Who’s Afraid Of Decent Rates?

AfraidNewsflash!

The great rate debate is still going strong.

I’ve been writing about the erosion of voice-over rates for years, and every day, clients and colleagues are arguing privately and publicly about the value of our voices.

One thing is certain: that value keeps going down. Talk is getting cheaper and cheaper.

What’s going on?

Let’s begin with our clients. It’s so easy to blame clients for this downward trend, because they’re the ones paying us. However, I think it’s time to cut them some slack. So many of them are small players in a big, international market. Because that market is unregulated, and there are no universal prices, they have a hard time figuring out how much they can expect to pay for our services. That’s not really their fault.

A majority of voice-overs do not list their rates, hoping clients will contact them and ask for a quote. Those quotes may differ greatly because we need to take so many variables into account, and frankly, many of us don’t always know what to charge. Go to a VO Facebook group on any given day, and you’ll find someone asking for advice on price.

TURNING A PROFIT

Because I run my own business, I completely understand that my clients want to keep their costs low, and their revenue up. If you can get great service at a great price, why pay a penny more? I also understand that there’s a link between what you pay and what you get, no matter what industry you’re in. It’s foolish to expect top quality at a bargain-basement price, unless you’re benefitting from a liquidation sale.

These days, everyone’s online, and that complicates matters. It may seem that we’re all operating on a level playing field (the world wide web), which is not the case. It is anything but level, but try explaining that to an imaginary photographer in Latvia, who needs a few English voices for a website he’s launching. He’s offering $20 for 5 minutes of VO, which he believes is perfectly reasonable because he’s hired local talent at that price. He wants to know:

Why should I pay $250 for a 5-minute voice-over, if Olga in Riga is willing to do it for $20?

I told him: “Your job posting tells me that you’re looking for voice-overs with an authentic British accent. If Olga can pull that off, why not hire her? The reason you’re posting your job overseas is that ’20-dollar Olga’ has no idea what she’s doing. Her accent is clearly from Latvia, and not from London. And because it’s cold in the Baltics, she’s probably using a Snowball microphone, guaranteed to give that crap amateur sound the Fiverr crowd is so proud of. You pay for professionalism, or lack thereof.”

The photographer responds:

I understand that it might be hard for me to find a native British voice-over in my neck of the woods, but that still doesn’t explain the huge difference in rates. $250 for five minutes? I think people are just greedy.

I said: “Location makes a big difference. Let me give you an example. Why does a Big Mac cost $7.80 in Norway, and only $1.62 in India? Why doesn’t McDonalds charge the same price for the same product, regardless of the location? Because the price of a Big Mac is a reflection of its local production and delivery cost, the cost of advertising, and what the local market will bear.

The cost of living is much higher in Norway, and consequently, people make more. According to the CIA, the 2016 per capita income in Norway was $69,300 and in India it was $6,700. If I were a Norwegian voice-over artist and I would charge Indian prices, I wouldn’t be able to make a living. That has nothing to do with greed.

As a freelancer, you have to price for profit wherever you’re located, because that’s where you’re buying your Big Mac. It’s where you pay your bills, and your taxes. That’s why a UK talent charges more than someone in Latvia, or in India.

ONGOING ADDED VALUE

And let’s remember that a voice-over is not some hamburger you order at the drive-through. Every Big Mac should pretty much taste the same, no matter where you order it. It’s generic. Once it has been consumed, it has served its purpose.

Every voice is unique, and every voice-over artist brings special talents and experience to the table. Once recorded, that commercial, trailer, or eLearning course can be played again and again, adding value every time someone’s listening. That’s worth something. 

Last but not least, just because you’re paying $250, doesn’t mean the voice-over always gets $250. Some online casting companies like Canada-based voices dot com, pocket a considerable amount without telling you or the talent. If you want to talk about greed, talk about that!”

THE TROUBLE WITH COLLEAGUES

The Latvian photographer still doesn’t understand why he can’t hire a UK talent for $20. However, in my experience it’s much easier to talk sense into some clients, than to reason with certain colleagues (and I use the term colleagues loosely, because they’re acting anything but collegial). Most of my clients know how to run a for-profit business, but so many ‘colleagues’ seem to be clueless. They don’t know the difference between “selling,” and “selling out.”

Every time the issue of reasonable rates comes up, there are always voices saying:

“Who are you to tell me what I should charge? It’s a free country, and I can charge whatever I want!”

Yes, and I can sell my Subaru Outback any time for $300, but does that make any sense whatsoever? Why should I settle for a handout if the market value of my car is at least $3,000? How stupid do I have to be to practically give my car away to the lowest bidder?

By the way, this whole free country argument is a load of bull, used by imbeciles to defend all kinds of idiotic practices. Here’s the thing:

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you must, or that it’s wise. 

“But who cares if I sell my voice for five bucks? Mind your own business! I’m not telling you what to charge. My bottom line doesn’t affect yours.”

Is that really so? What would happen if half of all car owners would decide to sell their vehicles way below value? Tell me that has zero impact on the used car market!

If what’s happening at the bottom of the VO-market does not affect the rest, why aren’t voice-over fees at least keeping up with the rate of inflation? Why are rates across the board in a steady decline?

WE NEED EACH OTHER

In the grand scheme of things you may feel insignificant, and believe that your choices only influence your bottom line. But hundreds of these individual choices send a message, and thousands create a trend clever clients have picked up on. 

To put it differently: if you really believe that one, individual decision has no impact on the overall outcome, then there’s no reason to live in a democracy. You might as well move to North-Korea. But since you’re still here, and (I hope) you vote, you must believe that you can make a difference.

Your choice of what to charge makes a difference. It impacts our professional community, and the families that depend on it. 

You can either cheapen our profession and our community, or enrich it. You can build it up, or tear it down.

You can price like a predator, or like a professional. 

Or are you afraid to charge a decent rate? Are you afraid the client will reject you?

Are you not convinced that what you have to offer can command a fair price?

If that’s the case, here’s a suggestion: perhaps you should find another job.

A certain Pay to Play call center in Canada might be hiring very soon.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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PPS Below you’ll find links to some of the other articles I’ve written about rates and pricing

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About the author

Paul Strikwerda

is a Dutch-English voice-over pro, coach, and writer. His blog is one of the most widely read and influential blogs in the industry. Paul is also the author of "Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs."

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, International, Internet, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play

34 Responses to Who’s Afraid Of Decent Rates?

  1. David Bucci

    I’ll tell my little story. I try very hard to adhere to my rate structure, and it makes life very challenging to me when trying to do any type of work locally. There is a regional media outlet that owns nearly all of the radio stations in my area. They offer advertising packages to businesses that include “one of our DJ’s” recording the spots. Nonetheless, all of the spots sound very similar, making it hard to distinguish what the business really is.

    I am involved in community theater and we have a group that goes around performing murder mysteries at various venues. I told this one business that I would be happy to provide the commercials so that we could generate plenty of interest. The last year we performed there, I heard a generic, DJ of the moment piece on the radio that was so awful that I immediately called the owner and said, that’s crap, let me get you a better commercial made. Toot the horn a moment, but it was leaps and bounds better than the generic crap that was airing.

    I say all of this because I have offered that business an opportunity to fully produce their commercials, but the media outlet has made it so easy that they don’t have much interest in utilizing me. Plus they would end up buying the ad package and still pay me to over and above the ad package. Not a wise business move on their part.

    Let’s take this the other direction. Freelance with the media group. I approached the group, since I personally know a few of the talent, and inquired as to how to voice some of their commercials, to offer an alternative voice than the 2-3 they offer up. They showed lackluster interest and I kind of sort of got the feeling that they might pay $30 per spot voiced.

    To make a very long story longer, when people in my immediate area ask me about voice work, I tell them that I do commercials, e-learning and narrations, but nothing that would hear locally. Most of my work is outside of this market. That always makes me cringe to admit that, but I just cannot lower myself to giving away my work, and I also get the businesses perspective of paying more for something that is likely better than what they would get in the generic package. Frustrating, and I’ll bet others have similar stories like this one!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    You are definitely not alone, Dave. Thanks for sharing your stories, by the way. Your experience is a clear example of the cheapening of the industry. As I wrote in “Who’s Afraid Of Decent Rates?

    It’s so easy to blame clients for this downward trend, because they’re the ones paying us. However, I think it’s time to cut them some slack. So many of them are small players in a big, international market. Because that market is unregulated, and there are no universal prices, they have a hard time figuring out how much they can expect to pay for our services. That’s not really their fault.

    Because I run my own business, I completely understand that my clients want to keep their costs low, and their revenue up. If you can get great service at a great price, why pay a penny more? I also understand that there’s a link between what you pay and what you get, no matter what industry you’re in. It’s foolish to expect top quality at a bargain-basement price, unless you’re benefitting from a liquidation sale.

    Thanks to clearing houses like voices dot com and willfully ignorant amateurs, talk has become a lot cheaper. One way to fight this trend is to not accept jobs for a ridiculous rate. I’d rather go back to a regular 9 – 5 job, than selling my services for next to nothing!

    [Reply]

  2. Stacey Stahl/IN BOTH EARS

    Thank you, Paul. It takes a village.

    [Reply]

  3. Sophie Hoeberechts

    Good story Paul! I totally agree

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Leuk dat je m’n blog leest, Sophie, en van harte gefeliciteerd met je 30-jarig jubileum als stem!

    [Reply]

  4. Heather Henderson

    You always put it so well, Paul. I appreciate your blog. And I appreciate your posting a link to it in our FB group, because that’s how I realized that somehow I was no longer subscribed to it. Situation fixed!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thank you so much, Heather. I really enjoy this opportunity to connect with so many people via my blog. Thanks for resubscribing!

    [Reply]

  5. Paul Garner

    “Those who fail to build value, have nothing left but to compete on price.” Pretty much sums it all up, Paul. Thanks again for great information!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I guess I could have saved myself a lot of time and energy, by just posting that quote, Paul. I’ll have to think of that next time!

    [Reply]

    Paul Garner Reply:

    Perhaps, but I’m not sure I would have derived all of the information provided in your well written blogs. Keep ’em coming!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I definitely will!

  6. Jerry Reed

    I understand all the arguments put forth here. But, honestly my cost of doing business and the cost of doing business of another freelancer in another city may be drastically different. I agree with keeping prices up for fair competition and agree that we all need to charge professional rates. However, let’s just say that we have one artist working from a major west coast city and one working from a small city in mid-america. Cost of living and cost of doing business vary drastically. The artist working from the west coast needs to generate a much high income in order to live comfortably because rent, food, transportation etc. are at a much higher cost. The artist working from the small city has much lower costs of doing business. He or she might be able to sustain a very comfortable lifestyle and even generate higher profits at a much lower cost (ROI). This is called capitalism. Now, replace the “artist” with the word “carpenter.” Both are skilled artisans. But, that carpenter from the west coast city would not be able to offer his or her talents for the same price. Using the car cost argument, I would not be able to buy a Subaru Forester in the West coast city for the same price I can buy it in the small city. The dealers have different costs of doing business and different mark-ups. These are factors that some people seem to miss.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thanks for that valuable addition, Jerry. I have a simple strategy: if a client is in higher rate market, I charge accordingly. Why limit myself to what the market I’m in could command?

    As you know, I’ve given the issue of pricing and decent rates a lot of thought, and I’ve blogged about it extensively. Pricing is a complex process, and it can’t be fully captured within the limits of these comments.

    I warmly invite you to read my 3-part series: “The Power of Pricing” (http://wp.me/p2Ai6y-49G), “Taken for a Ride” (http://wp.me/p2Ai6y-49Q), and “Right on the Money” (http://wp.me/p2Ai6y-4a4).

    [Reply]

  7. Mitch

    You begin with your confident belief that you are worth what you charge and that you will give more than you get. . Without that foundation, you are worth-less.

    [Reply]

    Howard Ellison Reply:

    A life in arts and crafts was ever a struggle. ‘Market forces’ ever an excuse for exploitation. Highly committed people such as nurses and carers continue to be underpaid. Creative interns survive on thin air.

    Passion for a role is a visible invitation to be ripped off – whether as a freelance or wage slave. Self-doubt piles on the fuel or, rather, depletes oxygen.

    And what about the performance unions? They do publish rates guidance, but beyond that they seem to me (UK view) to lack interest.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    My wife’s a classical musician, and she still encounters the belief that if you are passionate about what you do, that is a reward in itself, ergo, she doesn’t need the compensation a professional deserves. Strangely, people don’t apply that same philosophy to soccer stars or pop icons.

    [Reply]

    Howard Ellison Reply:

    Agreed, Paul, it’s all wildly inconsistent and illogical. My friend’s a broadcast cellist – quite a hard life these days, forever on the road. In terms of pounds per crochet, earnings are nowhere near a run of the mill pop performer despite years of dedicated study, and a professorship.

    The upside, among many, is a long career and the incomparable joy of performing a concerto among professionals. I’m tempted to add ‘whoever pays the piper calls the tune’ – and ultimately that doesn’t just refer to the accountants with their spreadsheets, it’s all of us and what we choose to uphold as value and fair play.

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thanks for chiming in, Mitch. There’s definitely a link between feeling worthy, knowing what we’re worth, and having the audacity to charge accordingly. Here’s what I like to tell people:

    Those who fail to build value, have nothing left but to compete on price.

    [Reply]

  8. Justin S Hibbard

    GREAT commentary as always, Paul. Thanks for fighting the good fight!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thanks for the support, Justin. Even though it sometimes feels like I’m preaching to the choir, I keep on spreading my message. That’s what you can expect from the son of a minister!

    [Reply]

  9. Chuck Ingersoll

    Many good points, but there are SO many factors that enter into it. Let’s say an ad agency has a client and a VO project is worth $500. If they get a guy to do it for $200, they make $300 plus their mark-up. And (because I’ve been a producer for an ad agency) there are good talents out there that will do it for $200. So let’s say this ad agency then is looking for other voices for the same client. Their chosen VO artists wants $1,000. To the client, this seems insane. So they either find another lower-priced talent, or resume their search. And there’s always the “don’t know good from bad from meh from mediocre” factor. I could blather on about other factors, but this biz is more subjective than many in terms of what is great, good, acceptable, and lousy.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I totally agree with you, Chuck. This is a subjective business (that’s what makes it so interesting and challenging), and I could write a book about all the players and the games they play. At the end of the day, both clients and talent are responsible for their bottom lines. I believe both sides can get what they want and deserve without breaking the bank, or charging a ridiculously low rate.

    [Reply]

  10. Jason Lechak

    Hi Paul.

    You used the CIA website to gather data? Wow you really do your homework! 🙂

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Oh, the things I do for my readers…

    [Reply]

  11. Paula Faye Leinweber

    Thanks Paul. Very well put indeed. I agree with all that you say, and reminds me that there are other industries, as you said, that have similar rate issues. Construction comes to mind, where you get what you pay for is also true. The guys who underbid drastically just to get the job, more often than not, do very poor work. Same here, where it is very easy to buy a mic, plug it in and the person thinks he/she is a VO. Training, proper equipment and recording location count for a lot as well. It does come down to knowing our worth and not being afraid to admit it to all.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    You’re absolutely right. Low rates are by no means exclusive to the VO-industry. My wife’s a flute and piano teacher, and she’s dealing with ‘colleagues’ giving lessons below market value who tell her it’s “just a hobby for them.”

    I remind people:

    Those who fail to build value, have nothing left but to compete on price.

    [Reply]

  12. Jon Armond

    Great article as usual. However, I have to point out that you give the price of a Big Mac in India.
    I’m not sure where you got that information, but McDonalds in India doesn’t sell any beef (or pork for that matter), so…no Big Macs in India.

    http://www.indiamarks.com/what-you-can-and-cant-get-at-mcdonalds-india/

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Good point, Jon. Nevertheless, India is on the Big Mac Index compiled by The Economist. My guess is that they take the Indian (and vegetarian) equivalent of the Big Mac, and use that as a reference.

    [Reply]

  13. Paul Strikwerda

    I want to give a quick shoutout to my colleague Gabrielle Nistico, who has started the Say No To Cheap VO campaign. You can check out the website by clicking on this link.

    My agent Erik Shepherd of The Outspoken Vlog, had a recent rant about the way certain voice casting sites cheapen the industry, and rip off talent and clients. It’s well worth watching. All links are in blue.

    [Reply]

  14. Bev Standing

    Paul, this is so well said, again. I agree, the topic won’t go away until those who buy cheap cuts of meat realize, that a filet mignon is worth every cent.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thanks, Bev! My beef is not so much with the clients, but with fellow voice actors selling their services for cheap, thinking predatory pricing is the new business model. Rates are eroded from within, every time someone accepts a decent job for a rotten rate.

    [Reply]

  15. Paul Payton

    Spot on, Paul – as usual. Even after this long in business, I’m awkward discussing rates, but your replies to the archetypical client are both valuable and priceless. Many thanks!!!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    My advice is priceless, and that’s why I am offering it for free!

    I used to feel a bit awkward about discussing my rates, and whenever I made a proposal, my voice went up, as if I was questioning my offer. Clients always picked up on that, and used it to negotiate a better deal. Now I simply state my price as a fact, assuming the sale. It’s surprising how many clients don’t question it anymore.

    [Reply]

    Rick Lance Reply:

    It’s also about knowing your own worth and where you fit into the market place. Now… I LOWER my voice when I explain my rates (and that’s pretty low)… I almost always win if there’s any argument. Or I suggest they move on.

    Btw, I like that you explain rate expectations from the client’s pov… that’s part of the equation too!

    [Reply]

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