like it will be really relevant to what we are going to be talking about later, with copyright for artists.

Spotify’s Plans for the Audiobook Market

Howard Lovy: Exactly. Yeah, we’ll get into that soon. So, let’s launch our first topic, which is, Spotify is continuing preparation to launch into the audiobook market. There are a number of moving parts to the story, including AI narration, and their vow to innovate and create something different, and their promise to work with writers, and we can expect some trials to start soon.

Tell us what’s happening at Spotify, Dan.

Dan Holloway: It’s a long time since we’ve spoken, so probably a huge amount has happened since we last spoke about this. So, Spotify announced earlier in the summer that they believed that the, how to put it, that the global audiobook market could be worth $70 billion, which is a 10x growth compared to what it is at the moment, and it’s basically their goal to capture as much of that as possible. So, they are clearly hungry to make sure that we all buy audiobooks, and as writers that we all produce audiobooks.

So, I think this is one of the things they are particularly looking at, and earlier in the summer, again, they acquired the AI narration company, Semantic. The aim of that is to help fill this gap, that a lot of people aren’t making audiobooks of their eBooks because, for one reason or another it’s either too expensive or it’s too time consuming. So, they have clearly bought this AI narration platform in order to help fill that gap and expand the number of audiobooks that are out there, and then get people streaming them to, I think they have over million subscribers.

So, it’s massive compared to Audible and other players in the market. Their latest move is that they’ve been very lowkey beta trialling classics. So, I think Jane Austen was one of the first to be trialled. So, out of copyright classic books they’ve been trying, and they’re going to move to much broader trials very shortly. Very shortly is one of those rather cryptic things, it’s not a hundred percent clear what it means, but the thing it means for us is that the audiobook market could be about to explode. So, it could be a similar moment to what happened with Kindle back, I think, more than 10 years ago now. As we know, people who got in early did really well.

Howard Lovy: Right. Now, is Spotify looking for exclusive content that’s not also available on Amazon?

Dan Holloway: We have no idea at the moment. A lot of places are looking for exclusive content. it’s not clear where the Spotify will be going that route or not, but if I were producing an audiobook now or getting ready to launch something in audio format, I’d think twice, I would wait to see what they’re doing before I made it available somewhere else. That is as explicit as I would get in my advice.

Howard Lovy: Spotify CFO, Paul Vogel said that he wanted to, “innovate and create something that is different.” Do you know what he might mean by different?

Dan Holloway: I don’t really know what he means. He is quite possibly, I think, referring to the fact that earlier in the year, Spotify made this claim that they want to be the one stop shop for audio. So, I have a feeling that what they want is for audiobooks, and it’s not just to be audiobooks, and music, and podcasts, but I think that they are ultimately aiming to, they see all audio media content as part of the same thing. So, I think it’s this idea of a one stop shop, and that sort of brings us on to what you alluded to earlier about podcasts.

Howard Lovy: Right. Yeah. Well, it turns out that the young folks, Generation Z, listen to podcasts every week, they stream a lot of content. I know my Gen Z kids don’t even watch regular television anymore, everything is streaming. They also listen to podcasts while at work, and hopefully not while they’re in school, but it’s very much a streaming generation.

Dan Holloway: It is, and yes, they stream more than they watch regular television, which is, yeah, sounding old, but for someone of my generation that feels really like, whoa, that’s a big change in habits.

So, I think we need to bear this in mind as writers, that we still think, because the market is still relatively small at the moment, we still think of subscription and streaming as being in a minority. But I think, and I think this is what Spotify we’re referring to, that’s only because the infrastructure isn’t there. It’s not because the demand isn’t there. So, I think we can expect to see that this streaming market, that includes audiobooks, but also includes podcasts, expand rapidly to fill that pre-existing demand as soon as the infrastructure is there to enable it to do so.

Howard Lovy: Well, a quote from you, you said, if you see audiobooks in your future, get ready to get on board as soon as the opportunity comes.

Dan Holloway: Yes.

IBPA Issues New Criteria for Hybrid Publishers

Howard Lovy: The Independent Book Publishers Association has issued new criteria for hybrid publishers. This follows the UK Society of Authors call for a reform of hybrid publishers. Now, many publishing purists are not fans of hybrid publishers, saying money should be coming from publishers to authors at all times, and never the other way around. But that’s not all there is to it. First, Dan, give us a quick hybrid publishing 101 lesson, and then tell us about these new standards.

Dan Holloway: So, hybrid publishing is basically what we might think of as a publishing services company that’s not a vanity press. So, it is a one stop shop, going back to Spotify, it’s a one stop shop that can save authors a lot of time.

So, if as an author, you are committed to spending money on cover design, and on editing your work, then it can be really hard, and I know ALLI is working on this. I’ve been working with Melissa on overwhelm in self-publishing, and one of the things that can cause overwhelm for self-publishers is the fact that there is just so much to do. In all industries we are increasingly seeing this sort of all-in-one service provision as a norm, and as something that people are quite happy to pay for to save them time.

It’s just like in tech, you might pay for a stack of software. So, software as a service is a standard business model throughout the tech industry, and publishing as a service, I guess you could call it right is no different in what we do. The problem is that, in the past, it has been associated with a lot of bad actors, and sadly, although they no longer seem to be vanity presses, people are still paying a lot of money for not very much return. So, it’s got a bad name even though it can be really, really valuable when it’s done well, and this is what the society of has highlighted.

Statistics are really quite shocking. They found that people were paying an average of £2000 to publishing services companies, and the royalties they were getting, the median came in at £68

Howard Lovy: Ouch.

Dan Holloway: So, yeah. That’s ouch, and I think that the figures I’ve got here, 94% of writers who paid to have their book published lost money typically. So, it is ouch, but we should also remember that for mainstream publishers, the publisher will often lose money on an awful lot of titles and will not sell many titles.

So, the recent Penguin Random House and Simon and Schuster lawsuit showed that, I think most books sell 12 copies of fewer, I think is the figure that Penguin Random House were quoting. It’s just that in the traditional publishing industry, the authors don’t foot that bill, but because we are also publishers we are now footing that bill. So, to some extent these figures aren’t as alarming as they might seem. Nonetheless, it’s something that a lot of people aren’t aware of, and I think people think that because they’re paying money, they’re going to get more than they actually do.

Howard Lovy: Right. In the past writers have been sort of cushioned from this knowledge.

Dan Holloway: Yeah, and this cost.

Howard Lovy: And this cost, yeah. So, give us an example of some of the standards that the IBPA has come up with.

Dan Holloway: Yes. So, they are doubling down on exactly this kind of thing. So, they have 11 criteria in order for them to recognize someone as a hybrid publisher. Number 10 of that is, demonstrate respectable sales. So, that’s clearly aimed at this, if you’re charging thousands of pounds and you’re getting sales in the single digits or tens of pounds, then that’s not going to work.

But also, they’re focusing on editorial quality, production quality; basically, the finished product has to look at least as good as a trade published book.

And there are some really important things like committing to transparency in your practices. So, the contracts have to be good. And then the key one, I think, is their second criterion, and that is that they need to vet submissions, and this is the difference between a proper hybrid publisher and a vanity press, is that vanity presses will publish anything because their main customer is the author, and that’s, I think, the key point for people to look out for is, who is the main customer of this publisher? Is it the readers, which is what it should be, or is it the author, which is what it is with people who are not necessarily offering the best service.

Howard Lovy: Yeah. Now, are these recommendations or are they enforceable? Is there some sort of stamp of approval that publishers can put on their website saying they meet the criteria?

Dan Holloway: In order to become part of the IBPA you have to meet these standards, so it’s an accreditation. So, it’s equivalent to becoming, I guess, for ALLi becoming a partner.

Howard Lovy: Right, and speaking of ALLi, another thing that they can always do is take a look at our ALLi Watchdog ratings. We’ve been following a lot of these publishers for a number of years now and we’ve already separated the good from the bad.

Artificial Intelligence and Art

Well, I hear our techno theme music in the background, which means it’s time to talk about technology on the show. So, Dan we’ve talked before about the potential of technology to improve author businesses, while also potentially disrupt it, especially if say you’re an audiobook narrator being replaced by artificial intelligence.

Every episode, we’ll talk about technology and its impact on the indie author community. Today it’s artificial intelligence and art, and I understand that computers are coming into their own in the area of self-expression. Tell us what’s new.

Dan Holloway: Yeah. So, this is something that I’ve been reporting on a little bit for a few months, but really broke in the cover design community within the last few days.

So, a couple of weeks ago I reported on this story that a guy called Jason Allen had won an art prize with a piece of art that had been generated by artificial intelligence, using Midjourney, which I know lots of people will be familiar with.

It produces, I have to say, really good quality art, especially if you know what prompts to use. So yeah, you can get some really fantastic images out of it. There are several questions and issues that arise from a lot of the platforms like Midjourney, DALL-E is another one, which is an awful name that’s a pun on Salvador Dalí and the film Wall-E. The real ethical issue at the centre of it is how these things are trained. So, in the case of Midjourney, I quote from an interview with the CEO in this week’s news column, and he says, well, basically, which is the same as every company does, “we just scrape the internet?”

So, they just get hold of pictures by artists. They don’t ask permission. You can’t opt out. You just have your work scraped, and it all feeds the database, which trains the artificial intelligence to help it to produce art.

The second part of that controversy is that people who generate art from these images that have been used to train without any consent can then commercialize those images.

Howard Lovy: Wow.

Dan Holloway: So, people can make money off things that have been trained on someone who is a professional in the area, who didn’t consent to have their work used to do that training.

Howard Lovy: So, the AI will not reproduce your art directly, but will be influenced by it, is that what you’re saying?

Dan Holloway: The art it produces will have been trained on it. A lot of experiments have shown that, and this is coming in this week’s news column, that there’s a really interesting cycle called, Have I been trained? , where you can put images in and it will show you the closest images that have been used to generate these images, and cover designers have been doing this and finding that the image that’s spat out is 90% based on their own existing work.

Howard Lovy: I can tell why some artists are not happy about this.

Dan Holloway: Some artists are very not happy about this. So, I came across this particular site through cover designer, Mihaela Voicu, and I’ve got a link to her site on the column as well. As I say, she had found a load of, basically her whole portfolio was there, and then a lot of other cover designers chimed in to say that their whole portfolio was on the database that was training these sites.

You can also put a covered designer’s name into the prompt. So, there’s nothing to stop you, if you want a work that is like your favourite cover designer, then you can put their name into the prompt, and it will spit out something that’s even more like their existing work. Only, you now have the right to charge for, essentially, their work.

Howard Lovy: Wow.

Dan Holloway: But, yeah, it’s something where, I think as writers, we have always thought that we are irreplaceable. We may or may not be irreplaceable by AI, I’m not sure we are, but even if we are, I think we haven’t done quite enough to stand up for our friends and allies in the industry on whom we rely, is the best way to put it.

So, we are both editors, we might see Grammarly, for example, expanding its work a lot, or what it can do a lot, to damage us. But we also rely on cover designers. We rely on audiobook narrators. We rely on all sorts of people who provide the publishing services we were just talking about, who do a superb job and who have spent tens of thousands of dollars, in many cases, training to do it. And sometimes we don’t necessarily realize how much damage it’s doing, just because it’s not yet cutting into our bit of the industry.

Howard Lovy: So, if I’m a cover designer, what can I do to keep an eye on this?

Dan Holloway: Lobby. Make sure that your voice is heard. There was a consultation in the UK on AI and copyright, ALLi was involved in that. The UK government didn’t necessarily listen, but I would say, keep an eye out for consultations. And when legislation is going through whatever phase of government it’s going through, then make sure your voice is heard, whether you are in favour of what’s happening or not in favour of what’s happening, then have your voice heard.

Keep an eye on the communities of other people in the industry. So, if you’re a writer, then keep an eye on what audiobook narrators and cover designers are saying.

it sounds really hippy, doesn’t it, but it would be really nice to see us, as an independent creative industry, all supporting each other.

Howard Lovy: Right, and we’re in the, I guess the wild west phase, of AI right now. So, the decisions that are being made now will have far reaching implications, so we need to keep an eye on it.

Dan Holloway: Yeah.

Howard Lovy: Well, that’s all the time we have. Thank you again, Dan, for your updates and insight on the world of self-publishing. I’ll talk to you again next month.





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