Rated F (for fees!)

14 Feb 2019 3:50 PM | Neil Gardner (Administrator)

Money, money, money...must be funny, right?! We love it, we hate it...we simply can't live without it. In the #audiobook world, the issue of fees is a fascinating and controversial one. Few people openly talk about fees, yet EVERYONE in the industry whispers about it, complains about it, queries it and tries to work it all out. Over the last year or so, the issue of narrator fees has become more and more prevalent in audiobook discussion groups, forums and pub chats. How much do you charge? Are there guideline prices? Why is such-and-such a company only offering so much? All good questions, and all deserving of simple, clear answers.

HOWEVER...whilst unions such as Equity, and private organisations such as Gravy For The Brain are able to offer a basic guideline for audiobook fees, there is as yet no truly one-size-its-all set of guidelines for those working in the UK industry (how different things are in the USA!) And consider this...if fees are such a tough topic for narrators, with their union and groups to lobby on their behalf...what about the technical people? Who represents their needs when it comes to fees and payments? This is one of the reasons I launched the AUDIOBOOK CREATORS ALLIANCE in 2018...a single co-operative group that would represent the needs of narrators AND producers, engineers, editors, proofers, etc... We all find fees a struggle, so why not work together to get our voices heard?

Let's get back to narrator fees. In a recent Facebook group discussion, I saw reference being made to a specific production house known for paying/offering low fees, and that it was believed that they no doubt paid their technical people higher fees because that's just the way things are. Hmmm? Well, I don't know of course, as I don't run that company, but I suspect I know who they are talking about and I would be shocked if they paid their technical staff higher fees (in 30 years being a technical person, I've NEVER been paid more than the talent, and NEVER found an employer who truly valued their technical staff). But then it dawned on me that no-one has openly revealed the costs of being a production house/third-party studio, and it is therefore easy for others in the industry to suspect we are the ones hoarding the dragon's gold (I promise you, we are not!)

So, I'm going to break with tradition and show you the money...the reality of what we get from the publisher and how it breaks down. CAVEAT: this is what I get paid and what I pay (approx.) and I hope this is standard across the industry but I cannot guarantee it. Here we go:

  • We get paid, on average, £230 per finished hour to produce an audiobook
  • So a title that, once edited, is 10hrs long, earns us £2300
  • We pay narrators between £75 and £85pfh on average - so let's say for this title the narrator earns £80pfh x 10hrs = £800

That leaves me with £1500 to pay the following:

  • Studio Cost (% of monthly rent, rates, costs, etc...) - £200 per day x 2.5 days = £500
  • Producer Fee - £120 per day x 2.5 days = £300
  • Editor Fee - £45pfh x 10hrs = £450
  • Proofer Fee - £10pfh x 10hrs = £100 (yes, proofers really get the sh***y end of the fees stick!)

That adds up to £1350. Which leaves me £150 as a profit margin, which I have to use to cover business costs, accounting fees, subsistence, etc...

So, as I hope you can see, no-one on the creative side of this industry is earning 'the big bucks' that journalists so love to tell us audiobooks are worth. I would LOVE to pay narrators, editors, producers and proofers a higher rate, but unless publishers offer us a better pfh rate, I simply cant do it. And that's when we even get the £230pfh rate. Some clients only pay £200pfh (I have even heard of £175pfh!)....admittedly this is rare, and may be linked to 'bulk deals' (only really works if EVERYONE involved gets all the work, otherwise the individual line item costs remain the same). There are also times when a book is extremely complex and the narrator requires a higher rate due to the sheer amount of specialised prep required, or we as the studio hire an expert to offer help with pronunciations or fine details - these can add upwards of £250 in costs, and then there goes the profit margin, and we are in loss!

There is definitely money in audiobooks in the UK, not nearly as much as there is in the US though. Should we be getting paid more? Across the board I think we should. A small increase to £250pfh would allow studios to pay narrators a bit more, as well as editors, proofers, etc...

And what should narrators be charging? Well, we hit a split here between studio narrators, and those who do home recording, and those who also do the first-pass editing. We are all our own business and have the right to charge whatever we please. Equally, the publishers have the right to pay what they want...unlike the US, we simply can't put in place required fee structures (more's the pity - who would have thought the US would be more socialist than the UK on such issues?!). But for me, from my experience, my guideline rates would be:

  • Narration Only (studio) - £70pfh min (first few books) up to £85pfh for experienced narrators
  • Narration Only (home) - £75pfh min
  • Narration + First Edit (home) - £90-100pfh min

But of course, it is up to you. Don't lose out on a job because you are pushing for too much money...but do keep in mind the whole industry and try not to push down rates for the rest of us. The ACA will be pushing hard for fees and rates issues to be more publicly discussed in 2019...and that's for EVERYONE! We have to stop the slide into lower overall budgets, just in order to release more titles! Let's keep people employed and quality high. The UK audiobook industry is famous for it's quality products, and I for one and proud of it!


Neil Gardner is the managing director of leading UK audiobook production house Ladbroke Audio, and independent audiobook publisher Spokenworld Audio. He has 30 years experience in radio and audio, is an international award-winning producer/director/writer and loves nothing more than making audio for all ages. He is also an Earphones Award-winning audiobook narrator, as well as a sound designer and author. In summer 2018 he founded the Audiobook Creators Alliance.

www.ladbrokeaudio.com / www.spokenworldaudio.com


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