“Attention Voice-Mart shoppers… in aisle 7 you’ll find a fresh selection of promising audio book narrators, ready to read your epic 300-page novel for only $499.99. But hurry! Only today, they’ll throw in free editing. That’s right, a $199.99 value could be yours, absolutely FREE.”
The shrill sound of my phone woke me up out of a bad dream. So much for power naps! Ever since I had helped my friend Fernanda with her website, she regularly calls me because she wants to pick my brain about ‘the business’. Her enthusiasm is contagious, and sometimes I feel almost guilty to be the one who has to add the rain of realism to her parade.
The thing is, Fernanda is incredibly talented. I could listen to her voice for hours, and as it turns out, I’m not the only one. Not only is she blessed with amazing vocal chords; Fernanda has the uncanny ability to take you on a journey to a place where time and space no longer exist.
Her unique talent is only matched by her naiveté about the less artistic aspects of our work; minor details such as contracts, rates, self-promotion… you know, the boring stuff. In other words: she’s the ideal candidate to be taken for a ride. The other day it almost happened again.
A GENEROUS OFFER
The phone rang. “Paul, I found this amazing project on-line. Can I read it to you?” Fernanda asked.
“By all means”, I replied. “Shoot.”
“Well, it’s for an audio book, she continued, “and they’re offering between 500-750 dollars.”
“Wow” I said. “Why so much? How many pages does this book have? Thirty?”
“Oh, I don’t know” said Fernanda. “Are you going to be a party pooper again?”
“It depends.” I said. “Any other information about this masterpiece? Is there a script for a custom demo? Do you know the word count? Are you sure these are not the memoirs of some perverted, monstrous mind?”
She gave me the web page with the job posting, and I glanced over the details… that were not there. The voice-seeker did offer a link to a page on Amazon.com, and lo and behold, we found the book. It was called “Ahead of the Curve: A Commonsense Guide to Forecasting Business and Market Cycles”, by Joseph H. Ellis*. Even the summary looked promising:
“Economic events are not as random and unpredictable as they seem. This book will help readers recognize and react to signs of change that their rivals don’t see—and win a sizable competitive advantage.”
“Alright. This doesn’t sound like the autobiography of a madman to me. That’s a definite plus”, I said. “Let’s find out who this Mr. Ellis really is.” Harvard Business Publishing gave us the answer:
“Joseph H. Ellis was a partner at Goldman Sachs and was ranked for 18 consecutive years by Institutional Investor magazine as Wall Street’s No.1 retail industry analyst.”
As soon as I read these words, my mind drifted off to a recent newspaper article that had somehow stuck with me:
“Goldman posted the richest quarterly profit in its 140-year history and, to the envy of its rivals, announced it had earmarked $11.4 billion so far this year to compensate its workers. At that rate, Goldman workers could, on average, earn roughly $770,000 each this year — or nearly what they did at the height of the boom.”
How many audio books would I have to narrate, in order to make what the ‘average’ Goldman worker would earn this year alone?
Back to the book. The Harvard web page also gave us another vital missing piece of information: we were talking about a 304-page hardback.
“Now, how long would it take you to read this book?” I asked Fernanda. “Two hours… a day… a week?”
She admitted that she didn’t really have a clue. That was my signal to go into my Sherlock Holmes mode.
“So far we have established that this guide is over 300 pages long. We don’t know anything about the actual word count, though. That will depend on the font, the font-size, the spaces and the margins. It’s amazing what some academics manage to fit on a page by using a 10-point font.
On the other hand, I’ve seen 400-page volumes packed with graphs and other illustrations, printed in a 12-point font, double-spaced and wide margins. In other words: the pages were filled with fluff.”
Fernanda sounded discouraged. “What do you suggest I do? Go to the bookstore and get this Guide? If I don’t put in a bid within the next five minutes, 4 dozen others will have jumped on this project and I might as well forget about it. And please stop with this patronizing Conan Doyle routine.”
“If I were you, this is what I would do.” I said. “Come up with an estimate, based on the assumption that the average manuscript is printed in 12 point Arial, double-spaced, margin-to-margin. According to the handy-dandy Edge Studio Words-to-Hours Converter, the typical reading time for such a page is one minute and forty seconds. Based on these parameters, how long would it approximately take you to read this book?
300 pages x 100 seconds = 30.000 seconds = 8.33 hours
The next question is: how much would you charge for a minimum of eight and a half hours of work? Here’s the easy answer: you are an independent contractor, are you not? Theoretically, that means that you can charge whatever you think you’re worth. If your name is Julia Roberts, you’ll probably get it. If you’re not, dream on.
Seriously, according to the same Edge studio rate card, audio books “usually pay ‘per completed hour (the length of the final product) rather than ‘per hour’ (the length of time you are in the studio).” This does not include the time you need to prepare yourself for the recording. I spent hours and hours reading and researching my last audio book. It was filled with foreign names; I had to practice unusual accents and I needed to get the script ready.
My scripts are usually packed with symbols and colors. Just as a singer would make notes on where to breathe and where to place accents, I do the same thing. Every character is highlighted in a different color, making it easy for me to change my voice and speech patterns. All of this takes time. Lots of time that you’re usually not getting paid for.
UNION or NON-UNION?
If we were to take out the table of contents, the footnotes and any other fluff, you’re probably looking at 8 completed hours on CD. New readers who happen to be AFTRA members, can charge $139.25 per hour, which would give you $1114. The AFTRA rate for experienced readers is $168.25 per completed hour, and that would leave you with a total of $1345 in your pocket.
If you don’t belong to AFTRA, the world you live in looks very different. Bear in mind, Edge Studio explicitly says that their numbers are “pure suggestions for less experienced, non-union talent. Rates reflect average and realistic rates being fairly charged within the industry, and do NOT include editing.” For audio books the rates are:
- Inexperienced narrator – $85 to $140 per completed hour
- Moderately Experienced – $90 to $175 per completed hour
- Very Experienced – $150 to $250 per completed hour
In other words: the very, very inexperienced reader could realistically charge $680 for 8 completed hours (8 x $85). Her colleague on the other end of the spectrum could charge $2000. But we’re not done yet. There are other sources we can use to determine your bid for this Wallstreet saga.
The voices.com FAQ reference rate page has an overview per project category. The indicated range for audio books is 500 – 10000 (even though they’re headquartered in Canada, I think this is in USD).
Voices.com even has a second list of “Average prices, rates and costs”. Based on this overview, the site suggests $300 for a one hour audio book recording session, plus $100 for each additional hour. Let’s say that you’d minimally need a 10-hour recording session to produce an 8-hour audio book. That would mean that this project would bring in $1200 (the client pays an extra 10% SurePay escrow fee).
To make things a bit more complicated, voices.com offers a third list of rates. The suggested rates for audio books in this overview are:
- 1 hr recording session: USD$125 (10 studio hrs. x $125 = $1350)
- Per finished hour of audio: USD$500 (8 finished hrs. x $500 = $4000)
- Per page rate: USD$125 (300 pages x $125 = $37.500)
“These rates have been calculated by surveying and averaging Voice123 non-union voice over talents with two or more years of experience as voice-overs. Prices in this document are averages for suggested minimums (base rates).”
The average rate per hour of work (regardless of the length of the audio delivered) for a project taking up to 10 hours is $164. So, if we once again assume that 8 hours of completed audio takes at least 10 hours of studio time; using the voice123 minimum rate, a talent could charge $1640 for this project.
I’d be the first one to agree that these numbers are based on a few assumptions, because the voice-seeker left out vital information when posting the job (either by accident or on purpose). However, the rates I used are in the public domain. “Fernanda, remind me, what book were we talking about again?”
“A 304-page guide, written by former Goldman Sachs partner and Wall Street’s No.1 retail industry analyst that “will help readers recognize and react to signs of change that their rivals don’t see—and win a sizeable competitive advantage.”
“And how much was the budget again?”
“Between 500 and 750 dollars.”
“How many responses did the voice-seeker receive so far?”
WINNER or LOSER
“How much do you think the client will end up paying for a narrator? Fernanda asked. “And is there a minimum rate per project?”
“Unless you happen to run into the person who put in the winning bid, you’ll never know,” I said. “But I would be very surprised if all 105 hopefuls would bid the $750 maximum. Can you even call it a winning bid, or is it more realistic to speak of a losing bid? Anyway, voices.com has a minimum project posting requirement for any job posted publicly, and this amount is $100. Voice123 doesn’t have a rate floor.
But let’s not turn this into another Pay-to-Play issue. It gets kind of old, and besides, these guys are only part of a huge market. Take a good look at a majority of the projects posted on these sites. With all due respect for the hard work they put in, I don’t think we’re exactly talking about the high end of the business.
When it comes to determining reasonable voice-over rates, we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface. If you really want to discuss what you should charge, there are two crucial questions you need to ask yourself first:
- How much do I need to make?
- How much do I want to make?
But let’s talk about that some other time. I think I need to get back to my power nap now.”
The comfortable couch was still there waiting for me. I rearranged a few pillows and curled up in a ball. As soon as I closed my eyes, a soothing voice whispered into my ear:
“Thank you for shopping at Voice-Mart. Please come again soon.”
When I woke up, I realized that I hadn’t told Fernanda how much she should quote. Thank goodness you’re still here! May I pick your brain for this one?
- What would you tell her?
- Given the specifics of this project, is a budget of $500-$750 reasonable?
- If yes, why? If no, what would be a number you could live with?
- Would you do it for less? Would you put in a higher bid?
- What do you factor in when bidding on a project like this?
- Do you ever use the rate cards quoted in this article; are these rates realistic, optimistic, outdated…?
- If there’s one thing you could change about this process, what would it be?
- What would need to happen for this change to be implemented?
- What’s preventing this from happening?
Paul Strikwerda © 2009 www.nethervoice.com
*the author of the book, Joseph H. Ellis, was not the voice-seeker who posted the project. However, this was a real project offered on a well-know voice casting site.
PS Is there a serious disconnect between what we need to earn to make a decent living, and what voice-seekers are prepared to pay? How did we lose our bargaining power? And is there a connection between price and pleasure? That’s the topic of my next article!