Audio Book Production

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We don't currently include audiobooks in our contracts, but we do have an author in the JHP family who offers a discounted rate for audiobook production to any author from a JHP imprint. Rafe Beckley is an actor, narrator and audiobook producer. If you're interested in Rafe's services, please contact him directly via his website https://www.rafebeckley.com/. Here's what he has to say about the process and the audiobook industry in general:

Audiobooks are the big developing market at the moment in our industry. That’s great for authors who want to sell more books, and it’s also great for authors who want to reach new audiences that might never have picked up a print copy of their work. Now eventually that will stabilise, but right now there don’t seem to be enough audiobooks to satisfy listeners’ demands.

I’m currently putting my own JHP book into audio. Have you thought about putting your book into audio yet? Want to know more about how making and financing your audiobook works?

Here’s how things stack up:

First off, it’s worth noting that all the major platforms work in USD, so that’s currently the best way to compare narrator/producers.

Audiobook production pricing is usually given as a cost per finished hour (PFH). When contracting with an independent provider, you’ll be contracting for a rate that covers research and preparation, narration, editing, audio proofing and mastering. This means that when the files are delivered they will be ready for publication and sale. Read on, but don’t panic…

Rates vary across the industry. Equity (the British actors’ union) doesn’t yet have an audiobook agreement, but SAG-AFTRA (the American actors’ union) does. It’s $250 PFH, but that’s only for the narration. So, under SAG-AFTRA union rates, you could expect to pay that, plus the rate for the other services.

An experienced audio editor will often charge between $75-$100 per finished hour, though well known ones can charge more. This would cover editing and mastering.

An experienced audio proofer will charge between $25-$35 PFH. This makes sure that all audio errors are flagged and corrected by the narrator after the first edit, and pronunciation and quality are on point. Just like editing the written word sometimes things can slip through, so it’s unwise to skip a third party doing this step.

So if everyone’s working for the ‘going rate’, you’re looking at between $350 and $385 PFH for the whole process

Almost all independent narrator/producers have taken courses to learn the skills required to deal with the whole process from start to finish, in addition to any skills and experience they already had. This means that they have also made a significant investment in equipment and studio space in order to be able to do so.

However, because they keep the work in one place, they tend to charge less for a complete package. The $250 PFH seems to have become the accepted minimum for people who are trained and skilled in all aspects of this work (who aren’t famous in the audio world) to deliver finished audio.

Like all marketplaces not governed by union agreements, everyone gets to set their own rates. It’s not uncommon to see well known narrator/producers charging well over $400 PFH, and it is possible to find people on Fiverr who will do it for almost nothing.

So that you can think about what price is reasonable to you, let’s have a look at what goes in to making a finished hour of audio:

  1. The narrator reads the book in preparation. During this time they will ‘mark up’ their text with any notes on pronunciation etc, in order to make the recording sessions as efficient as possible. They will do this at about narration speed, plus extra time depending on how much research is called for - a contemporary romance novel, for example, is likely to take less time to prepare than a non-fiction book which uses lots of uncommon or non-english language words. Time: 1.5 hours PFH
  2. The narrator records, edits, masters and delivers the 'First Fifteen' to the Rights Holder for approval before continuing*.
  3. The narrator records the ‘raw’ audio. Again, this depends on the complexity of the text, but 2:1 is a widely recognised ratio. Time: 2 hours PFH
  4. The ‘raw’ audio now undergoes editing. Mistakes are taken out, sound quality issues are addressed (distracting mouth noises, for example, are often removed manually). An experienced editor can expect a ratio of 3:1. Time: 3 hours PFH
  5. The files are now sent to the audio proofer. This is a fresh set of ears. They listen to the audio while reading the text, check all pronunciations, and log all audio discrepancies (there are always some, just like when editing writing). This depends on how many mistakes have been made, but a good audio proofer can hit a 1.5:1 ratio. Time: 1.5 hours PFH
  6. The audio proofing notes go back to the narrator, who will ‘punch in’ any changes required, and match them to the original acoustics. This stage isn’t usually accounted for, as it’s considered to be part of the narrator’s job that has already been accounted for in their rate.
  7. The final mastering of the audio is done, and the files are uploaded for publishing. This is included in the editor’s rate already described.

*Once the narrator/producer has been engaged by the Rights Holder but before the whole audiobook continues full production, the narrator/producer will be expected, within an agreed time frame, to supply the 'First Fifteen'. This is the first fifteen minutes of edited recording, or an agreed fifteen consecutive minutes if there is a particular section of the text that needs to be got right or is more appropriately indicative of the body of the text than the actual first fifteen minutes.

The Rights Holder is expected to listen to this. They then either agree that they are happy with the pacing, flow, delivery style etc. or request changes until they are happy. Once the Rights Holder gives the go-ahead to the narrator/producer, the narrator/producer will then complete the whole project for delivery as agreed after the first fifteen. This is allows narrator/producers to use their specific skills sets while avoiding possible micro-management from the Rights Holder, while making sure that the Rights Holder has ensured that they are confident in passin the control of the project to the narrator/producer.

So, here’s the workload for one finished hour of audio:

Read and mark-up 1.5 hours

Recording audio 2.0 hours

Editing audio 3.0 hours

Audio proofing 1.5 hours

Total 8.0 hours

So, even if you manage to find super-experienced professionals who might be able to shave an hour or so off of this (incredibly hard to do), you’re still looking at 7 hours work - or one full day, with a lunch hour.

At the $250 PFH rate, we can see that the ‘accepted minimum’ for professionals for a standard work day works out at 250/8, or $ 31.25 per working hour (currently about £25 per hour in GBP).

If you ever want to work out what the ballpark hourly rate of an audiobook narrator/producer is, then just divide their PFH rate by eight. It’s not perfect, but it’ll give you a good idea.

To complicate things further, when working through the ACX (Audible) platform, it’s also possible to deal with narrators on a ‘Royalty Share’ basis. This means that audiobook royalties are split 50/50 between the Rights Holder (you, we assume) and the Producer (narrator). The rule of thumb is to price this assuming the ACX model, which is a total 40% royalty of the sale price.

ACX changes its pricing dynamically and also allows listeners to buy for a membership ‘credit’ (a fixed monthly fee they pay), so it’s pretty difficult to work out what this is in the real world as a monetary amount. However, experience across multiple narrator/producers is that it averages out at about $10 per sale. That means the royalty is usually about $ 4 on average across books and genres. If you’re doing a royalty share arrangement, that means around $ 2 for the Rights Holder (RH) and $ 2 for the Producer.

As you can imagine, experienced narrator/producers rarely take on Royalty Share (RS) contracts. From time to time, if a book is already performing well in print, a narrator/producer might take a chance. Sometimes this pays off, sometimes it doesn’t. It’s difficult to get experienced narrator/producers to take this kind of arrangement.

Often, they will consider what is informally called a ‘hybrid deal’. In this type of arrangement, the Rights Holder (RS) will cover the costs of editing and proofing up front, and the narrator will provide their performance only on a Royalty Share (RS) basis. This results in a lower PFH entry cost to the Rights Holder (RH), while still sometimes being attractive enough for an experienced narrator/producer to take on the project.

Hybrid deals are usually arranged privately and directly with the independent narrator/producer.

Special rates for authors published by John Hunt Publishing and its various imprints:

I was fortunate enough to be published by Zer0 books in 2014, when no other publisher was interested. Since then, my book on ethical theatre production has found it’s way onto University reading lists and into PhD theses, as well as being used by theatre practitioners regularly.

As an actor and author who has retrained and has now worked as an audiobook narrator/producer over the last three years, I want to pay something both back, and forward. I now do this full time, having built and equipped a professional quality audiobook narration studio. I’m also not interested in financial excess, and only seek to make a reasonable living with my skill sets and time.

On this basis, I have two offers exclusively for any author published in the JHP family:

Hybrid deal:

$ 125 Per Finished Hour + Royalty Share (works out at about £12.15 per hour worked plus RS)

Complete Rights deal:

$175 Per Finished Hour (You keep all the audio royalties, works out at about £17 per hour worked)

I’m also happy to answer any questions you might have. If you’d like to get in touch to explore working with me, or if you have any questions, please use the contact form on my website: https://www.rafebeckley.com/

Audiobook Covers

If you would like a version of the paperback cover for your audiobook, we can provide one for a one-off fee of £100/$150. Please request this from Mary Flatt via the Author Forum: Editorial & Production: Printing queries. Once you have paid the fee our designer will make the cover and upload the image to your Production page in the Cover workflow section.