- T. Marshall Bunn
Can You Hear Me Running
Updated: Jul 10, 2022
I’ve been keeping quiet for a while, both on here and on Twitter. That’s because of some problems I ran into with publishing the audiobook.
The way it works for selling on both Amazon/Audible and Apple/iTunes is by going through a distributor called ACX. I’d read plenty of horror stories about them in terms of customer service and some questionable practices, but there did seem to be a move towards improvement in recent months. And besides, these outlets represent something like 80% of the market, so you pretty much have to play ball with them if you want to be seen. There are alternatives, some of which are better in some ways but not in others, and after extensive research, I decided to first get things settled on the ACX side, then expand into the rest.
As mentioned before, the ebook and paperback versions of Young Blood went up earlier this month, and I eagerly (but nervously) awaited the launch of the audiobook. And then it came, but once I heard what the Audible version sounded like, I was appalled. The sound quality was horrible, the music in mono and my voice sounding like absolute crap. This wasn’t what I’d recorded and produced. It turned out that this was due to the fact that the Audible app on my Kindle Fire tablet (and possibly the phone app too; I’ve already forgotten) defaults to a setting that downloads audiobooks in what they call “Standard” quality, which in fact means “crappy quality.” You have to go into your profile settings to tell it to download High quality. So I did. I was also able to go into my Audible account using my computer and download their AAX file, a proprietary format that can only be played by the Audible app or iTunes (more on that later).
But even then, listening to this AAX file on both my Kindle and my computer, something wasn’t right. The sound quality was still pretty awful, and all I could think was, “I don’t want anyone else to hear this. I’d be embarrassed for them to.” I used to be a radio producer; sound quality is important to me. Upon further inspection, I found that the file was 64 kpbs and 22 kHz. For those not in the know, those numbers are extremely low. (And for those of you who are, you probably just threw up in your mouth a little.) By comparison, an MP3 of CD quality sound would be 192 kbps/44 kHz. I was able to produce an M4B version myself that I got as low as 96 kbps/22 kHz (the lower the bit rate/sample rate, the smaller the file), and it sounded just fine. Why Audible insisted on producing something of such low quality, I can’t say.
And then later, once the Apple version went up for sale in the iTunes Store, things were even worse. They had split the book into three M4Bs which, despite being 96/22, sounded every bit as bad as the 64/22 AAX file. Audible must have just ported their crappy sounding one over to Apple, and increasing the bit/sample rate did nothing. What’s more, while the AAX showed the individual chapter titles, these M4Bs did not, simply saying “Track 1,” “Track 2,” etc. This was true whether they were played within iTunes itself or elsewhere, like Apple’s Books app or on an iPod/iPhone. It doesn’t have to be this way; the M4B I made has its chapter titles intact. And it doesn’t sound like ass on toast.
So I’ve been figuring out what to do next. I’ve already requested that ACX take down the title. If you see it on either Amazon or Apple, don’t buy it, not until I announce that the new version is available. I mean, you can, but just know that what’s available there now is of poor quality and not representative of my work. For anyone who has already bought it and wants to return it, I won’t blame you. Plus, both retailers set their own prices, not giving me the option to, and charged way more than I wanted. Moving forward, I plan to use another distributor called Findaway Voices, which I’m hoping will yield higher quality results. I can still distribute to Amazon and Apple via them, so eventually, the audiobook should be available again. And, at least at some of the other retailers, I should be able to set a more reasonable price. I’m also looking into a way to sell the above-mentioned 96/22 M4B file on this site for direct download, and I’m considering making even higher quality 192/44 MP3s available as well for anyone who may prefer that format.
That’s where we stand now. Stay tuned for further updates.