An exec who used to work at Spotify has expressed doubts over how Spotify are treating audiobooks on the music streaming platform.

Earlier this month, Spotify announced that free audiobooks are coming to Premium listeners. Those on individual Premium subscriptions will now gain access to 15 hours of free listening every month.

Premium listeners in the UK and Australia now have access to their 15 free hours of audiobooks which refreshes each month. Listeners in the US are expected to get the feature soon, though Spotify didn’t say whether audiobooks would be coming to more territories anytime soon.

Whilst the feature has been welcomed by listeners, it’s raised the concerns of authors who don’t have verification on how they’ll be earning from free listens.

One of the concerned authors who has spoken out used to work at Spotify themselves. Will Page used to be the chief economist at Spotify. After his tenure at Spotify he wrote a book titled Tarzan Economics. That book is now available as an audiobook through Spotify.

In a blog post on LinkedIn, Page breaks down first of all why authors don’t make much money from audiobooks and then his own thoughts. He compares it to music streaming and how the industry has had to work out its terms though, and how they don’t translate to audiobooks.

As an example he compares listening to a snippet of a song with listening to a snippet of an audiobook:

In music, it’s simple – stream 30 uninterrupted seconds of a song and a royalty is paid (hence why songwriters often put the chorus at the front). In books, the threshold is less clear. What happens if you only stream chapter five of my book? Would that qualify for a royalty? Taking it to the playlist-extreme (like ‘beeds on a string’ if you’ve watched the famous scene on Netflix), what happens if you listen to fifteen different authors’ chapter one’s this month, and then the fifteen chapter two’s the next? Depending on the deal the publishers have made, that could mean 15 authors not getting any royalty from your listening. 

He also raises a reasonable issue in that books vary massively in length, whilst music although variable is rarely extreme in difference between the length of one track to another. So do you divvy up royalties differently between, say; a monster like Anna Karenina and a short piece like The Old Man and the Sea. (where the royalties for those dead authors is another matter).

Page explains that in the world of audiobooks, authors only receive roughly 7% of the revenue stream. He explains:

There are four layers of cream removed from the author’s milk: a VAT (20%), then the retailer’s reported margin (60%), followed by the publisher’s take (75%), and finally the agent’s (15%). By that point, only sevenpence on the pound reaches the author of the original work.

Read Will Page’s full post on LinkedIn here. Let us know what you think about the recent introduction of free audibook hours to Spotify in the comments below.