ACX: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

I’m going to have to get into the weeds about audiobooks for a moment because they’re one of the most important tools that a writer has to make a steady living. And, unfortunately, in the last week some changes in the marketplace make it seem that some of the potential profits are going to get sucked away.


First the good.

When What Doesn’t Kill Us came out I made a sort of radical decision to skip the mainstream audio publishers to record and self-produce my own audiobook.  It turned out to be one of the smartest decisions that I ever made. I listed the book through, a subdivision of that caters to self-published authors. The advantage of self-publishing  was that I would earn a lot better royalty rate–40% where most mainstream publishing contracts are 12.5%.  ACX sends me checks every month, not every quarter, or every six months like most publishers do. It hasn’t made me rich, but audiobooks account for about 50% of what I make today.

Not only that, but ACX had an offer that sweetened the deal. It was something called “Bounties”.  Bounties are essentially a reward for bringing new customers into Audible and they are a big part to why Audible has been able to corner the audiobook market.  The way it worked was that for every customer who downloaded my book first on Audible, and then maintained their subscription for 61 days, they would give me $50.

Over the last year and a half I’ve earned 533 bounties for a total of $26,650. Yeah. That’s pretty good money.   

Overall I’ve been ecstatic about my experience with It’s given me real access to publishing profits, a steady income and allows me to reach an audience who print doesn’t appeal to.  Not only that, but I got to read the audiobook myself. ACX also ran a few promotions on behalf of “What Doesn’t Kill Us” that made it the number one book on the planet for two days.

Because they’ve been so awesome, I’ve gone to the mat for ACX. I’ve told all of my friends who are writing books to do everything they can to hold onto their audio rights and self publish through ACX. I’ve told them to turn down large advances if the publisher wanted to keep them. I’ve been annoying. The audiobook market is that good. But ACX just announce a change to its policies that is going to make it a little worse for authors.  


And now the bad

A few days ago ACX sent me an email that they were going altering the Bounty program by increasing the payment to $75 for each new customer.  More money. Yay. That sounded great at first. But then I read the fine print.

The new terms make it so that instead of earning a bounty if your book is the first one a new customer listens to, you will only earn the money if they use a referral link that you supply and market on social media separately from your main marketing push.   

What’s worse?  If you go to your Amazon page audiobooks are still listed as “$0.00” for a free trial. That’s the same exact offer that writers are being asked to push through separate channels.  So you’re now in competition against your main book page to earn a bounty.

Look at it this way: let’s say you score a major media spot on NPR, or a hit podcast, on TV or a viral YouTube video. I always mention on air that I have a great audiobook that I recorded myself–which drives people right to my Amazon page. I would say something along the lines of “If you like the dulcet sounds of my voice, you can pick up the Audiobook on Amazon”.

With the old system, you’d earn a $50 Bounty if some of those listeners got excited enough to start up subscriptions to Audible because of your interview.  Now, those same listeners will go right to the Amazon page and the author gets cut out. Same goes for word of mouth. If someone tells their friends that you audiobook was amazing and subscribes to audible because of that you still get zero dollars.

You only earn the bounty if someone types in a URL that looks like this:

And even IF they do that, there’s no tangible advantage to the customer.  They don’t get a discount that is unique to your media appearance. They don’t get a couple extra free months. Nothing.

Instead of playing towards the strengths of authors, the new Bounty program plays to the strengths of people with huge social media followings only.  So if you’re a person with a 100,000 Twitter followers and another 50,000 people on Instagram, then you might come out ahead–but not necessarily because they still lose out on people who come through    

If you’re not a social media expert, who understands the ins and outs of A/B testing campaigns, and constantly produces clickbait posts to increase your following, you’re definitely going to lose out.  


…and the Ugly

Here’s the thing about ACX. When they started out they positioned themselves as allies to authors–democratizing they way that people access and listen to audiobooks.  In the first few years they offered 70% royalties to their self-published authors.

Of course it was risky in the beginning–and authors had to do most of the heavy lifting. Authors have to self-produce the audiobook, which takes time and in many cases around $6500 to record. Still, it was an amazing opportunity and authors around the country helped Audible corner the market for Audiobooks. Now, when you think “audiobook” you think “audible”.   There aren’t a lot of other places that people go to pick them up.

Once they had market dominance ACX and Audible started changing their terms.  A few years ago they brought the 70% royalty rate down to 50%. A couple years later they brought that number down to 40%.   Mind you, Audible isn’t doing more work here, they’re just giving authors a worse deal because they’re the biggest player in the market. Authors are giving up 40% of their money simply to access distribution.  

Now they’re also taking out the rewards from the bounty system.

This is a pretty classic story of what happens with monopolies. At first a tech giant woos creative people to adopt and start using their platform with good terms for everyone. They look like heroes and disruptors, and they tell the people who build them up to trust them to steward a bright future. Then, one day, it turns out that all those people who helped build up that company are now just cogs in a machine that the company controls.  The profits stay at the top and the people who made that company great are just grist for the mill.

So now I’m on the lookout for other opportunities. It’s clear that Audible shouldn’t be the only marketplace for self-published books. Eventually a new player will have to enter into the market with offers that woo people like me back to a more equitable service.  


This, of course is pretty bad news for freelancers, but there are a few ways to fight back. I recently started offering an online video course teaching some of the tricks that I use to negotiate better contracts, and grow my freelancing business from nothing to becoming a New York Times bestselling author.  It might be useful for you. Check it out.


Listen to the “What Doesn’t Kill Us” audiobook

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What Doesn’t Kill Us: How Freezing water, Extreme Altitude and Environmental Conditioning Will Renew Our Lost Evolutionary Strength is officially out as an audiobook on Audible, Amazon and iBooks. It has been featured on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday and in Men’s Journal and debuted at the #112 spot on Amazon in January 2017.  I recorded the audiobook myself with the help of Marcello Lessa, one of the top audio engineers in the Denver area.  It runs just shy of 10 hours and is exactly the sort of inspiration that you need to reach your highest potential.  Come with me on an evolutionary journey to understand how the comforts of the modern age are making us weak, and what we can do to get a little of our ancestral strength back.

Download your copy today:




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Here is what some of the early reviewers are saying:

Climbing a mountain in nothing but a pair of shorts seems idiotic to most, but for Wim Hof and his companions, it’s just another day. When investigative journalist and anthropologist Carney heard about Hof’s mind boggling methods and claims that he could “hack” the human body, he knew he had to venture to Poland to expose this fraud. But in just a few days, Hof changed Carney’s mind, and so began a friendship and a new adventure. Carney now chronicles his journey to push himself mentally and physically using Wim Hof’s method of cold exposure, breath-holding, and meditation to tap into our primal selves. Our ancestors survived harsh conditions without modern technology, while we live in comfortable bubbles with little to struggle against and wonder how they survived.The question is, What happens when we push our bodies to the limit? Carney calls on evolutionary biology and other modern scientific disciplines to explore and explain Hof’s unconventional methods. Fresh and exciting, this book has wide appeal for readers interested in health, sports, self-improvement, and extreme challenges.

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“Damn fun and extremely well-researched, What Doesn’t Kill Us is a great addition to the canon of high performance literature!”
Steven Kotler, New York Times bestselling author of Abundance and The Rise of Superman

“As a Navy SEAL, you live by the mantra, ‘what doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger.’ We would hear this phrase and repeat it, but we never had any proof that it was factual. Yet through comprehensive study, ScottCarney has brilliantly documented how engaging in environmental conditioning, breathing, meditation, and other techniques can actually make us physically and mentally stronger. What Doesn’t Kill Us is a fascinating book that will captivate all who read it and that will be of immense value to those in the military, those who are active in sports, and those who seek an alternate means of developing greater mental and physical strength.”
―Don D. Mann, New York Times bestselling author, Inside SEAL Team SIX


Announcing the What Doesn’t Kill Us Trailer



For the last four years I’ve been investigating the limits of human endurance in harsh environments. After all, our ancestors crossed frozen mountain ranges and endless ocean miles without a whisper of modern technology. So why can’t you? This trailer is just a taste of the incredible journey that took me to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro without a shirt, meditating on the banks of snowy rivers in Poland and into the training gyms of top athletes, all to understand what makes us human.


​Available everywhere January 17, 2017. Pre-order Today
Here’s what early readers are saying:
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If you’re willing to buy a kidney, you’re willing…

Screen Shot 2016-01-05 at 8.28.39 AMWhat would happen if the United States legalized the sale of human organs? Economists will note the seductive market logic: with regulation, proponents of legalization suggest the organ shortage will disappear, the market will arrive at a fair price for human tissue and new laws will regulate away criminal elements.

For argument’s sake, let’s assume that the U.S. would be able to create its own equitable system. What would happen in the rest of the world? Whether we like it or not, we live in the era of globalization, and if the U.S. legalizes the market for body parts, there is no reason to think that international economies won’t play a role in how a patient decides to procure transplant organs.

According to the National Foundation for Transplants, a kidney transplant costs about $260,000. In the illegal organ markets in India, Egypt and Pakistan, the same procedure rings in at just shy of $20,000 — certified organ included.

Immunosuppressant drugs have come so far that a broker can arrange a transplant in as little as 30 days. The only thing stopping the typical American transplant patient from going abroad and buying an organ is the difficulty of making contact with a broker and the threat of what might happen if they get caught.

In the real world, kidneys don’t have a fixed price. Instead, the market for human body parts is a lot like the one for used cars: They’re only worth what someone is willing to sell them for. In the age of cheap international travel, where state-of-the-art hospitals abut the most impoverished slums on earth, hundreds of thousands of people are available and willing to sell their flesh for pennies on the dollar. Some of these areas are so well known among organ traffickers and brokers that they’ve earned the name “kidneyvilles” for their plentiful supply of willing “donors.”

Between 2006 and 2010, I made India my home while researching the global trade in human body parts. India is notable in the organ trafficking world because of its advanced hospitals and plentiful supply of extreme poverty. In 2004, after a tsunami ripped across South Asia and slammed into the eastern coast of the country, hundreds of thousands of people wound up in refugee camps. These desperately poor people had few options for work or making a livelihood, a perfect opportunity for organ brokers. It was a buyer’s market, and everyone sold.

Typically, the brokers promised $2,000 per organ, but only delivered the advance, always finding one excuse or another not to pay the rest of the money. Even so, husbands sold their kidneys and then pressured their wives to sell theirs. The price for a kidney fell to as low as $600.

When I visited one camp called Ernavoor outside the bustling metropolis of Chennai, I met 80 women with foot long scars across their abdomens. These were not the equitable arrangements that proponents of organ markets advocate for. This was a symptom of extreme poverty. Of course, none of the people in that camp could ever expect to receive an organ should one of their own fail. The one rule with organ markets is that human tissue always moves up — and never down — the social hierarchy.

Still, that was an illegal market. What would happen if the trade were well regulated abroad? To answer this, it’s helpful to review what happened in the market for human surrogate babies. In the U.S., it is legal to pay a woman to carry a child, so long as the money is called “compensation” and not coercion. Even so, an American surrogate might cost as much as $100,000 in such arrangements.

Once the market was clearly defined in America, other countries, with looser definitions of human rights, fought for their share of the market. In 2002, India became the go-to destination for procuring a budget surrogate womb. To the surprise of no one, the Indian industry soon began to cut corners. Women were housed under lock and key in houses known to the press as “baby factories.” Because U.S. patient demanded to know the condition of their child during the entire course of the pregnancy, surrogates became virtual slaves under the doctor’s perpetual surveillance.

The factories multiplied and soon tens of thousands of international customers reasoned that if it was legal to hire a surrogate at home, why not save money abroad? In some cases, when a pregnancy didn’t go as planned and the doctor had to choose between the life of an unborn surrogate baby and the life of mother, the mother did not always survive. Late last year, India finally outlawed surrogacy tourism after non-stop incidents and official inquiries into the surrogates’ wellbeing. Now the commercial surrogacy boomseems to be moving to Cambodia where regulations are still loose.

Still, the rise of surrogacy scandals is a warning about what might happen if we legalize organ sales in America. Even if the trade appears to work at home, there is no way to ensure that American customers won’t look for better deals abroad. We cannot solve our own organ shortage by exploiting the poor and helpless people on the other side of the world.

Explore these other perspectives from the Washington Post’s In Theory blog which, this week was talking about government compensation for organ donors. 

Sally Satel: Generosity won’t fix our shortage of organs for transplants

Francis Delmonico and Alexander Capron: Our body parts shouldn’t be for sale

Scott Sumner: The moral case for paying kidney donors

Benjamin Humphreys: Will lab-grown kidneys fix our transplant waiting lists?

Josh Morrison: It’s time to treat organ donors with the respect they deserve

Read more “If you’re willing to buy a kidney, you’re willing to exploit the poor”


TEDx-Boulder – Body, Mind and Spirit






It doesn’t matter what you call it, but the pursuit of that divine force has inspired some of the world’s greatest civilizations, its most enduring architecture, foundational philosophies as well as the wars that have time and again sought to tear all that down. But can any of us mere mortals truly understand the hidden clockwork of the universe? If we assume that it exists at all, then the actual state of transcendence poses an interesting problem. What are people supposed to do with the rest of their time on earth once they’ve gained that ultimate knowledge? Revered gurus who teach that status and power are meaningless in the ultimate reality, nonetheless have to muck about in the mundane world. They gather followers, build institutions and dispense knowledge from lofty thrones. Is it hypocrisy when enlightenment simply reproduces familiar hierarchies? Another way to put it is how does a Buddha remain in the world, but not of it?

Read more “TEDx-Boulder – Body, Mind and Spirit”


Countdown to Revolution: WordRates to launch Oct 19th

The journalism business is about to change forever.

On October 19th at 8:00 a.m. will bring transparency to the publishing world by allowing freelance journalists to compare rates between publications, review contracts and rate editors, magazines and websites. Called “a Yelp! for journalists,” WordRates will give writers a crowdsourced periscope into the industry in order to help them better target their stories to publications and negotiate competitive rates for their work.

In addition to the ratings database, WordRates will also launch “PitchLab,” which uses a revamped literary agency model to represent feature writers to magazines. PitchLab will pair writers and their story ideas with “mentors” who will sell those stories to mainstream magazines. The mentor team features award-winning writers from The New York Times Magazine, New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Wired, Rolling Stone, and Bloomberg-BusinessWeek, including Trevor Aaronson, Vince Beiser, Erin Biba, Charles Graeber, Jonathan Green, Jon Lackman, Robert Levine, Jason Miklian, Luke O’Brien, Neal Pollack, Paul Tullis, Joel Warner

WordRates was made possible after a successful Kickstarter campaign in May raised almost $10,000 from 246 freelance journalists around the world. These journalists, and others like them, have noticed that for the last 20 years pay to freelance writers has remained stagnant. Despite the internet’s promise to level the playing field for content, and potentially allow anyone a chance to find an audience for their work, the profits, by-and-large, have stayed within the large publishing houses.

According to their own figures, magazine publishers like Conde Nast and Wenner Media pay less than 2% of the revenue they make from advertising to their writers. Meanwhile, publishing contracts have gotten worse and made it increasingly difficult for writers to get fair terms on the film rights, reprints, translations and book deals that have long been important revenue streams for creative professionals. WordRates envisions that a little transparency and some healthy competition will change that.

There has been a lot of anticipation in the media for WordRates in the last few months. Here are a few of the highlights: Read more “Countdown to Revolution: WordRates to launch Oct 19th”


One Week to WordRates!

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After almost five months of development after a successful Kickstarter campaign I am pleased to announce that WordRates & PitchLab will go live on September 8th, 2015 (barring any unforeseen last minute design SNAFus) at

If you haven’t seen it, WordRates has gotten some amazing press, with Fast Company musing that after September 9th “We’ll begin to see just how powerful accountability and agents can really be.” And the Columbia Journalism Review throwing in it’s two cents.

We have 12 world-class mentors who are going to evaluate pitches and take them out to the best publications they can find as well as a completely re-thought way to rate magazines and editors on how easy they are to work with. I can’t tell you how excited I am to see it live. Keep your eyes peeled for updates over the next week.

Anyone who gave to the initial Kickstarter Campaign will get a complimentary membership to the site once it is live.


A Look Behind the Scenes at WordRates

There’s some big news in the wide world of WordRates. In the last month or so there has been a ton of work going on behind the scenes figuring out how to best structure the project. Here’s a quick update: WordRates is now an LLC in Colorado. We’ve brought on the Rao Law Group to handle the legal side of things. The website is being put together by the Colorado-based design company Lime9web, in conjunction with Umar Ilyas of eJuicy Solutions in Islamabad.

We have a group of 9 mentors who have signed up to tackle PitchLab. Together they’ve published more than a dozen books and contribute to the top publications in America includingVanity Fair, The New York Times Magazine, Wired, Bloomberg-BusinessWeek, the New Yorker, Atlantic and Conde Nast Traveler.

We are still in the very early stages of design and managing the back end of the site. But here’s some very rough sketches of what the site will actually look like when you start to use it. I’ll start posting more refined designs as we get them ready

Here is roughly what you will see when you log onto

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Individual reviews of editors and magazines will lead to a page that is laid out like this:


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And every member will have their own profile:


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Our Collective Problem

1220001-3584For 40 years the business of translating one language to another was controlled by the AIIC, a group of professional freelance translators who worked for governments, the United Nations and every business you could imagine. They set fair rates for their services and standards for the quality of their work, but weren’t technically employed by the AIIC.  They were part of the gig economy and they made their livings as independent contractors.

In 1994 a group of businesses complained to the Federal Trade Commission arguing that freelance translators had no right to determine what fair pay was for themselves. They argued to the FTC that freelancers were independent businesses  and that setting a minimum standard for their labor was the the same as operating a cartel. In the dull legalese of the day the FTC ruled in their favor saying, “We find that respondents price-fixing practices and market allocation rules are per se unlawful agreements in restraint of trade and a violation of the FTC Act.” After that companies no longer had to be held back by the tyranny of paying a living wage to their skilled workers. Instead, translators were forced to slash their prices against one another in an all out race to the bottom.  The result was that today translators don’t make nearly what they once did.

No one predicted that self-employment would be the new employment standard for the millennium. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics the number of self-employed people has gone up by half since the ruling.  As millions of people join the “sharing economy” or have to freelance their way into a job, the rights of freelancers are more important now than they ever were.

Inline image 1Being self-employed has some major advantages–creative control, setting your own hours and being your own boss–but there are also a lot of disadvantages, too. We pay twice the social security taxes–the so-called “self-employment tax” means we pay the employers share as well as our own–and we have no protections for minimum earnings.  When you’re a freelancer your work is your commodity, and like all commodities, its value fluctuates with the market.

While there have been some brave attempts to organize freelancers since the FTC ruling. The Freelancer’s Union, whose founder Sarah Horowitz won a MacArthur Genius award,  the sheer numbers of independent workers under its banner to negotiate for slightly better deals on health care. However barring that one incremental victory, no one advocates for freelancers. And no union can legally bargain collectively on our behalf without running afoul of the Federal Trade Commission.

Read more “Our Collective Problem”