Two weeks ago, the following ad appeared on one of the freelance work sites. While it wasn’t on a site aimed solely at voiceover talent, it prompted me to write about the time required for audiobook production.
Hello. I am looking to turn 14000 word e-books into audio and or video format, this will be ongoing work i know it is a simple process to do and can be done free with max and or various softwares, if you have the knowledge and have done this before please reply this will be ongoing work i will pay $40 per e-book converted into audio. If you have a sample of your work please provide it this will help me make my dicission. [sic]
In reading this ad, I’m not clear what kind of work is actually requested. I’m not even sure the ad’s author knows what s/he wants. However, 2 things are immediately evident to me:
- a 14,000-word book is about 1.5 hours of finished audio narration
- $40 is entirely too little pay to even consider narrating this e-book
Paul Strikwerda, a Pennsylvania voice talent and thought-provoking blogger, wrote a most excellent and thorough analysis of the recording aspect of audiobook work titled Breaking down an audio book rate. He outlines the process for estimating the finished run time and consequently a recording rate based on the pages and words in a book. It’s a terrific article that I wish I had written, and I highly encourage you to read it and his other articles about setting rates.
But Paul’s article only tells half the story. What about the editing and production aspects of audiobook work?
Since I usually work alone in my stunning soundproof studio, I have to consider my total time commitment when submitting a bid on audiobook work. My rule-of-thumb is that each finished hour of audio requires 4 hours of real time to create: 1.5-2 hours to record and 2 hours to edit. While editing, you must consider the overall story flow when determining tracks, as well as editing pauses for dramatic effect.
If the person who wrote the ad above is expecting a voice talent to narrate his e-book, I can easily estimate that I might need 6 hours in my studio to complete the process. If I divide 6 into 40, I get an hourly rate of $6.66. If that rate looks like a devilish number, consider this point: At this moment, the US federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.
Do you really want to do voiceover or audiobook work so much that you’re willing to make less than minimum wage?
The example Paul used in his blog is a book that would run about 8.33 hours of finished time. I don’t think even the world’s most accomplished narrator could record an 8-hour book in 10 hours. Not only might the narrator stumble on words, but other influences can stop the recording, like growling stomachs, external noise, and calls of nature. In addition, the vocal chords grow tired after hours of recording. Furthermore, errors like mispronunciations and incorrect inflections are caught during the editing process that must re-recorded and inserted into the edited material. Using my time commitment formula with Paul’s sample book, I would actually expect to spend over 33 hours in my studio to complete the assignment!
Establishing rates is always a concern for voice talent and all freelance professionals. Whether you’re quoting rates for audiobooks or some other kind of long-form narration, don’t be afraid to set a rate that truly compensates you for your time spent on the project.
PS. Speaking of time commitments, I wrote this article on 15 November but haven’t made time to record it. I decided I’d rather post it for you now without the accompanying narration than continue to delay its publication.
Paul Strikwerda says
Thank you so much for your kind words, Karen. I’ve actually updated my blog on audio books. I totally agree with you that I have low balled my 8.33 hour estimate. It does not even include the time needed to prepare for the recording.
I recently 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 scrips 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 (unpaid) time.
With this in mind, I am absolutely stunned by the number people on a P2P such as voices.com, who are auditioning for 300-page audio books in the $500-$750 range. What are they thinking? They’re either incredibly naive or very desperate or both.
I’m also not pleased with a site like voices.com for allowing voice-seekers to post projects at rates that are insulting and disrespectful to their members. What’s the use of having ‘suggested minimum rates’ on a site, if that site isn’t willing to uphold them? It seems to me that these ‘suggested rates’ might be out there to give aspiring members an incentive to sign up for their service: “Look how much you can make in the voice-over business, guys! All you need is a credit card, a computer and a mic…”
It’s like promising diners a gourmet meal, but once inside, the hungry eaters find themselves in a fast food place.
Ultimately, it’s up to you and me whether or not we’re willing to allow voice-seekers to hire us for a handout. We’re independent contractors, and if we want to undercut the competition, nobody is going to stop us. However, this short-term thinking based on personal gain only, is poisoning the well all of us are drinking out of.
Greetings, Paul! I’m delighted that you saw this article and have provided such detailed, insightful comments here in addition to your wonderful blog post! Your point about the research time for audiobooks is well-taken, especially since I don’t include prep time in my production formula. I like to read a book twice before recording it: once for the story-line and once for character analysis and voice development, script notation (yep, lots of color here, too), and pronunciation research. Obviously, if you pay a separate director and/or engineer on an audiobook project, your costs will escalate.
I hope that articles like yours and mine will educate both the buyers and other voice talent about the level of effort needed to create an audiobook recording. An audiobook is a thing of art that could last into perpetuity. If it’s worth hearing, it’s worth doing right. And if it’s worth doing right, it’s worth being paid a fair price for the time and work involved.
Thanks again for your insight, and best wishes for your continued success!
Debra Stamp says
Nice discussion, Karen and Paul.
Both of you have generously and candidly shared valuable information about the FULL story behind audiobook production and the pricing challenges that exist in the VO biz.
As a fellow VO colleague, I applaud your blogging efforts and share in your frustration.
Keep delivering your best… and charging for it!
Greetings, Debra! Shared knowledge is a powerful thing, especially if it can help other folks. I appreciate your kind comments and wish you every continued success!