Many people find this difficult as books are long productions and calculating the time required can be tricky. However, we have been involved with a good number of audio book productions and have a pretty simple way of looking at this.
Cost per produced hour
This seems to be the standard that many have adopted, however, I find this more difficult to workout and opt for a different approach. The problem with this method is that you have to workout how many hours the finished book will be to get to a price. Sure, we can do this, but it is very hard for a client to calculate. The better approach in my opinion is Rate Per Number of Words.
Rate Per Number of Words
A voice over will have a certain number of words that they will be able to narrate and record within one hour. This will vary from voice to voice and book to book. Clearly a straightforward business book will be simpler than a medical book or a character based play and will therefore be quicker to narrate and record.
For simplicity I recommend doing this based on one hour of time. If you are new to audiobooks, you will have to guess at first and then time yourself to refine your rates over time.
It will vary depending on the read too. A straightforward business read will be easier to read compared to a story with several characters that need voice acting.
The number of words that you can read in 1 hour is not the same as how many you can narrate and record. When reading to yourself, intonation will not matter so much, but when reading into a microphone it will take longer for most voice overs. As a rule-of-thumb, a typical narration is about 2.2 words per second. This is 132 words per minute.
It is impossible to narrate non-stop for 60 mins for most people, so let’s assume 45 mins per hour. Also, there may be some retakes needed later.
For this example, 45 mins x 132 words is 5940 words per hour. Obviously, you will have to work this out for your voice, and different narrations will take different amounts of time.
This figure is now very easy to work with. You can now put a price on batches of 5940 words and know that each 5940 will take about an hour to record. An 80,000 word book is 80,000 / 5940 = 13.47 hours of studio time for the narrator.
In my opinion, most books are better without breaths. This is especially so for two reasons.
The first reason is that most voice overs use large diaphragm capacitor microphones with a cardioid pattern, such as the Rode NT1-A shown here. The recording technique is close to the mic. This is fine, however, breaths are more prominent due to the recording proximity. The second reason is that compression and EQ make breaths more prominent in the final production.
If breaths are not going to be removed then a stance further from the mic is better, but the problem then is that the sound will be much thinner and more room will be heard. The best solution for this is to use a shotgun mic that can be used at a distance. These are the type that you see on TV (or don’t as they are off camera). Clearly TV news readers are not de-breathed.
The cost of no breaths
The time it takes to debreath long narration is huge; typically, 2-3 times the length of the recorded audio. I know there are some debreath tools, and gates can be used to save time, but I have always found that the time spent fixing the problems they cause in the audio outweighs the benefit. I live in hope that one day there will be a genius one button process 🙂 Not only that, in my experience you have to go through the raw audio and reduce gaps too. So, manual debreath wins for me.
Just leave the breaths
I would not say I am happy to leave the breaths in, however, many audiobooks do sound breathy, especially from Audible, and on that basis I would be prepared to leave them if the client and the voice over is happy with that. Understandably, some voice overs do not want their voice to be out there with breaths on it. The big benefit for the client is the cost saving in not spending 2-3 hours debreathing each hour of audio.
The icing on the cake is to put the fully edited audiobook through some nice processing to give it a nice, clean and clear sound. Just normalising the audio is not good enough. The voice is very dynamic and what tends to happen with badly produced audiobooks is that their average volume is often too low due to one peak that affected the entire book during normalisation. The aforementioned service is one I regularly use as they have the widest range of books to listen to, but some of their production is terrible. There is nothing worse than not being able to hear the audio book on your mp3 player when you are out walking. Just saying 😛
Audio production on an audiobook is a skill and the amount of processing depends on the style of the book. Generally speaking, a finished audiobook should have a small amount of headroom and a good average volume aided by compression and EQ.
I tend to bundle the Editing and Production costs together and base that on the fact that one hour of raw audio will take 2-3 hours to edit and produce. Also, this factors in time for drop ins from retakes and any processing that is needed.
Working out the overall costs
Assuming that the client is happy to be the proof listener and highlight any re-record / drop-ins that are needed, this saves many hours. Therefore, I calculate the cost on the following.
- Voice over costs are those provided by the voice over calculated in the way described above
- Editing, debreath and production plus admin and card fees – £140 per hour of raw recording
Using the 80,000 word book example, we know that the voice over will take 13.47 hours. Let’s assume they want £80 per hour
- Voice: 13.47 raw recording hours x £80 = £1077.60
- Full production = £1885.80
Total Production Cost – £2963.40 (exc. vat)
Please note: The production is more than the voice over gets paid, but it is about 41 hours of work for the full editing and production. It is a lot less if no debreath is needed. It probably halves the editing time / cost.
As a voiceover you can charge any hourly fee that suits you. I have seen a range of £20-£200. Obviously this is a competitive market, so price is more important than ever but everyone has the right to value their time as they wish.
What about Per Finished Hour? (PFH)
You could work this way, however, we prefer to get the payment defined and clear at the beginning. With PFH you can only estimate this at the start. But if the client needs an PFH estimate it’s easy to work out. For example:
- 80,000 words divided by 2.2 words per second = 36363.64 seconds
- 36363.64 seconds divided by 60 = 606 minutes
- 606 Minutes divided by 60 = 10.1 hours of finished audio.
PFH cost is £2963.40 divided by 10.1 = £294 Per Finished Hour (Approx.)
Copyrights & buyouts
With audio books the author owns the copyright of the book, however, legally the audio producer and voice over own the recording copyright and production copyright. Most people do not ask about this, or even consider it, however, (so far) none of the audio books I have been involved with have become global best sellers, I believe it is prudent to be prepared and cover this in the negotiation with the client.
I think full buyouts are OK, however, what happens if you do a buyout on a book that makes the author millions? Addressing the terms is always the best option. Obviously, they can be negotiated, but they need to be included. The terms I always include are here, and have worked well. They allow the author to make a good amount of money but also protect us too.
Copyright Terms and Conditions
There are 4 elements of copyright to be considered.
Content – It is understood and assumed by us that you are the copyright holder of the material you’re asking us to record / produce. This copyright is your responsibility to clear before engaging with us.
1. Recording Copyright – The recording copyright is administered by Media Music Now on behalf of the voice over.
2. Production Copyright – The production copyright is with Media Music Now.
3. Music / Sound effects – Any additional audio used, such as sound effects or music will be licensed with the relevant copyright holders.
4. All audio recording, music or sound effects require licensing. This is a legal requirement and is also required by reputable CD duplicators. As Media Music Now is a licensor of audio this is included in your audio book production cost.
We also request a production credit in the audio and on any associated literature. Web based link backs are not required but appreciated if you wish to do so.
The license covers you for up to 20,000 SOLD duplications / copies in total whether physical or download. Free offerings are not included in this count. If your audio book exceeds these amount of sales we will be happy to arrange a mass license option. This would mean that we reserve the right to negotiate a royalty of up to 15% on sales beyond 20,000 copies (split between Media Music Now and the voice over).
These terms are to protect all parties involved. Buyout agreements or unclear terms of engagement are a recipe for disaster. These terms are to make things amicable and fair if you (hopefully) have the next Harry Potter on your hands but without restricting your ability to achieve a sizeable return on your investment.
I hope this was helpful, feel free to comment on it. Also, shares on social media are really appreciated 😉
If you are interested in hearing our work, go here Audio Book Recording & Production Service