Internet

Mayhem at Newspapers for the Blind

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Journalism & Media, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 8 Comments

Posting jobs under false names, not paying invoices and Jekyll and Hyde-treatment of voice-over talent… these appear to be the trademarks of William May.

Mr. May is the founder and editor of Newspapers For The Blind Organization,Inc,  a web–based service, offering a daily selection of newspaper articles for the vision impaired, read by voice-over pros. The site was quietly launched during the last quarter of 2009 (and should not be confused with NFB-Newsline®).

The idea behind Newspapers for the Blind (NFTB) is not new but certainly noble. The other two people involved, Dr. Edward E. Boas Jr. and Noelle Mills Adler, have impressive credentials. Dr. Boas is a Professor of Computer Science, Data Processing and Electronics at Cecil College in North East Maryland. Ms. Mills Adler is a past president of the Ladies Christian Union of New York City (now known as the LCU Foundation).

But it’s the voice-over professionals known as “newspapercasters” who are at the heart of NFTB. Newspapersfortheblind.org  raves:

“Our three dozen readers, culled from 3000 auditions, bring the precise vocal skills to reach and meet our unique audience.”

THE OFFER

At the beginning of September 2010, I became a member of this “elite team,” after auditioning for the following job posted on voice123:

Newspapers for Blind
This is a daily long term commitment to read a newspaper article into an MP3 for webcasting and free-phone service to the blind and hearing-impaired.

The files would want to be recorded from roughly midnight to 6AM US Eastern Time, so, geography may be important to readers.

The pacing of the delivery is painfully S-L-O-W, and the voice resonance is highly critical for the hearing-impaired. Tenors and sopranos need not bother; it won’t work for the hearing-impaired. Professor Henry Higgins diction is important; bite the words.

Voice-seekers name: confidential
Company name: hidden

I was absolutely thrilled to have made the cut. Regular gigs are hard to come by in this industry, but there was another reason why I was so excited. Some jobs we do for the money; others because it is the right thing to do. This was the best of both worlds!

THE AMAZING MR MAY

On top of that, the founder/editor seemed to possess an incredible drive and contagious enthusiasm to make things happen. His initial emails were personable, funny and encouraging. After I started reading leads from The Independent and The Times, he commented:

“My Cat; BraveHeart, loves your voice. She always perks up when I play your readings.  You have a fan.”

One day, I shared with him that I wasn’t feeling too well. He responded:

“Paul, hope you shake the cold…..just don’t shake this perfect voice, W”

This was clearly a man with a heart! One thing bothered me a little, though. Whenever I asked May if he intended to formalize the relationship and how payment would be handled, it took him months to come up with something that came close to a straight answer.

WORRIES

A month or so into the job, I had yet to be paid. Then I noticed that May had placed another job posting on voice123. Why would he be looking for new recruits? When I asked him about it, he answered:

“Please don’t worry about not enough readings for NFTB. Stick with me; I have to keep a Chinese Wall between the not-for-profit and other activities. There will be plenty of other activities to follow.”

He was right. Not only would I be recording and editing at least two articles a day, Will asked me and four other colleagues to record public service announcements for NFTB (a 501C-3 Corporation). I was tickled when he told me:

“Out of the 5, they chose your Public Service Message on 970 AM, New York.”

By that time I was on a roll. The only thing that was missing was a regular paycheck and eventually, that became an ordeal. I had to send out countless reminders, only to hear that my “address was lost” or that someone would be looking into it.

GIVE ME A BREAK

On November 15th, May surprised me with the following message:

“Lets let your money catch up with your readings; take a break.”

I responded:

“(…) As you know, I am very supportive of your charity, and I don’t understand why I should take a break. (…) If you do not have the money to pay me, you should have said so from the beginning. As a professional, I made my commitment based on your commitment. Financially, I plan ahead and make future projections based on assurances that have been made by my clients. Knowing that payment would not be forthcoming or would be seriously delayed, would have given me the opportunity to reconsider my commitment to NFTB, and possibly spend my time and energy generating income in other ways. (…)”

The answer:

“I had interpreted your last mail as unhappy. I was simply saying lets let the accounting, our weakest link, catch up with you. We have enough money, just not enough accounting bobbins.”

But on November 20th, I received the following email:

“Don’t count on any more readings in your planning; nothing to do with you.  We’ll catch up the accounting, and probably just wind things up.
May try to limp along at half or one-third normal see what happens.

(…)

Also, frankly, not enough users to merit all of the work; I’m working 18-20 hour days to throw 8-10 k out the window each week…what for.

I think we made sliced bread, when the world wants baguette.”

ANOTHER VOICE

The truth is that it was business as usual at Newspapers for the Blind. They didn’t miss a beat, and never have. I was sidetracked for no apparent reason, while waiting for my checks. And I was not alone:

Voice-over colleague Juliette Gray picks up the story:

“I was hired in November. They required reading articles (in my case from the London newspapers). These articles were long and the editing took ages. Then the person in charge decided because these people were also partially deaf that I needed to change my sound system. I did this willingly because I thought I had a steady job.

At quite a bit of expense I was ready to start working again and it was then he turned out to be a complete nightmare. We exchanged numerous e-mails, phone conversations, etc. and then he did a 180 degree turn – sort of like a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Became impossible to communicate with and finally did get nasty in his final e-mail. Needless to say I never got paid.”

VOICE123 JUMPS IN

At that time, Steven Lowell was the “community manager” for voice123. This is what he said when I asked him about NFTB and Will May::

“When I first saw the job posted a while back, I was very excited because in NYC, I got some early voice over practice in the 90’s doing charity by reading books to the blind at a local church. It was something a coach recommended I do for practice.

The job made me think, ‘Wow! Good to see something like this again! Yet, what followed was an unpleasant experience of several talents with decades of experience, complaining to me that he was harsh and unfriendly to work with.

When reaching out to Mr. May to present that there have been problems, merely as a way to communicate feedback, his reply to me was, ‘Who complained? I don’t have the time to coach every talent to perfection….’

Before hearing my side of the story, voice123 heard from Juliette and 2 other voice-over professionals; one from the US, and one from the UK. As I was researching this article, I got in touch with other newspapercasters. Without exception, they asked me not to reveal their names, because they’re still hoping to get paid and they want to keep their job. But all of them told similar tales about Mr. May, and I wondered if voice123 had taken any action.

BANNED

As a rule, voice123 only investigates non-payment matters that are 60-days old. Steven Lowell: “This is because we do not get involved, and most payment disputes are resolved quite easily with a reminder email from me.”

Having examined concrete proof from email correspondence as to what had happened, voice123 banned Will May from the site. Unfortunately, that was not the end of the matter. Lowell:

“Mr. May posted the initial jobs under his own name. Once removed from the site, he began to use different names. During verification efforts by our staff, it was discovered who was posting the job. The staff at Voice123 has not changed in 2 years, and we have become very aware of ‘who is who’, and as such, have been able to catch people easily trying to repost after being banned.”

MONEY

Juliette Gray is still waiting for her paycheck, and she’s not the only one. I was lucky. Even though Mr. May still owes me a substantial amount of money, I did get paid for approximately two-thirds of my work.

For months, I asked May to pay the remainder of the balance, but he was MIA. When my knocks on his door became louder, he finally sent a very unfriendly email, accusing me of “futzing the dates” on my invoices. He wrote:

“I am in no great rush to go through hours of checking to deal with whatever might be outstanding to you. Checking truth versus falsehood is a nuisance.”

I responded:

“The invoices were sent on November 9th of last year, so you have had over two months to figure things out. I resent your remark that I “started futzing the dates”. My invoices accurately and faithfully reflect the work I have done for your organization at your request, and that’s the work I deserve to be paid for.”

CLOSING THOUGHTS

I think that Newspapers for the Blind offers a terrific service. The newspapercasters are dedicated and talented readers who can be proud to support their families by bringing the news to the blind and vision-impaired, day in day out.

The website has an impressive list of reputable institutions labeled as “dedicated listeners”. There is no doubt in my mind that the energetic editor has moved mountains to realize this project. Based on my email exchanges with him, Will May works night and day to keep the service up and running. I don’t know for sure,  but I suspect that he has invested a substantial amount of his own money into this worthy undertaking.

I also believe that people are not their behavior. From time to time, all of us do things that we are not proud of, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t know any better. Just because we do something crazy, doesn’t mean that we are crazy.

Having said that, it is not okay to treat people the Will May-way, and voice123 was right to ban him from the site. Other sites have been alerted to make sure he doesn’t pull the same stuff. Furthermore: May needs to pay his talents. Without them, there would be no Newspapers for the Blind.

For now, I am left with one question: why would someone who is clearly invested in and dedicated to such a noble cause, turn from Mr. Nice into Mr. Nasty?

In my experience, there’s always a story behind a story. And believe me, in this case there is.

But that’s for another time and another day.

Click here for the follow-up. 

Paul Strikwerda ©2010 nethervoice 

2013 UPDATE

It appears that the Newspapers for the Blind website is down or no longer available. The Newspapers for the Blind Facebook page has last been updated on March 21, 2010. 

On his LinkedIn Profile, Mr. May still lists himself as the “Editor & Founder of NewspapersForTheBlind.ORG 

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Should amateurs be ousted from voice-over sites?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Internet, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 19 Comments

Which orchestra was voted the best symphony orchestra in the world?

Eminent music critics asked themselves that same question at the end of 2008. They narrowed the list down to twenty. A year later, the renowned British music magazine “the Gramophone” published the results.

The famous Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra ended up in second place, but who came first? The New York Philharmonic? The Wiener Philharmoniker? The Chicago Symphony?

AN EARFUL

I just spent a few hours on-line listening to YOU… my colleagues, my competition, my inspiration. It was both frightening and enlightening. As I was clicking away part of my day, I was amazed by a number of things, going from Pay-to-Play to Pay-to-Play. This is what I found:

1. Anyone can sign up for a voice-over site these days, on three conditions:

a. you have to have a voice
b. you have to have a credit card
c. you have to have a computer and a microphone

2. Fifty percent of the advertised ‘talent’ can’t interpret a simple script;

3. The same people don’t seem to know the first thing about recording either;

4. Amateurs who put themselves out there as voice-over pros, have a lot of guts, coupled with a deadly mix of unrealistic expectations, a lack of experience and the funds to invest in a pipe dream;

5. As I wrote in another article, foreign voices are often not as advertised. We still have Flemish speakers posing as Dutch talents, German speakers who are really from Austria, and Australians pretending to be Americans. Whatever happened to quality control?

6. Don LaFontaine is still very much alive, but he goes by many different names these days. Or is just every other American male voice-over talent riding on his coattails as they are trying to emulate the master?

PAYING THE PRICE

I must say that I don’t envy the voice-seekers who have to sift through over one hundred auditions to find the perfect voice for their low- or no-budget project.

Then again: they asked for it, so we shouldn’t feel too sorry for them. It’s the price you pay when you’re asking every Tom, Dick or Harry to tape a custom demo for that cheap frying pan you’re trying to sell on late-night cable television. You often get what you pay for… frying pan, voice-over talent, it doesn’t make a difference.

What do I make of all this, you may ask? Well, here’s what I think.

Having a microphone, a MasterCard, a laptop and a fantasy doesn’t mean one should be allowed to join a professional site, no questions asked. We have websites for amateur dog breeders, amateur sports people, amateur musicians… why not design a site dedicated to amateur voice-over artists? I bet you’ll make a lot of money in the Odesk-market segment. It could be a kind of Bargain-Bodalgo.

Don’t get me wrong. Hobbies are wonderful things. My neighbor takes great pictures, but he wouldn’t dare to advertise himself as a professional photographer, nor should he. National Geographic would immediately show him the door.

A friend of mine is not a bad trumpet player, but if he were to audition for a real job in the music industry, he would never make the first cut (and he knows it). Apparently, those stringent standards don’t seem to be in place in certain segments of the voice-over industry. Why not?

THE PROBLEM BEHIND THE PROBLEM

As long as some sites make most of their money through subscriptions, more members means more money. It’s a business model, not a charity. It’s a model that essentially values quantity over quality. The only way to go, is to grow.

Let’s be honest. The voice-over market is pretty much saturated at this moment. You don’t need a degree in economics to realize that a greater supply in a weakened market can only mean one thing: tumbling prices.

The best way to speed this process up, is to have suppliers engage in a furious bidding war. Darwin would have named it: “Survival of the Cheapest”. Isn’t that exactly what is happening? And if you don’t believe me, why is it so hard to buy products that are not “made in China”? Before we know it, all of us will be replaced by IVONA speech synthesis technology. It’s almost as good as the real thing and I bet it’s a lot cheaper.

NO CURE NO P(L)AY

If it were up to me, I’d rather have a performance-based No Cure No Pay-system in place. Out with the premium, platinum and titanium memberships. From now on, voice-over sites should get paid when I get paid. And the only way I get paid, is when voice-over sites do their job and connect me to reputable voice-seekers that are ready to pay reasonable rates.

Perhaps that will make the Pay-to-Play’s more accountable and selective in terms of whom they’re willing to represent. Perhaps that’s the way to separate the wheat from the chaff. Let the dabblers do their thing. As long as they stay in their own league and stop messing with my market.

PROFESSIONAL STANDARDS

Secondly, I’d like to see these websites publish and uphold certain professional standards. Accreditation comes from the word ‘credo’, which means “I believe“. Although related, ‘credo’ is not the same as ‘credit’.

Our belief in someone’s talent should be based on professional principles, instead of on the spending limit on their credit card. So, let me ask you this:

1.In your experience, are you aware of any professional standards that are promoted and actively upheld by Pay-to-Play sites?

2. If the answer is “yes”, are you happy with these standards, and are they well-advertised and implemented?

3. If the answer to the 1st question is “no”, do you think that voice-over sites should adopt, publish, promote and maintain certain standards?

4. Should talents be denied membership, if they don’t meet certain basic criteria of professionalism?

5. Would it make sense to create a special category for amateur voice actors, or even a dedicated website? Or do dilettantes have no business being in our business?

6. What’s the best and most fair way to compensate P2P’s for their services? A subscription fee? A percentage of  what you’re making for a particular job?  A combination of both?

AND THE WINNER IS…

One question remains.  For that, we return to the quest for the best symphony orchestra in the world. The votes have been counted. The sealed envelope is opened as the audience collectively holds their breath. And the winner is….

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra from Amsterdam

Why? Because their standards are higher. After a grueling audition process, the Concertgebouw only hires the cream of the crop; well-trained people playing the very best instruments. No amateur fiddlers. The Gramophone’s editor James Inverne, put it this way:

“It is hardly possible any more to recognize particular orchestras by their individual sound. I think that with some orchestras, and the Berlin Philharmonic amongst them, that’s a bit of a worry. Whereas with the Concertgebouw you always know it’s the Concertgebouw. And I think that’s what has given them the edge amongst our critics.

Maybe it’s occasionally very slightly rougher than what the Berliner Philharmonic can produce, but it doesn’t matter, because they’re like a great actor bringing their own charisma and their own personality to every work, and always giving you the sense of the spirit of the work.”

Now, that’s what I call music to my ears! I’ll gladly pay to hear them play any day!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

My next blog is a little more lighthearted, and I’ve invited Steve Martin, Peter Cook and Cyril Ritchard to add some  fun to the pirate party!

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What makes people click?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Journalism & Media, Promotion Comments Off on What makes people click?

 

On June 8th of 2009, something occurred that had never happened before in the history of mankind.

Hyères, the oldest and most southerly resort on the French Riviera, was the scene of an attempt to break the world record in Static Apnea. That’s the discipline in which a freediver holds his or her breath for as long as possible.

The old record of 10:12, set in 2008, was held by Tom Sietas of Germany.

The challenger, Frenchman Stéphan Mifsud, was determined to destroy it. Some called him a hero. Others thought he was a suicidal lunatic. Few believed that he could do it.

AIDA is the International Association for the Development of Freediving. Their website offers a lot of in-depth information about various disciplines, such as “free immersion,” “constant weight” and “dynamic with fins.” However, it does not answer one fundamental question:

Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.

Making Money In Your PJs cover

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8 ways to boost your web traffic

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Promotion 8 Comments

Having a website is not an accomplishment.

Bella the Hamster has one. Famous dead people do too.

I have even seen sites in loving memory of unfamous dead hamsters! Some of those websites get more visitors in a day, than you hope to have in a year.

Here’s my question:

If you have a business website and you’re not getting any traffic, what’s the point? You might as well give the money you’re sending to your Internet Service Provider to a worthy cause, such as the Don LaFontaine Voice-Over Lab.

If, on the other hand, you want to use your online presence to your advantage, you better roll up your sleeves and get to work! Unless you’re too busy auditioning for that $200 narration of a 300 page audio book.

is a digital marketing agency with specific expertise in social media and 12 offices worldwide. In 2008, Nilhan Jayasinghe, their VP, wrote a paper entitled; “Optimizing for users, not search engines. Building a sustainable brand in a connected world”.  He says:

“As search engines become more sophisticated, they will increasingly incorporate user data to validate their results. The numbers of people visiting a site; the time that users spend on a site; the depth of their engagement; whether they return over a period of time; how many people add it to their social bookmarking tools such as Digg; all will potentially be taken into account.”

If you’ve read my last blog, you already know that the new Google is going in that direction. And where Google goes, others follow. In my opinion, there are at least two things you must do to take advantage of this development. These are the things that will drive people to your website; keep them there and make them come back:

1. Start writing for people, not for search engines: offer fresh & relevant content.
2. Stop “telling & selling”. Instead, engage your visitors and begin a dialogue.

Here are a few ways to do it:

1. Offer FREE STUFFParadoxically, some companies are making lots of money by giving things away for free. It’s called the “freemium model” whereby some content is offered at no charge, while premium content is not. Seattle-based Big Fish Games distributes more online games than anyone else, at about 1 million a day. You can try almost any Big Fish game for free, but there are add-ons that players have to pay for.

Slide 1A few months ago, our colleague Peter O’Connell made his e-book “The Voice Over Entrance Exam” available at no charge. I’m pretty sure that this brought new visitors to his website. It did something else too: it established him as an expert. Here’s a third bonus: free resources get links. Isn’t that what I just did?

2. Contests & Awards are another way to drive people to your site. Videovoicebank.net organized a contest, and voice-overs were invited to share their professional horror stories. Not only did the Videovoicebank-team manage to engage their community; for days, visitors could enter their email address and vote for their favorite story. I wonder what they’ll do with those email addresses…

 

3. Provide a resource that will benefit your target-group and (of course) offer it for free. Veteran VO-artist Mahmoud Taji compiled a voice-over directory of casting websites for “the benefit of established and up-and-coming voice over talent who want to secure more voice over work through the Internet.” He asked everyone in the industry to help out, and this is just another example of how to get people involved. So far, Taji has a list of 239 sites, and you might add a few to the directory.

4. Quizzes and Games on your site are a fun way to make people come back and spend more time with you. British talent Emma Clarke is the voice you’ll hear for a majority of the London Underground lines. Her website is terrific and it has games, spoof audios and even an online “Emma flip book”.  One of my favorites is a fridge magnet game where you can move the words around to make your own sentences and phrases – and have Emma speak them for you.

5. Actress Amy Walker (above) became an overnight sensation when her YouTube video 21Accents went “viral.” “These days, it’s not unusual to see a search engine like Google pull up a YouTube video in its top 10 results,” says Linda Girard, co-founder of online marketing consulting firm Pure Visibility in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “The best way to maximize this trend is by uploading your video to various sites and attach good, searchable terms to the clips in order to get those high rankings.” (source)

6. Then there’s the old trick of offering limited Deals & Discounts. Bristol-based voice-over talent Alison Pitman once offered a promotion of 25% discount on all message on hold voice-over recordings. Particularly if you’re also offering individual coaching and voice-over classes, never miss an opportunity to throw in an early bird special or a web coupon. Irresistible offers turn browsers into buyers.

7. Develop an ongoing relationship with your visitors (colleagues and clients). Answer their emails. Follow up with them. Ask them for feedback. Use social networking sites to connect. Take an active part in your community, online and offline. Send email newsletters using a service like Constant Contact or Aweber. It’s all about building your brand and positive reinforcement.

8. Blogging benefits business. Internet marketing company Hubspot surveyed over 1500 small businesses. They found that those with blogs attracted:

  1. 55% more traffic
  2. 97% more inbound links
  3. 434% more indexed pages

Blogs are a very effective way to create valuable content; to connect, to interact and to build relationships based on trust. Nilhan Jayasinghe put it this way:

“The closer that Google and others get to reading real interaction, the better they will become at separating the sites that look relevant from the sites that are relevant. Inevitably, it will become ever more difficult to fake the quality of a web page.

Given that this is the case, by far the best way to rank highly for a given term is to offer what the search engines are getting progressively better at finding – content that is genuinely useful to those people searching for that term.”

How to come up with quality content is going to be the topic of my next installment! In the meantime, how did you manage to increase your web traffic? What worked for you and why? What was a waste of time and money?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS What makes people click? Click to find out!

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A Tempest in a Teapot?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Pay-to-Play 5 Comments

Ontario’s London Free Press called them “voice-over matchmakers”.

Back in 2003, David and Stephanie Ciccarelli created Voices.com out of their condo. At the time this blog was published in 2009, they had eight full-time staff and four computer developers on contract. David estimated about $11 million of business goes through the site annually.

If you’ve ever used their services, you know that Voices.com makes money from your subscription fees and from an optional 10% SurePay escrow fee on top of whatever the talent’s fee is, paid by the voice-seeker. According to the site:

“this Escrow fee is kept by Voices.com to cover the charges that we incur from holding the deposit for a period of time in a secure third party account”.

Stephanie Ciccarelli summarized my unease regarding audition submissions as follows:

“You’ve noted that many people are concerned to see that some of the past jobs they’ve auditioned for months ago have not yet progressed to awarding a talent, leaving them to wonder if a client is merely window-shopping or kicking tires, possibly also wondering if auditioning online is a waste of time.”

“According to a snapshot of statistics from the last four months (April 2009 through July 2009) tracking the completion rate of jobs posted at Voices.com, we can confirm that at any given stage, half of the open jobs are still being reviewed by their client and the other half are completed (that means a talent has been chosen), with over 2/3 of those completed jobs being verified and processed via SurePay.

Although this information is reassuring, we are aware that there is still room to improve and to grow.”

Stephanie cites a number of reasons as to why it appears that many voice-seekers on her site never seem to select a candidate. Allow me to paraphrase:

  1. Some clients, regardless of their deadlines for finding talent, may not have a pressing need to have their voice over recorded instantly. In other words: they file away the auditions until they are ready to hire. Sometimes this could take many months, but eventually, someone gets the job.
  2. Some clients use sites like voices.com, to find talent and they prefer to work with them off-site, leaving their job in an “Open” status (see the story of the Taylor family in my last blog). This explains why there are fewer “completed” jobs than there truly are.
  3. Some voice talents and/or voice seekers don’t want to use the SurePay system. If that’s the case, the job won’t be registered as completed.

VOICE-SEEKERS’ PERSPECTIVE

So far we’ve heard the story from the perspective of a voice talent and from representatives of several pay-to-play sites. Be sure to check out Voice123 Steven Lowell’s comments on my previous blog. What do voice-seekers make of all this?

A former casting director for a nationally known ad agency gave me permission to share his (or her) thoughts as long as he/she would remain anonymous.

“Agencies will do a lot of casting for projects they “hope” will become a client. They will hold auditions and actors will hold their breath (after creatives fawn all over them), expect a hold or booking….alas: no call! Of course it happens that another is booked, but it does also happen that no one is booked as the agency did not get the account or budget was cut.

It also happens that an audition is used as a demo in pitch for the account and the performer never knows about it. Top brass may not even know this practice is going on at his or her agency. The Head of production is calling the shots without others in chain of command knowing anything about you (performer) being screwed. You may have been instrumental in getting an account. When time came to cast for account, you may be forgotten for a more high profile talent.

I protested this practice (to the shock of the production chief), but it was an uphill battle to have any effect on this practice I did make some headway. In short: we don’t have many options in regard to this practice. Many agencies or agents don’t participate in this practice, but it does happen.”

ISSUE RESOLVED?

There you have it. Were these answers satisfying to you? Were my initial concerns justified or were they a tempest in a teapot? Do you feel that the major pay-to-play sites offer enough accountability and transparency? Even though they’re not our personal agents, we are paying them to provide a service, so we should have some say in how our money is spent. What suggestions do you have regarding this issue?

Please keep in mind that I am looking for constructive ideas. It’s always easy to blame someone or something else for our own lack of success. However, there are so many things we can do to increase our chances of being spotted and hired. We should never completely rely on these sites to bring in all the work.

As you have noticed, sites like voice123, voplanet and voices.com seem to be listening to us, and they don’t shy away from controversial topics. They are following up with job seekers, and they too have to work with ad agencies that are only using their service to test the waters.

And finally: as every matchmaker knows, no matter how carefully you select two interested parties, not every match ends in matrimony!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Since this article was published, many things have changed. I advise my readers to stay away from voices dot com because of highly unethical business practices.

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Are your auditions sucked into a black hole?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Pay-to-Play 10 Comments

John was a realtor.

The past couple of years had been the toughest ever.

Plenty of prospects; very few buyers. John had to work twice as hard and twice as long to woo aspiring home owners.

One day, his boss called him into the office and by the look on his face, he was not a happy camper. “John,” he said, “Do you have any idea how many leads you lost in the past three months?” “Well, maybe a few here and there,” said John. “I don’t really keep track.”

“What?” answered his boss angrily, “Are you telling me that you’ve spent hours researching homes and showing your clients house after house, and you have no clue how many sales opportunities you missed? Are you serious? How about the Taylors? They seemed ready to buy and they bailed out at the last moment. What went wrong?”

“Oh, I remember them” said John. “They backed out because they said the escrow fee was too high.” “That might be true” said his boss, “but do you want to know what really happened? After you had put in all your time and found them the perfect house, they walked out of our office and contacted the sellers directly. Two days later, the property was sold.”

JUST AN ANALOGY?

Of course I made this entire story up, and yet this scenario happens in voiceoverland each and every day. If you’ve taken a good look at your audition submissions of the past couple of months, doesn’t it seem like a majority has disappeared into a gigantic black hole?

As I mentioned in my first blog about this topic: most of my submissions didn’t result in an actual booking, not because the job was awarded to another talent, but because the voice-shopper never became a buyer. How did I know? Because months after the deadline for a project had past, still no talent had been selected for the job.

It turns out that I’m not alone. Many of you have vented your frustration and are demanding an explanation. That’s why I brought the matter up with three pay-to-play sites. I specifically asked them about their “conversion rate.” That’s the term marketing professionals use when a prospective consumer takes the intended action. I particularly wanted to know the percentage of voice-seekers who had become voice-buyers.

THE INDUSTRY RESPONDS

Mike Gomez works for www.voice123.com. His initial response was:

“We have around 4,000 active Premium subscribers on the site and these are the stats we keep regarding hirings:

50% – book at least 1 a month

30% – book between 1 & 5 a month

20% – book more than 5 a month”

That didn’t tell me anything about the percentage of job offers that actually lead to bookings. So, I tried again and Mike sent me the following reply:

“(…) those are the numbers we have, since we don’t control who gets hired, why and when but only seekers do, we currently have no accurate way to account for this.  Although we do know most jobs are granted on the site because we see talents are renewing constantly since our sales have been growing constantly through the months and the only way talents have money to renew is if they get work.”

Let’s do the math here. 4000 Premium subscribers times $299.00 (the voice123 annual subscription fee). That’s one million, one hundred ninety six thousand dollars. Yet, they have no “accurate way to account for who gets hired.”

There’s no doubt in my mind that voice123 has earned its spot in the market place. But the fact that people continue to renew their membership doesn’t tell me a whole lot about the effectiveness of the service voice123 provides. One does not measure the success of a temp agency by the number of job seekers in the database, but by the number of real jobs these people find through the agency.

WHAT VOPLANET ARE YOU FROM?

Donna Summers is the president of VoiceCasting and partner at www.voplanet.com. This is what she told me about her companies’ conversion rate:

“Because we deal with large production companies and ad agencies for the most part, virtually all the auditions we do are for actual jobs.  It is rare that an ad agency would take the time, effort and money it takes to put together an ad campaign, hire a copyrighter to write the script, get as far as voicing it and then completely dump it.

If one of our talents gets the job, we are of course, thrilled.  If the client books elsewhere, we do call and thank the client for the opportunity and ask who booked the job.  In answering your question, Paul, I would have to say that 100% with a little margin for error would be the number of auditions that actually become jobs.”

VERIFICATION

As a former journalist, I have to add that there is no independent way of verifying these statements, especially because both companies don’t seem to have a conversion monitoring mechanism in place. There actually is software to keep track of these things. QVC uses it and so does Amazon.com. In fact, most e-commerce site tracks their transactions at least on a daily basis.

So, how would you evaluate whether or not your investment in a particular pay-to-play site is worthwhile? Without a clear conversion rate, you can only base your decision on:

  • Previous personal experience
  • Anecdotal evidence
  • Testimonials & recommendations
  • The reputation of the company
  • Trust and gut feeling
  • The size of your wallet

 

SLICING THE BREAD

The Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza once said:

“Life is like bread – no matter how thin you slice it, there are always two sides.

In my next installment, you can read the response of the www.voices.com team, as well as the revelations of an “Ad man.”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Where Voice-Over Casting Sites Fail

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Pay-to-Play 9 Comments

 A rude awakening.

There is no other way to describe it.

This morning I decided to take a closer look at one of the voice-over casting websites I subscribe to, and I particularly looked at all the auditions I had submitted in the past couple of months. What I discovered didn’t exactly make my day. Here’s why.

In four months, I had submitted a total of 185 auditions. For about 80% of these job offers, the indicated deadline had passed. In other words: one might assume that the client would have hired a voice by now.

However, much to my surprise, I noticed that in only 10% of the above cases a talent had actually been selected. Mind you, not every selection ends in a booking. When I looked even deeper into the postings that never lead to anything, it got worse. I saw that at least half of those had over one hundred submissions!

THE BOTTOM LINE: a majority of auditions didn’t result in an actual booking, not because the job was awarded to another talent, but because the voice-shopper never became a buyer. In most cases, the client had plenty of talent to choose from. And with 100+ submissions per project, bidding must have been fierce. What’s going on here?

At least four things came to mind:

  1. Is this an overall trend or is it unique to my situation?
  2. These missed opportunities mean a huge loss in revenue for the site in question, as well as for the subscribers who pay to play, and not to be thrown away.
  3. There’s tremendous untapped potential! Why are some sites barely scratching the surface of a goldmine?
  4. What can be done to turn browsers into buyers?

BATTING AVERAGE

To take up the last question first, this refers to what marketing guru’s call the “conversion rate.”  Consumer behavior expert Paco Underhill is the author of “Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping.” He writes:

“Conversion rate measures what you make of what you have- it shows how well (or how poorly) the entire enterprise is functioning where it counts most: in the store. Conversion rate is to retail what batting average is to baseball -without knowing it, you can say that somebody had a hundred hits last season, but you don’t know whether he had three hundred at-bats, or a thousand. Without conversion rate, you don’t know if you’re Mickey Mantle or Mickey Mouse.

One could also describe conversion rate is as “the percentage of visitors who take the action you wish for.” In the case of this blog, I hope my readers will leave a comment, become a subscriber and visit the rest of my website. Of course I also hope you find my writings entertaining and that you take away something useful. But what I’m ultimately aiming for is “engagement.” Remember that. I’ll get back to it later.

JUST LOOKING

It’s obvious that the conversion rate of the voice-over website I mentioned in the intro left a lot to be desired for. Yet, it’s nothing new for an internet-based business. Here’s the deal. This “just looking” behavior is ubiquitous online. That’s inherent to the medium. It gets worse, though. Some studies suggest that over half of all online shoppers abandon their carts part way through the check out process. Why is that?

The beginning of an answer to that question lies in the “interception rate,” the percentage of customers who have some contact with an employee. Paco Underhill:

“The more shopper-employee contacts that take place, the greater the average sale. Talking with an employee has a way of drawing a customer in closer. With no sales assistance it could be the difference between a conversion rate of 22 percent and a conversion rate that’s 50 to 60%.”

So, let me ask you this: when’s the last time you went on an online shopping spree, and had any type of interaction with an employee?

Where’s the engagement? Where’s the relationship? Where’s the interception?

Now, let’s go one step further and bring this closer to home. If you are a voice-over actor with a personal website or a blog, do you know your conversion rate? If not, wouldn’t you want to know? Do you even know how to measure your visitor’s response? I could care less about the number of hits you get on an average day, or your ranking on Bing. Bing doesn’t pay your bills. Don’t get me wrong: getting people in the door is a promising start. Keeping them inside is even better. Getting them to take action is the ultimate goal.

Here’s the 64 thousand dollar question: How do you do that? If customer-interception plays such a big part in increasing your sales, is such a thing even realistic in an anonymous, impersonal virtual world? How could you possibly turn browsers into buyers? Be sure to check out my next installment!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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