Many new audiobook publishers are only offering a royalty-share model of payment. In this model, the narrator is not paid anything up front and is instead paid a percentage of royalties based on the sales of the audiobook.
Some people would get irate at the very idea of doing any work without guaranteed payment. They would rant and rave that taking a royalty-share deal makes one a low-baller, someone who is selfishly going to destroy the whole voiceover industry by not charging the appropriate rate.
I’ve seen these kinds of arguments in on-line voiceover forums so many times, and I’m not looking to start one here! It’s my intention to present reasons on both sides of the table to help you make an informed decision.
Many voice talent are understandably reluctant to undertake this kind of work due to the tremendous amount of time required to produce a quality audiobook.
I can think of 4 other big reasons not to accept a royalty-share agreement:
1) The material doesn’t interest me.
I am very selective about the scripts I perform, especially when it comes to an audiobook. Since you aren’t guaranteed to make any money, the book can truly be considered a labor of love. Still, I want my audiobooks to emphasize the LOVE part and not the LABOR!
Although I didn’t know it when I accepted the projects, the first 2 audiobooks I performed were thinly veiled religious sermons. They also contained about 80% dialogue with a lot of “walk-on” characters whose sole purpose was to advance the plot. I truly struggled in my motivation to finish the books.
After those experiences, I know to use the “Look Inside” feature on Amazon to see how the book flows. If the book looks unappealing, it’s not worth it to me to spend my time on it, regardless of whether I’m paid per finished hour or on a royalty-share basis.
2) The material is not suited for audio.
Point number 3 in this article will give you an idea of the kinds of books that wouldn’t make good audiobooks.
3) The audio publisher has limited distribution methods.
I have accepted royalty-share agreements on ACX.com because Audible.com is the undisputed leader of audiobook distribution. I know my audiobooks will be distributed on Amazon, Audible, and iTunes. I also can have faith in Audible’s accounting and payment processes.
I have passed on royalty-share agreements offered by new publishers with no track record.
4) You have responsibility for all of the roles: narrator, audio engineer, producer, director, pronunciation researcher, quality control listener, and marketer. If you can’t outsource some of the functions, do you have the time and are you comfortable in performing all of them?
On the other hand, I can also think of 5 good reasons to accept a royalty-share narration:
1) You can create something of permanence that will be enjoyed for years to come.
Not only are the listeners able to enjoy your audiobook, but you may find that you enjoy a recurring, passive income stream from its sales.
2) It’s a great way to improve your workflow and become a specialist.
You also can explore new genres to see how well you like the material.
3) Productivity equals success.
According to Lee Tobin McClain in her article The Key to Success: Write More!: Artistic and scientific achievers from Picasso to Da Vinci didn’t succeed more, percentage-wise, than other now-unknown creators of their eras; they simply produced more, and thus had more successes.
She goes on to offer 8 ways to increase your productivity. While her tips are aimed at writers, voice talent can extrapolate from them and apply the ideas to our businesses.
For instance, you can build an expectant audience (i.e., a fan base) with a royalty-share book. I actually did this with a book I performed for LibriVox. I’ve seen reviews of the book and even received fan mail!
4) What you put out in the world comes back to you.
I gave that LibriVox audiobook to the world after reading the advice of Eckhart Tolle. I’ve decided that I would rather get a commercial credit on a royalty-share audiobook than produce another book for the public domain. I have seen my LibriVox audiobook for sale on eBay, but that point doesn’t trouble me.
The commercial credits are important so that I can become an Audible Approved Producer and meet membership requirements for The Recording Academy. Nobody cares how or when I was paid for my commercial credits.
5) You’re planting seeds for a future harvest. You never know where the decision will lead.
In his wonderful autobiography Up Till Now, William Shatner wasn’t talking about audiobooks when he wrote these compelling words, yet his wisdom about taking risks certainly applies to this situation:
In 1968 Decca Records asked me if I was interested in doing an album. I hesitated, I wasn’t a singer — but then it was pointed out to me that the first note in the musical scale is do…
What I decided to was find a selection of beautiful writing and use that as a lead-in to a song that complemented it…Apparently it was a bit obtuse…for most people….
I’d taken a creative risk. I’d tried to do something unique, something very different. And I’d learned very early in my acting career that you can’t improve without taking risks…
Decades later, my debut album “The Transformed Man” would lead directly to one of the most successful commercial ventures of my career — and another album!…
It turned out that the copywriter on the [Priceline] account, Ernest Lupinacci, was a big fan of my 1968 album “The Transformed Man”.
I am absolutely fascinated as I look over my shoulder at my past at how the simplest decisions I’ve made have had the most complex reactions. A career is a series of connected events. So when I turned down an offer, I wasn’t simply rejecting a job and paycheck, I was completely eliminating the possibility that it might lead to something else. When you turn down an opportunity to work, you’re also turning down an experience, maybe even an adventure, and a universe of possibilities.
Two footnotes on Shatner’s story:
- I recommend that you listen to his audiobook rather than read the book. Hearing him tell his story in his often-imitated but imcomparable style is a true pleasure!
- That fabulous gig as Priceline’s spokesperson is about to end, but it lasted for 14 YEARS! Think how much money he made just from that one enterprise! And he never would have had it if he hadn’t taken a risk.
I’m not saying that people shouldn’t expect payment up-front for an audiobook. I am simply encouraging you to explore the possibility of narrating a book on a royalty-share agreement. Only you can decide how best to build your business. You may find that doing one or more royalty-share audiobooks is a better building block than you had imagined!
Have you done any audiobooks on royalty-share agreements? I’d love to get your comments on the blog!
Paul Strikwerda says
Excellent article, Karen. Many ACX-narrators will recognize your list of pros and cons. Here are some of my thoughts:
1. As full-time VO’s, we run for-profit businesses, and as any other entrepreneur we take risks. For that we are compensated. Some of these risks will pay off. Others won’t. That’s part of the game. The more experience we gain, the better we usually get at selecting money-making projects. Because our risks are greater compared to those with regular jobs, our compensation should be greater, if only to offset the inevitable losses.
Rather than randomly auditioning for every title in the catalogue, I thoroughly research potential titles to find a winner. I look at the popularity and reputation of the writer, how well the actual book has sold and at the publisher. Just because I can, doesn’t mean I have to record a particular book.
You’re right: every decision has hidden consequences. Closing the door to one project opens a door to another project that might eventually lead to something even greater.
2. ACX is trying to offset the royalty-share risk by offering stipends of $100 per finished hour for certain titles. Audio books have never been a get-rich-quick-scheme and stipends won’t change that. But a royalty-share with stipend is better than a royalty-share without it. Ideally, I’d like to get paid a decent amount upfront AND get a share of the profits once the book has been published. ACX: why does it have to be either/or?
3. Throughout the week I take on multiple voice-over projects that do not interest me. Those are often the projects I learn from the most, intellectually. As a voice-actor, it would be nice to be able to choose scripts that resonate with me. At the same time I’m getting paid to sound as if I’m interested and knowledgeable, no matter the content. If I’d only be recording things based on personal preference, I’d be out of a job.
4. Productivity rarely equals success. Quantity never trumps quality. Past experience is not always a good metaphor for present experience.
J.S. Bach taught us that one can be prolific and consistently deliver high-quailty work. In order to pull that off, one already has to be an expert, if not a genius.
The great artists of the past were often sponsored by rich benefactors such as the Vatican. That way, they could devote their lives to art without having to struggle to make ends meet. Others like Bach, had full-time jobs. Besides, they didn’t have the daily distractions of Facebook and television to deal with. In many ways, life was a lot simpler and people had more time on their hands.
Nowadays, we want things to be fast and fabulous. That’s why we’re producing so much crap!
5. As a professional narrator, engineer and editor, I’m no different than a surgeon or a plumber. I’m not getting paid to learn on the job. I’m getting paid to do the job to the very best of my abilities.
I read the audio book questions from beginning narrators on Facebook and other groups. Some people eagerly accepted an offer and start recording, only to discover how little they actually know about the audio production process. After all, anyone can read, right? How hard could this be?
If you’re not ready for the road, don’t start driving!
6. Planting seeds is essential, and the quality of the seed will determine the quality of the plant that grows out of it. Secondly, it’s important to select the right season and environment to increase the chances of that seed growing into a strong tree.
Greetings, Paul! Thanks so much for your most thoughtful reply.
Like you, I research a book carefully before auditioning for it on ACX. I agree completely with your point that narrators should be paid both a decent amount for the production and royalties based on sales. At some point, you and I will be such forces in the industry that we can dictate our terms! 🙂
When I wrote about material that doesn’t interest me, I probably should have used a different choice of words to indicate that I make sure the material is not objectionable. In other words, I don’t voice any script and certainly wouldn’t spend the time on a book just for the money.
Early in my voiceover career — like when I accepted the book projects I discussed in the article — I would say I’d accept any project if the check clears!
Now, and to paraphrase your words, just because I can voice something doesn’t mean that I will. You’re right in saying that, as professional voice talent, we don’t have to be interested in or knowledgable about a project in order to give it a credible voice. I’ve learned so much as a result of voicing various e-learning scripts! However, no amount of money is worth compromising my values, so I am very particular accepting projects expressing religious or political views.
While quantity doesn’t trump quality, any artist must continue to produce on a consistent basis if they expect to learn and grow. Some days, your results may not be pleasing, but you probably learn something in those efforts that will help you in creating a masterpiece in the future. Even Bach probably looked at some of his work and thought he could do better!
I loved your last lines about planting seeds! Here’s wishing you not only a strong tree, but a magnificent orchard bearing the sweet fruit of juicy royalties!
Linda Velwest says
Hi Karen! Remember me? I, too have been producing audiobooks on acx. So far, the books I have chosen to do have not been selling in the hundreds or thousands. But I do get a check every month and I love the idea of passive income! I really really enjoy the books I’ve done. Maybe someday I’ll do a book like Harrpy Potter where I’ll fight to get paid via royalty share!!
Linda, I am so delighted to hear about your successes on ACX! It’s wonderful that you have been enjoying your work and building your portfolio. When you do the blockbuster title, maybe you should negotiate session fees plus royalties!
I hope you’ll keep me posted. Best wishes for your continued success!
This is a great article! Definitely a lot to consider when you start thinking about royalties!! @Paul your comments are very true, I really liked your thoughts on how it worked in the past with people performing their art!
Thanks for sharing, I’ll definitely bookmark this one to pass on!
Greetings, Whitney! Most people use the money offered for a project as the primary factor in deciding whether to accept any kind of voice work. While money is important, I wanted to show that it isn’t the only consideration in deciding whether to accept a royalty-share agreement on an audiobook. It’s definitely a decision to make on a book by book basis.
Thanks for stopping by the blog!
Bettye Zoller says
Good writing, Karen my friend. I echo much of what you say here and Paul Strikwerda and other comments here also. In fact, I’m echoing what’s been said mostly. Choose your book carefully. Be sure you LOVE it before spending all that time on something without knowing what you’ll get paid, if anything. But I wouldn’t be terribly frightened to do a book whose author is known or has a ‘track record’ or is in the popular media etc. That book is going to sell! If the author will get “press” and “notice” do it. However, us union folks can’t operated without a contract. Our agents negotiate even if future royalties. It’s complicated but can be done. Thus, we get a contract to protect us. Question is, what kind of contract does a reader or producer on ACX get? Tune in to our webinar night of Feb 7 this week and hear the head of ACX Jason Ojalvo and Grover Gardiner of Blackstone Audio and a very famous narrator who know the biz talk to you! http://conta.cc/Audiobooks2012Webinar Voiceoverxtra is sponsor. I’m moderator.
Greetings, Betty! Thanks for the kind words. With the tremendous interest this topic has generated, I’m sure the webinar will be very well attended!
For future readers of this post, an excellent discussion with some actual sales numbers has occurred on the LinkedIn group Audiobook Voices Network.
Thanks again, and best wishes for your continued health, prosperity, and success!
Matilda Novak says
Hello Everyone, I’ve never chimed in before, but what a blessing these discussions are! Very informative and educational. I’ve been recording for 20 years now in nearly every facet of the industry — and audiobooks are my Favorite gig. I haven’t yet made the foray into ACX because up to now I’ve only Performed the books, never thought to take on that amount of editing, much less mastering and whatever else goes into post. (I do edit my own work every day of course, but when it comes to books, I prefer to work with a director put all my energy into the performance). Those of you who’ve worked through ACX, does the narrator always carry Full production responsibility? And Bettye, what time Tuesday night is this webinar? Id love to take part.
Thank you again, for another great “discussion”.
Greetings, Matilda! Thanks for the note. As a producer/narrator on ACX, I am responsible for submitting recordings that adhere to Audible’s standards. However, I have hired an engineer to edit and master one of my books and will take that option whenever the budget allows for it. I also work with a director to improve my performance. So, having the responsibility doesn’t mean you have to personally do all of the work!
Best wishes for your continued health, prosperity, and success!
If you haven’t seen Neil Gaiman’s 2012 commencement address at the The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, take 20 minutes to view and/or read the transcript of it here:
I love this comment in his speech, and it’s germane to my decision of accepting royalty-share deals:
“I decided that I would do my best in future not to write books just for the money. If you didn’t get the money, then you didn’t have anything. If I did work I was proud of, and I didn’t get the money, at least I’d have the work.”
Shelley Baldiga says
Great article Karen! I know you posted it a while ago, but it’s still very relevant content as I google pros/cons of royalty share on ACX. I’m curious, now that it has been a while, how have your royalty share projects panned out? Does it still seem worth your while? I’ve only recorded per-finished-hour in the past, and just received a Royalty Share offer. The topic interests me. But it’s a 14 hr book and the author is self-published (CreateSpace Independent Publishing). Tough to imagine it would pan out – even in the long run.
Thanks again for your insight!
Greetings, Shelley! Thanks for the nice note. I had been thinking of writing an update, and your very good questions prompted me to do it today. Hopefully, my latest post will answer your questions plus some you didn’t even know you had!
Thanks again, and best wishes for your success!
Daniel Dorse says
You & others make some wonderful observations here, Karen, particularly as to practicing one’s VO & voice acting skills, editing & recording skills, developing a track-record & points of entry into a new niche.
I’d like to focus a bit on the often remarked area of ROI (return on investment). Those who fault Royalty Share works in this regard usually do so based strictly on monetary return. I believe they’re being simplistic. While time, talent, & labor all have value & deserve recompense, THEY ARE NOT, IN FACT, MONEY, & saying that’s so does not, in fact make it so. Money is just one (VERY POPULAR) form of recompense (& does pay the bills & puts food on the table). Other forms include personal satisfaction at doing a difficult or artful job well, enhancing & expanding your skills, learning new aspects of your craft, creating something more lasting in individual memory that a 13-week radio or TV cycle, building a reputation, marketing yourself & your skills, & the joy of practicing your craft even during those “slumps” that most people have in any field of creative endeavor. These & other “returns on investment” not only have value in their own right, they usually, by however circuitous a path, lead to that more common definition of “return”.
Greetings, Daniel! Your last sentence is exactly the point of my entire post! 🙂 The people who only focus on the money miss out on all of the other benefits of royalty share work, especially the ability to always be working.
In addition to the reasons to perform royalty share books that I mentioned in my article, I now add:
— no time pressure
— I’m helping authors realize their dreams of hearing their words in audiobooks
I realize this type of work isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay. I read this paragraph recently in the Science of Mind magazine:
Whatever you sense within yourself as being right for you, if it hurts no one and brings a greater good, is right for you. It may not be the same thing that is right for another — but it is right for you. In an attitude of love, harmony, and unity, turn within and allow the silent whisperings of the creative Intelligence within to speak to you and to reveal your true path to you….remain clear in the knowledge that what is right for you is for you, and no other person, to determine.
Thanks for stopping by the blog, and best wishes for your continued success!
Rick Moore/Dorothy Deavers Moore says
I loved what you shared here! The William Shatner part is especially inspiring! Your ‘Picasso to Da Vinci’ point is also inspiring information. My wife and I narrate and produce and we both became pretty discouraged when one of our recent audiobooks that we had high hopes for is doing nothing…and we put more work into it than any of our other 60+ books. On the other hand, I narrated a book about chess, not expecting it to do anything…I just like chess and wanted to have a little fun narrating a short book on the subject. Turns out it is my best-seller with the most bounties! I just wanted to thank you giving us some positive inspiration. We needed this shot in the arm!
Karen Commins says
Hi, Rick! I’m so glad you found this article to be useful and uplifting! A portfolio of solid titles will help you gain the attention and respect of audio publishers who pay per finished hour. With that goal in mind, you might find some helpful ideas for maximizing your monetary ROI on RS projects in my Primer on Narrating Royalty Share Audiobooks.
Thanks for the nice comment, and best wishes for your and Dorothy’s continued success!
Dear Karen, thanks for this informative post that keeps on giving almost a decade later!
I wonder if there is legal protection for a narrator in case they make a royalty deal on a book that goes on to do much better than the author expected, and the author opts to re-record using a pfh deal with another narrator instead of continuing to split the profits..?
Karen Commins says
Hi, Lucas! Thanks for the note.
On ACX, the narrator only has legal protection if the RH makes a second audiobook during the 7-year distribution period. In that situation, the RH must obtain the narrator’s approval to remove the book from distribution. I would only approve in the case where the RH bought out my contract. This article explains how I would calculate the cost.
The RH can cancel distribution at the 7-year mark without the narrator’s consent. At that point, the RH can re-record the book with another narrator or license their audio rights to an audiobook producer. I’m sure I’m not the first or last narrator who lost an entire series when the RH pulled the books after 7 years.
I hope this info is helpful.
Thank you for the link and insightful reply! I must say 7 years is longer than I expected. I’m glad they’ve worked that into the default contract.
You mention that you have experienced RH pulling books once the 7 year term has been fulfilled. I’m curious what your personal feeling is about how common this is. Should one e.g. assume that all books still making a decent cashflow after 7 years will be pulled by the RH? Or maybe only half care enough to hassle with re-recording? Or maybe some even attribute part of the success to the talented narrator? 🙂
I’m just trying to gauge how reliably I can count on my initial investment paying off past the 7 year mark. I presume different genres age better than others as well.
All the best,
Karen Commins says
Hi, Lucas! Without the benefit of a crystal ball, none of us can make assumptions about the future. 🙂
When ACX first began operation in 2011, audiobooks were far from being mainstream entertainment. RS projects encouraged more indie authors to create audiobooks since they would have no upfront costs.
Times and technology have changed, making audiobooks definitely mainstream entertainment. Half of Americans have listened to at least one audiobook. Authors have more distribution options.
Looking at my own portfolio, small to medium publishers with 100s or 1000s of print books have been the least likely to pull audiobooks after 7 years if those titles are continuing to sell.
The contract guarantees 7 years. Anything beyond that is a pleasant surprise!
Hello! Thank you so much for this.
I am about to narrate a title that I really believe in. We are in the process of understanding who are the rights holders for the English version of the audio book. I am wondering what the royalty share percentages should look like between rights holder and narrator/producer and also if there is some contract paperwork resourced I should familiarize myself with?? If we go through a distributor- what percentage will they take?
Karen Commins says
Hi, DB. Thanks for the note.
As a narrator, I would only enter a royalty share (RS) contract on a site like ACX.com or FindawayVoices.com. Those 2 sites list their royalty percentages and pay the narrator and rights holder (RH) each month.
For example, the ACX Production Standard Terms shows the contract you sign and links to their Payment Terms for RS Deals page that explains how the narrator and rights holder would each receive 20% of the proceeds of sales on Audible, Amazon, and Apple.
I wouldn’t trust a RH to report sales to me and pay royalties.
As a rights holder, I would not want to use an RS contract as it would limit my choices of distributor to the site offering the RS contract. With ACX, an RS deal means the RH is locked into exclusive distribution for 7 years. As I explain in this article, it’s much better for the RH to pay the narrator a PFH rate and have the option to upload the audio to any site of the RH’s choosing.
Members of my NarratorsRoadmap.com site can view my Audiobook Distributor Comparison Chart in which I compare 22 aspects of 6 distributors.
You’ll find lots more articles about these topics in my blog archives and on NarratorsRoadmap.com. I refer new RHs to this page as it as I’ve categorized the links based on the stage in the audiobook production process.
I hope this info helps. Best wishes for your success!