On February 11, 2011, VOICES.COM released new numbers testifying to the success of the company.
There’s every reason to congratulate the owners, David and Stephanie Ciccarelli. They proudly announced “$39,290,580 in Total Earnings by Voice Talent at Voices.com.”
Some commentators concluded that the data in the report are a summary of this company’s past year in business, but Stephanie Ciccarelli states:
“These numbers are based upon the last several years of data we’ve collected at the site.”
What does she mean by that?
Voices.com has been in business since 2003, starting as “Interactive Voices”. In September 2006, Interactive Voices became voices.com.
The new report speaks of:
“155,915 All-time number of jobs awarded to voice talent.”
In 2011, voices.com stated on their About-page that they are “creating 6911 job opportunities on average, each and every month.” My calculator tells me that this adds up to an average of 82,932 jobs per year.
How did voices.com arrive at 155,915? The verbiage “All-time number of jobs” suggests that they started counting from the very first day of business. Was that in 2003 or as of September 2006? Let’s do the numbers:
155,915 : 7 years = an average of 22,273 jobs per year (2003-2010)
155,915 : 3 years = an average of 51,971 jobs per year (2007-2010)
And what about $39,290,580 in total earnings? Is that also “based upon the last several years of data”?
It’s impossible to put these numbers into proper perspective if we don’t know what time period we’re talking about. That’s exactly the problem I have with most of the numbers coming from voices.com. I’m not saying that they are pulled out of a hat, but they lack clarity and context and they don’t always stand up to simple scrutiny.
The same can be said about their “Annual Report on the Voice Over Industry.” It is not compiled by an established, independent market research firm, but by the CEO of voices.com, David Ciccarelli.
As long as we cannot independently verify the numbers, or get a clear sense of the time period during which these data were collected, I choose to look at these reports as marketing tools, more than anything else.
Stephanie Ciccarell broke down the $39,290,580 in Total Earnings by Voice Talent at voices.com.
“On average” -she writes- “a voice talent made $252.97 per job” using their service.
I haven’t been keeping track of the voices.com numbers over time, but it would be interesting to see whether or not the average payment per job went up or down since 2003, and if so, by how much.
Stephanie Ciccarelli concludes:
“10,000+ people have earned a respectable income from doing voice overs with Voices.com serving as a key part of their marketing strategy.”
Once again, the numbers are vague and note that the term “respectable income” is not defined.
Here’s one scenario:
Let’s assume a talent lands one job per week on voices.com at $252.97. That would bring in $13,154.44 per year.
The talent decides to use the voices.com SurePay escrow system, at a 10% fee per job, costing him $1315.44. This brings the gross income down to $11.839.00. Subtract 10% for expenses and we’re left with: $10,649.10. Subtract from that amount $1504 in self-employment taxes and we arrive at a grand total of $9,149.10.
Would you call that a “respectable” income?
The 2011 Federal Poverty Guidelines of The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services puts the income level at $10,890 for a one person household.
Of course this is a theoretical example. Some voices.com jobs pay a lot more and some pay a lot less. No professional voice-over talent should entirely depend on one source to generate leads and make a living. At the same time, not everyone will land one gig a week using voices.com. Stephanie did write:
“10,000+ people have earned a respectable income from doing voice overs with Voices.com.”
In his analysis of the report, colleague Peter O’Connel comments:
Taking the Voices.com figure ($252.97), as a P2P industry average – that figure, I believe, doesn’t reflect what the voice over customer market “dictates”.
I believe it reflects what the voice over customer market “can get away with” with the help of the pay to play (P2P) business model.
ADDING IT ALL UP
There’s no doubt about it: voices.com has become one of the market leaders in online voice casting. That role comes with responsibilities. Market leaders have the clout to be trend setters and “power pricers”.
Voices.com has become more than a neutral playing field where supply meets demand. It has developed into a game changer that can write the rules of engagement by dictating the terms and conditions.
One of those conditions is “a minimum project posting requirement for any job posted publicly and this amount is $100.” By the way, this doesn’t mean that a voice seeker can’t go any lower than that. Voices.com states:
“If your budget is lower than $100 then you may post a job privately using the Request Quote function within our search engine or you may email talent directly with your project details and budget.”
Critics feel that the Pay to Play business model is in part to blame for the steady decline in voice-over rates and professional standards. Peter O’Connell:
I don’t believe or financially support any service in which voice talent “pays to play” i.e. pays a subscription to receive auditions. I believe such services lower the rate expectations of potential clients because so many voice talents who swim in the pay to play pool low ball their rates out of what I feel is a kind of sad desperation for revenue of any kind.
The pay to play model negatively impacts the voice over business and its practitioners, in my opinion.
It has been suggested that if voices.com is really interested in their members making a “respectable income,” they should start by raising that $100 minimum rate immediately.
Secondly, as of 2015, voices.com claims it has a global network of over 125,000 members. I used to be one of them. I think the members should expect and demand a lot more transparency and accountability when it comes to numbers.
As voices.com so aptly pointed out: they did not make $39,290,580 in total earnings.
Their members did.
Peter K. O'Connell says
I appreciate your insights and I cannot say with complete certainty what I am about to say is true BUT it seems that Voices.com is the only on-line service that puts these stats out there.
It is possible Voice 123 has put these kinds of numbers out and I just haven’t seen them (hence my “complete certainty” comment). From personal experience, Voices 123 has a long standing credibility problem in my eyes so I don’t tend to follow their information.
My point here is only that while I agree there is certainly a marketing component to this information (there but for the grace of God go any of us fellow marketers! :)) I also get the sense that there is at least the attempt at minimal transparency here on the part of Voices.com.
I also think that Voices.com will likely clarify these numbers a bit to make their point more succinctly. Of course, that’s up to them.
Finally, I want to clarify that my opinion on this business model cuts across ALL P2P sites and is not meant as a sole indictment against Voices.com. While there I companies in that field I might like to indict, Voices.com is not one of them. While I made that point in my blog post, I just wanted to expose that point for your readers here.
Thanks for another great post.
Paul Strikwerda says
Thanks for your clarification, Peter. You pretty much started your post with a number of disclaimers. I quote:
I also want to make clear that I don’t have anything against anyone working for voices.com, and I truly admire how they have taken this company from zero to making millions in a number of years.
I purposefully steered away from any comparison between the various voice casting sites. Voices.com released the numbers and that’s what I was commenting on.
Although I also applaud the fact that the Ciccarelli’s did provide some insight into the state of their business, I really don’t know what to make of the numbers. If voices.com were a publicly-traded company, they’d need to provide their shareholders with a lot more detailed information.
Paul Strikwerda says
As a “valued member” I just received an offer from voices.com to join the Platinum club. Is this a golden opportunity, or should I spend my hard-earned money elsewhere? Are there any members of this exclusive club out there that would like to weigh in on the issue?
I realize that I sometimes may come across as a pain in the tush. It’s true, I do like to check the Emperor out and see if he’s wearing any new clothes. I’ve been a journalist for too long, not to do that.
Holding numbers up to the light is my right, and I am ready to stand corrected, should my conclusions turn out to be completely off the mark.
Stone Jackson says
First the grabber:
Paul, take your hard earned money and take the wife out for a lovely dinner!
To what extent the loveliness will manifest, I can’t say as I could not find any reference to platinum memberships on the voices.com site. This latest shrouded marketing gem from ownership at this particular pay to play site just furthers my distaste for this business model.
I have never been a member of Voices 123…only voices.com.
Hence, I can only comment on personal experience with them…(interestingly enough, the more I chin wag with colleagues about this messiah to the vo world-the more I find I am hardly alone in my opinion of P2P vo sites).
I am a proud FORMER MEMBER of voices.com
The experience was insulting to me. On not only a professional level but a personal one as well. I’m no superstar but I do ok…like my colleauges, I work my butt off and rarely take a day off from something to do with voice over.
Like my peers, I run my own vo business and also receive professional representation from agencies in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. I maintained a membership with voices.com for 18 months. In that time, my auditions clocked in just shy of 200. Paid gigs clocked in at…four!
I kept hearing stories from a couple of friends of mine in the business and also a project manager (who is mandated by her company to use voices.com) about the not so shiny side…in other words the real deal with voices.com
So i tested the waters myself, posted a couple of voice over ads and wow…my colleagues told no lie. The undercutting was atrocious!! As was much of the audio I received. Not only in ability but quality. Tin can recordings, hiss that would make a rattlesnake jump and yes many many amateur offerings. I received between 75 and 112 auditions for my postings. Along with the audio came low balling like I never imagined. I received several cover letters which amounted to begging to do the job for ONE DOLLAR so the individual could finally get a pro gig on their resume!
I now began to understand fully why on several occasions I received private invitations from clients whom I’d never auditioned for (but liked my demos) to record their ad for THIRTY DOLLARS. My answer was a tactful NO WAY!
With all due respect to Peter, I have a hard time distinguishing the Ciccarelli’s as good guys when they know full well that THEY benefit from preying on dreams, that just aren’t meant for the overwhelming MAJORITY of their membership – never mind a RESPECTABLE LIVING .The model serves them…and according to their numbers (wink) serves them very well.
David and Stephanie are fully aware that they have cheapened and devalued the vo industry. Plain and simple they figured out how to exploit vo make a killing – and with relentless overbearing marketing – they’ve made sure of it. Hey look, over 1 billion Big Macs have been served…doesn’t mean they are any good or good for you.
On another front, I too was treated to “valued member” offers Paul in the form of emails and intrusive marketing upsell phone calls. Yet when it came to any legitimate attempt at discussion about vo…haha, foegetaboudit!
Politics and religion…don’t talk about it.
The last straw was when I received a mass email from Stephanie
in December of 2009 that was for the sole purpose of preaching her Christian religious beliefs! I could not believe it!! Unprofessional, inappropriate and uninvited were the nice words that came to mind.
Apparently, David and Stephanie are both devout Christians.
I informed voices.com of my irritation over this blatant error in judgment and requested that my membership not be renewed. If it’s one thing I’ve learned about voices.com is they get very nervous when an industry pro calls a spade a spade. They’ve censored others who have posted on their facebook page who dare to question they’re ethics. Anyway, after my request, I went into my voices.com account to delete it when a notice appeared on my screen that I was not allowed access as my profile had been SUSPENDED!
Punishment from the heavens? A cyber epiphany? Sigh, God only knows.
Have a wonderful Paul!
Happy and successful voicing everyone!
Vancouver BC Canada
Paul Strikwerda says
Hi Stone, thank you so much for sharing your experiences from both sides of the studio window. A lot of us wonder: what happens when someone posts a job on a site like voices.com? Is there really a feeding frenzy going on among talent hoping to break into the business? Is the overall quality of auditions really that low?
Every generalization is risky because we will never get the full picture. However, your story is one more piece in the Pay to Play puzzle that may help people decide whether or not it’s worthwhile paying almost 300 dollars per year for (or $1995).
What I don’t understand is that voices.com offers so many excellent free resources to talent, helping people to become more professional, and yet -as you have noticed- there seems to be no quality control. Anyone with a credit card, a computer and a mic is welcome to live their dream.
I can’t imagine what it must be like to have to listen to over 100 auditions, hoping for a gem. Why not call an agent and you’ll get a shortlist of talent, all capable of doing the job? Yes, they might charge more, but you’re not wasting your time listening and separating the wheat from the chaff. And time is money.
I won’t even get into the proselytization you were subjected to. I will avoid that religiously, as a matter of policy.
My wife will be grateful for your very first suggestion. We’ll have a post-Valentine celebration with candlelight and profiteroles!
Stone Jackson says
Absolutely right Paul! And I’m glad you reminded me of that.
VDC does provide FREE OF CHARGE a lot of downloadable fundamental tips and quick facts etc that are geared toward someone venturing into the glamorous world of vo. I believe practice scripts are also available. Though, when you open your mind and eyes to voice over…you realize that the cereal box makes a good practice script too as you slowly come into your morning consciousness.
But I digress. Much to my surprise, after the suspension of my account, I recall receiving a “Sorry to see you go” form letter inviting me to download all this informative material as a token of their appreciation. Because after all, we are all valued members ; )
I read over the material and there’s some good stuff in there. But for those who are bold and industrious in stripe – you can find all that and more just by creatively researching on the internet. And along the way, maybe introduce yourself to a congenial vo pro blogger or two who would be happy to answer a couple of your questions.
Happy and successful voicing all!
Stone Jackson says
Your most welcome…and may cupid smile upon your petit four!
Helen Lloyd says
Thank you for this Paul – it has clarified what was lurking at the back of my mind – I have not gone down the P2P route in the past, and this discussion has strengthened my resolve not to join in this exploitative game in the future!
Unfortunately, the company for whom I have done most of my work for over the past ten years is now no more, so I guess I am feeling the pressure a little. However, I am prepared for an earnings dip (hopefully temporarily) and will concentrate all my efforts on getting quality representation and doing some self-marketing!
But first a little holiday!
James Dawson says
I, too, tried both voices123.com and voices.com and found them unsuitable for my needs and unproductive. I canceled both accounts and only recently found that my demo was still active on Voices.com. When I inquired as to why, they explained I was downgraded to a “guest account” (I think they called it.)
To me listing non active voice actors is a bit disingenuous from the point of view of the prospective producer who might choose to list a project with them.
I also have to mention that before pursuing a full time career as a voice actor I began writing a column on Macintosh computers and voice recording as I was working at a private college at the time as a Macintosh tech. When I decided to sign up I asked Stephanie about a discount, a little quid pro quo. She politely declined. Obviously, I did not continue providing free content.
Given the fact that none of the members of management have any substantial experience in advertising, marketing, public relations or network television, I have to wonder about their sustainability. Their business plans echo the pump and dump plans of the dot com 90’s. Build a large user base, garner tech industry awards that have nothing to with the quality of the service they provide, and look to be acquired by a larger corporation.
Paul Strikwerda says
Thanks for sharing your experience with voices.com, James. Talent can be listed on this site free of charge, and voice-seekers may contact them privately. Guest members cannot respond to the daily stream of auditions.
Voices.com is certainly cashing in on the trend of new narrators entering the voice-over field. It’s an entry level enterprise for entry level talent willing to work at (mostly) entry level rates.
The Canadian husband and wife team have done well in a matter of a few years, and from a business perspective, I have to admire their success. However, voices.com is not the neutral facilitator it claims to be.
Angela DeNiro says
Wow…sorry, but I don’t agree with your take on the voices.com site. I first signed up in 2009 for a “free” account, and took advantage of all the wonderful resources, videos, articles, and scripts that were available. I also listened to hundreds of the top voice artists that were featured…what an opportunity to study those who know what they’re doing!
I already had my own recording studio, but after a year, I bought a great microphone, and a subscription to the site. You are right; at first, all I did was audition, and nothing happened. But for good reason. I had no experience auditioning online, and my first auditions, when I listened to them later that year, were absolutely awful.
I did get hired though, and it has been an amazing experience ever since. Success builds on success…and I now have a lovely voiceover business, running from my own home recording studio. Voices.com stands behind me, and makes sure that I am dealt with like a professional, and I always get paid. That doesn’t happen when you are on other ptp sites, or on your own. It’s like the Wild West sometimes.
I invested in the Platinum subscription a few months ago…I’ll let you know how that works out. In the meantime, maybe you should give them another try. They work very hard to keep both their talent and clients happy, and they do it with a great deal of integrity!
Paul Strikwerda says
Hi Angela, thank you so much for taking the time to read my blog and congratulations on your success! I never ask my readers to agree with me and I can see where you’re coming from. A few years ago, voices.com even awarded me a prize for giving the best endorsement of their site!
If you select all the articles I wrote about voices.com and other Pay-to-Plays in the past (look for them under ‘categories’), you will see that I have continued to praise them for certain aspects of their business. Their resources are indeed phenomenal and even in the article above, I take my hat off for what the Ciccarelli’s have accomplished.
With these accomplishments come things like responsibility and accountability. Voices.com could have contested my numbers and my conclusions, but has chosen not to. You are free to disagree and if you can show me the data to prove me wrong, I will publish them in a heartbeat.
Every VO professional has to decide what constitutes a good return on investment. For some, a voices.com membership is a great way to break into the business. Voice-over veteran Peter O’Connell decided to give voices.com one more 30-trial and he managed to land zero jobs in that time. And it can’t be for lack of talent.
I’m in fact still a member of the site and (unfortunately) I’m with Peter. I also agree with his observations as quoted in my article. We can have respect for the hard work of the voices.com team, and still believe that their business model impacts the voice over community as a whole, negatively.
Do let me know how this Platinum membership works out!
Honest Rob says
You are right on the nose.
Voices and voice 123 are a race to the bottom and the beginning of the end of real talent being developed.
When folks will do jobs FOR FREE just to get a “professional job”, that’s when you know the system is broken.
When ANY voice casting website allows for jobs to be listed for just $100 OR LESS, we know the website does NOT have the Actor’s best interests in mind.
Funny, considering the fact that Voices.com’s owners are so religious, you’d think they’d have a moral problem from exploiting actors under the guise of ‘helping them” get work.
I tend to stay away from P2P ANYTHING. If there is someone getting a better deal in it than the Actor, it’s the WRONG place to be.
Paul Strikwerda says
Thanks for your honest answer, Rob. A race to the bottom wouldn’t be much of a race without people willing to run it. That’s why I’m not pointing the finger at the P2P’s alone. As long as members are willing to work for bargain basement rates, there will be a service enabling them to do so.
Michael Minetree says
Paul – you couldn’t be more correct here… The numbers have always been inflated bull from the start. There aren’t 100,000 members – or even that many happy customers. Sounds like the way McDonalds counts burgers served.
I cast talent all week, every week and out of the 150 or so on my internal roster there are only 6 or 8 that get hired regularly. That’s how few actually make the grade. It’s simply impossible to think that many viable voices exist – even world wide. And even more impossible that a fraction of that number are really worth a listen.
It’s all just stupid blathering. They know it. We know it.. Thanks for taking the time to write about it. I too collect a lot of statistical information derived from web traffic – and I can say with some confidence that those numbers are simply bunk.