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!