Audible adds a controversial new feature (This week in books)

by | Jul 19, 2019 | This Week in Books | 2 comments

A photo of a cable car in San Francisco
Oh, San Francisco. Photo by me. Follow me on Instagram!

This week! Books!

There was some news that roiled the publishing world this week, as Audible announced a feature called Audible Captions, which would display text while an audiobook is playing. Ya know. Kinda like an e-book. Publishers and literary agents responded with alarm, noting that Audible had not come to them for permission for the rights (link requires subscription).

Audible released a statement to Publishers Marketplace, arguing the technology “does not replicate or replace the print or eBook reading experience—small amounts of machine-generated text are displayed progressively a few lines at a time, while audio is playing, and listeners cannot read at their own pace or flip through pages as in a print book or eBook.” (Doubtful publishers will be satisfied with that.)

This isn’t the first go-round on this type of “who has the rights to do what” controversy around audiobooks. A few years back Amazon ultimately had to cave when they wanted to add an automated “text to speech” function for the Kindle.

As an author, I have a simple stance: Pay the authors.

I was struck this past week by just how many posts I saw extolling the virtues of both positive and negative thinking. So which one?? Well, obviously, both can be powerful at different times.

On the negative side of the ledger, Austin Kleon had a short post on the power of finding someone saying something stupid and saying the opposite, and literary agent Rachelle Gardner talked about how negative thinking can help you identify obstacles and challenges.

And for positive thinking, literary agent Jessica Faust talks about how the energy we put out there comes back to us.

Congrats to author Sarah Enni, who is celebrating episode 200 of her First Draft podcast!

Over at BookBub there’s a pretty comprehensive post on the different ways authors can use Instagram Stories to connect with readers, so head over there if you’re in need of some fresh ideas.

Should books include credits like the movies? I really like this idea! Endorse.

Meanwhile, it was a really disturbing, dustbin fire of a news week replete with heavy doses of racism and xenophobia from the president that I would feel remiss if I didn’t speak out about. One of the best analyses I read came from Doreen St. Felix at The New Yorker, who noted that white conservatives were trying to maintain the power to define the semantics of what can be called racist:

This is the dull semantics of racism. The white conservative twists the discursive field so that he is the sane arbiter of what is or isn’t racist; everyone else is frivolous and excessive, “recklessly” invoking the most sacrilegious offense. This logic rests on the illusion that racism is mythically rare, that “racist” is a dangerous slur rather than a common condition.

This week in bestsellers

Here are the top five NY Times bestsellers in a few key categories:

Adult print and e-book fiction:

  1. Under Currents by Nora Roberts
  2. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
  3. Summer of ’69 by Elin Hilderbrand
  4. The Reckoning by John Grisham
  5. Knife by Jo Nesbo

Adult print and e-book nonfiction:

  1. Three Women by Lisa Taddeo
  2. Educated by Tara Westover
  3. Justice on Trial by Mollie Hemingway and Carrie Severino
  4. The Pioneers by David McCullough
  5. Becoming by Michelle Obama

Young adult hardcover:

  1. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  2. Wilder Girls by Rory Power
  3. Five Feet Apart by Rachael Lippincott with Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis
  4. Ghosts of the Shadow Market by Cassandra Clare, Sarah Rees Brennan, Maureen Johnson, Kelly Link and Robin Wasserman
  5. The Rest of the Story by Sarah Dessen

Middle grade hardcover:

  1. Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid by Jeff Kinney
  2. Wonder by R.J. Palacio
  3. PopularMMOs Presents Enter the Mine by Pat and Jen from PopularMMOs
  4. Refugee by Alan Gratz
  5. Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

This week on the blog

Don’t forget that you can nominate your first page and query for a free critique on the blog:

In case you missed them, here are this week’s posts:

Comment! of! the! week! goes to Wendy, who reflects on the differences between writing for adults and children:

I don’t think it occurred to me that children don’t see themselves as adults do – perhaps on a subconscious level – and adults certainly don’t see themselves as children do, either. Children think that adults rather enjoy cleaning and cooking – after all, it’s the adults role to look after their children, and have their house looking great for visitors..

So children love to escape from that mundane world of routine and work into one that’s unpredictable and filled with fun and adventure and whimsy. For adults, its finding romance and philosophies that are life-changing, but for children it’s turning into that mysterious lane, or exploring that colourful forest and happening upon wonderful surprises and magical characters who are happy to focus their time and energy upon them in an engaging and imaginative way.

And finally longtime readers know about my obsession with The Hills, and lo and behold it’s back! I haven’t had time to check out the reboot, but I really enjoyed Troy Patterson’s astute recap in The New Yorker.

Have a great weekend!

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  1. Marilynn Byerly

    Some years back, one of my publishers, an ebook and POD small press, blithely announced on his author list that he was going to invest in some expensive text-to-speech software and start selling our books in that format. I freaked out because nothing in our contracts included either audio or text-to-speech rights. So, I began to dig into this issue and raised an intelligent enough fuss to stop him from doing this. During the Kindle text-to-speech rights grab, I wrote a blog article on the subject using that research. So, if you are interested in seeing my take or a decent bibliography of experts on the subject, here it is:


    Thanks for this, Nathan, and a great pic of a great city, though I’ve yet to actually set foot in San Francisco.

    Regarding book credits, some authors include afterwords thanking professionals and friends, some quite elaborate and a source of information about agents and publishers. I also note that short stories published in the Tor newsletter often name the story’s editor.

    Congratulations to Wendy on her very useful comment!

    Thanks to Marilynn Byerly for her informative comment and a link that remains relevant after a decade. In publishing, like politics, some controverseys just run and run!


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Hi, I’m Nathan. I’m the author of How to Write a Novel and the Jacob Wonderbar series, which was published by Penguin. I used to be a literary agent at Curtis Brown Ltd. and I’m dedicated to helping authors chase their dreams. Let me help you with your book!

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