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From 'Slave Labor' to 'My Passion And Love,' Audiobook Narrators Rant And Rave ...
September 10, 2015

See Report 1: Levels Of Experience, What And How They Narrate
See Report 2: What Narrators Earn, Methods of Compensation
See Report 3: Are Narrators Satisfied With Earnings?
See Report 4: How To Break Into And Work The Majors

By John Florian and Jim Conlan

Survey Report Co-Authors

Boom! Do you hear that? Do you feel it?

If you're an audiobook narrator you are experiencing the boom-time years of the audiobook business - as U.S. sales of audiobooks double annually and are expected to have reached or topped $2 billion in 2014. That's alota money. And alota work.

Yet how are you - as a narrator - faring in all this?

Earlier this year, VoiceOverXtra's Audiobook Narrators Business Survey-2015 invited narrators to share their situations and experiences. And responses from the 300 participants - at all levels of experience, working relationships and income - led to a series of reports (see links above) about what they do and how they do it, their income and more.

Along with graphs and analysis, many reports include dozens of comments from participants - some quite feisty.


Not surprisingly, income is a hot topic (seen in the graph below from Report #2).

Slightly more than half of the respondents said they were "somewhat” or "very” unsatisfied with earnings, considering the time they put into narration (Report #3). Another 18% was "neutral” about it.

And among the 3% who are "very” satisfied, we would naturally count the 4 respondents earning more than $100,000 a year on audiobook narrations.  

On the other side, 64% report earning under $10,000 per year on narrations. Yet, enroute to the big time, another 10% reported $50,000 to $100,000 annually for narrations. And remember – that could be in addition to other voice over work.  

A key to the higher earnings is to break away from entry-level jobs to work directly with major publishers.

The Audiobook Creation Exchange (or ACX) is the online marketplace where narrators can bid on jobs – and that’s largely seen as an entry point for new narrators. Report #4 has lots of advice from respondents on how to reach and work directly with major publishers.


The survey's last question was: "Anything else to tell us - about your situation or the audiobook narration business in general?"

And wow - we got an earful, which you're going to 'hear' in the 100+ comments below.

Several threads run through the majority of comments. For example:
  • There are too many sub-par narrators and too much sub-par production.
  • A flood of unqualified narrators compete for titles, which dilutes opportunities.
  • There's disappointment in Audible – a dominant audiobook publisher – and its ACX division for lowering the royalty payment scale.
  • While credited with opening the floodgates to narration opportunities, ACX is often vilified for the ensuing tide of low quality in narrations and production.
  • So-called 'old school' narrators observe industry changes and share perspectives on how to survive the business long-term.
  • New narrators may have high expectations yet receive low pay.
  • There’s frustration in trying to break into upper echelons of the business.  
Much of this is disparaging and discouraging, of course. And yet, respondents also said over and over again: They will continue to narrate for the love of it, if not for the money.
One question we did not ask: How to refer to the name of this industry? Is it audiobooks or audio books? Of course, there would not have been consensus there. It's much like the usage of voice over, voiceover and voice-over!
The many, many comments below are presented in the order in which their survey responses were received. And grammarians take note: you'll see variations in spellings between the U.S. and U.K. participants.

Thank you VERY much if you participated in this extensive survey - you've been instrumental in establishing benchmarks of current work standards and experiences.

And thank you for following these five reports, which we hope will guide your audiobook narration career in the direction you seek.

  • I use audiobooks to fill in time to keep the studio busy. The ROI time-wise is just not there, in my opinion, to pursue it harder than I do.
  • I am semi-retired and do audiobook production work as a hobby-business. It would be impossible for me to actually earn a living doing this work. There is not enough profit in it.
  • It's a great opportunity. I honestly only do it to "fill" between VO gigs. I believe if developed it could be very good income for me.
  • For the most part, I have had wonderful experiences with the authors. Except for the one who decided to post her Christian book on without paying me, each one of the authors has been gracious and easy to work with.
  • ACX used to pay a higher royalty to each of us. Now it is 20%. Also, there is a bounty for new clients of $25, which sounds great, but when they offer free membership to and people have the ability to get a free book, then there's no bounty provided. So, the author and narrator lose. 
  • I have a full-time job outside of audiobook narration because I make so little narrating. My (number of) book sales since July 2012 is 308, so there's no chance in making a living with those kinds of sales.
  • I would love to be able to work with a large publishing company and actually get paid appropriately for the long hours I put into each of these books. I appreciate that publishers will pay more per finished hour since I produce a product that just needs a little editing, but I wish I could just narrate and not have to be a sound engineer as well - I'm not trained for that!
  • Royalty share is the worst type of business. You earn about $.25/hour and tie yourself up in knots for about 2 months on each project. BOTTOM LINE ROI, Now doing ONLY $$$/FINISHED HOUR.
  • I did a major dive into the business a few years back and love the work and the people.
  • I have found that I have not had the time to devote to doing the books, so have had to shift my focus.
  • I am looking forward to finding the way to have audiobooks be a nice supplemental revenue stream without completely taking over my existence.
  • This is an industry that totally exploits wannabe narrators, in exchange for low quality. The major books for major publishers are not done by wannabes. They are done by agent represented elites. The only way to get there is to have been there at the transition from Books On Tape to digital, or you are one in several thousand that has the actual talent to do it to the standards of the major publishers. Most books narrated are vanity published garbage. ACX and Audible are a cancer. There isn't enough volume in their sales to make it worthwhile. Self-published books should be done by the authors, or the narrators should be properly compensated for the time and effort it takes to produce them. ACX's quality standards are based on analog audio Books on Tape standards, not modern digital recording standards. Is it Art vs. Business, or total exploitation because of the demand for recorded material. And.... is it exploitation of the fact that people can't read very well.
  • Underpaid and saturated with unqualified talent.
  • I think it's the bedrock of Voice Over right now. And I think it's a proving ground for those with definite acting chops, vs. people with stereotypically pretty voices. Commercials and the like have become a numbers game. Ya know, how many auditions can you crank out in a day, and then you just hope you land one out of every 75. But if you can land audiobook work in enough volume to have you working 40-50 hours a week, it's possible to join that magical 6-figure club.
  • Looking forward to receiving professional training and creating a business
  • Persevere. Keep working with a coach and open yourself up to learning always.
  • We're way behind in the UK in terms of home studio production for audiobooks, and though many VOs have home studios, audio quality and tech knowledge are often not up to snuff. The majority of UK publishers (including Audible UK) are largely wedded to pro studios and to casting via agents. Hopefully this will change with the realisation that home studio production values and quality can be comparable to pro studios. Sadly, the preoccupation of publishers with getting well-known or celebrity voices is more difficult to break down - not helped by the fact that Audible pays so little attention to the names of narrators - narrator profiles and narrator's names alongside the author names on book titles would help. On ACX narrators and authors do the work - this is not reflected in the payment percentages, and quality goes down. Most UK published books on ACX are pretty poor quality, and established UK authors and narrators are unwilling to get involved. Hope for improvements may be hope in vain.
  • More emphasis needs to be placed on quality. The market is being flooded with poor production and narration. This is souring the taste of prospective listeners who may try a few books and then quit listening. Poor Quality will have an effect on sales, which will keep the dollars from flowing to professional narrators. Audible/Amazon/iTunes needs to set their standards higher. ACX opened the gates to subpar performances.
  • Lots of folks get into this with the idea that because they read to their library kids, that a narration career will be easy. It is easy to get into, but the acting, technical, and business learning curves are huge. And, sadly, there are about a bazillion groups out there promoting narration 'training', selling basic information you can get from the ACX blog or YouTube for free. 
  • I have come to the conclusion - after several books and lots of wheel spinning - that to be a successful independent narrator, you need a BUSINESS PLAN FIRST. Sure, it should include, training and equipment, however, 'Success' must be a defined goal with a business and promotion plan to achieve it. I would love to see the groups selling the narration dream promote a real world business approach before 'how to narrate.' A college curriculum approach might not sell as well up front, but the graduates of this type of course would have a better chance of long term success, and not being stuck in ACX.
  • To research, narrate, edit, proof and master a typical audio book takes about four hours for every finished hour. That's about 40 hours of work for a ten-hour book ... a full work week. It is vexing for professionals who are used to earning fees based on hourly rates, to have to settle for royalty or finished hour deals. It seems that Audible in particular has a gold mine in revenues, at the expense of the narrator. Once Audible has taken its 60-percent cut, the publisher does nothing to produce the audio book, yet splits the balance of royalties with the narrator. Narrator earnings are further eroded by Audible's various discount policies, which may result in free or dirt-cheap audio book prices.
  • Why do we do it? First because we love doing it; second we get a bit of prestige - at least occasionally. But we should be earning more!
  • I just sort of fell into it. I did a couple of voice overs for a friend's website. Someone asked if I would want to do the narration for their audiobook.
  • ACX has opened the industry to a vast number of narrators. I'm thinking the days of Random House investing in a director, an engineer, a proofreader, a narrator, and doing all this in only two studio locations is both out of date and unsustainable. Rather than get swamped, I do hope the "big guys" will adapt - and recognize personal professional studio standards being advanced by the World-Voices Organization (WoVO), and allow in an online talent pool that can only improve the industry for audiobook consumers.
  • Would like to do more work, make more money. Books waste my time unless I pay editor!!
  • I have found that authors can be very helpful following auditions, whether I'm selected or not. I have also found that there's a wonderful camaraderie among the VO actors in the industry. They want to help each other and are delighted when you get a gig, even if that means they didn't. It's growing and the work is there for us, but as with any industry it will not just fall into your hands. You have to market yourself.
  • Just starting out and guardedly optimistic about the future of the industry.
  • It never hurts to know the right people in the right places
  • It's a lot of fun and I get better and better.
  • Need more paying work!
  • I am still very new, and my earnings only reflected 6 months of work last year. It took me 6 months in the business before I got my first offer for a project.
  • There are a number of things I'd change with ACX as narrator, but if you're new to the industry - narrator or Rights Holder - I can't imagine a better place to start and learn and earn, all at the same time.
  • I am very picky about what and when I'll audition for something. But then, I like other areas of voiceover work better than audio books. Others prefer audio books, so perhaps their comments will have more value! If I continue to do audio books, I will consider hiring an editor. I have had editors in the past (proof editors) and thought it worked OK, but in those cases, I still had to do quite a bit of editing prior to the review. If I was in a major market with a major publisher, I think I might like the process better. As much as I like to edit, I like it much better when all I have to do is perform.
  • Long-anticipated BEE Audio arrived in UK. I went through the hoops and was accepted. Rates quoted then at about 95 GBP per finished hour. With time factored in for research, recording, retaking and editing, this won't pay the mortgage. And, as this is anonymous, I can say I am very, very good, love the books more than any other work, but can't afford to give them the time.
  • A gripe: authors other than the already famous don't get publicised. Audio versions don't even get reviewed.
  • Audiobooks are one part of my overall career strategy. Because I'm Union, they help ensure that I will continuously make enough to stay qualified for my health insurance and contribute to my retirement. For that reason alone, I am grateful! I also find them to be one of the most challenging and creative forms of voice work. It is something you definitely have to love to do, though, because of the time and energy commitment involved.
  • With a lot of hard work and discipline, success can be achieved through means as simple as ACX.
  • Authors and Publishers need to be educated about the process of audiobook narration. And ACX frankly, needs a competitor that will allow narrators to be able to take on royalty share projects to benefit the author and narrator! My company has been pulling $6,000 plus per month from ACX for two years! Do the math on what that puts their share at what they make off me. I don't feel they put in more time or effort than I do, so why should I get less of the royalty?
  • Authors and narrators need to get paid more. Period.
  • If I had it all to do over again, I'd have built one more room within the room, and started sooner. It's not too late to modify my studio, but I'm not getting any younger.
  • Works well for me as a union talent in a right-to-work state.
  • There's a real dichotomy (as in the rest of our society) between "old school" narrators and "new school" - old school being the guys who worked for the majors for many years in publisher-owned studios, and the new home studio narrator/producer model. I have to laugh (try not to sneer) at the old school guys who gripe about "I'm a narrator - I don't want to do all that other stuff." Poor babies! I work and study my craft nearly obsessively. Surely there will be reasonable compensation somewhere down the road? I look forward to establishing professional relationships outside of ACX, and long to work with a director. This seems like a great advantage, though it is also a joy to control all parts of a project.
  • I have been extremely lucky to have found several very talented authors who like my narration. I also have the good fortune to be asked to narrate all four of the "Little Women" series - all 38 and a half hours of it - and although there are several versions of the first and second books, I am the only crazy person to narrate all four! Classics sell consistently well, so I can afford to narrate books by new authors that I happen to enjoy and not be too reliant on their initial sales for income.
  • I still cannot believe I have found such a wonderfully enjoyable and fulfilling profession. I love every minute of the whole process - even editing!
  • I am not sure if slow sales of my finished books are related to my performance or the reputation of the author. I am disappointed in the sales through ACX. However, I enjoy this work and will persist.
  • Being British in the states I get audiobook auditions from different sources than places like ACX, and as I do a lot of children audiobooks, I think this is slightly easier than long form narration.
  • This is a very fickle business, just like the rest of voice-over, I find. Even though I was going strong for the first 9 months of last year with one audiobook project after another, I've not had a booking since September 2014 and it's not for lack of auditions or promoting myself. I'm at the point now that I'm considering (though not really that seriously), taking on a straight royalty share just to be working again, but know that's not really possible for me with all the work that the narration/editing process takes - and especially because this is my main form of voice work
  • I love narration and it's really a pleasure doing it when it's happening, but the audition process is so taxing sometimes, and lately hasn't been paying itself off, but I'm trusting that this will change soon!
  • My narrations have been well received and I'd like to do more compensated work. There appears to be few, if any, audiobook publishers in the San Francisco bay area. The one I did find said they had a full roster of readers and were not auditioning new talent. I'd be happy to record remotely and would appreciate any suggestions you might offer.
  • As with all Voice Over work, it is very difficult to break into the work offered by the Major Publishers. At my present level, the "hard work" of long narration is becoming a deterrent for continuing in the business without receiving better compensation. Apparently, my talent is lacking and I am somewhat discouraged, though I pursue education and instruction from some of the best teachers in the business.
  • My business has grown particularly over the last 24 months. I am now doing exclusively audio books. I stopped pay to play altogether. I'm certainly not a major player, but I thank God I am growing. At 70 years young I've started this 2nd career, which has turned to nearly full time. I also volunteer to narrate for the Iowa State Department for the Blind.
  • Audible Studios should seek out and hire more of us ACX-based narrators, especially when we obtain Audible Approved Producer status. There should also be more promotion for us Audible Approved Producers to major publishers. Give us a Highlight page similar to what Audiofile Magazine and the Audio Publishers Association does for Narrators.
  • It is very difficult to get the attention of other major publishers. I know - I've been trying to break into other big audiobook publishing companies for 2 years now. 
  • It would be great if publicists who deal with publishers or authors who contact us could be allowed to act as a mediator, like with an agent for actors ...but that is not allowed by the union. I have lost work because of this.
  • It is a fairly new medium, run by people who make up the rules as they go along and who are not necessarily qualified to do so. There are people trying to make money (and they do) from inexperienced newcomers who have no acting ability or vocal skills by setting themselves up as narration Gurus, inventing their own terminology and offering to demystify the acting process. The same applies to audio production, where there are a huge number of so-called experts making money from newcomers by offering technical advice (at a price), making the process of recording more complicated and treating it as some kind of rocket-science. The industry is peppered with these charlatans. Quality of production is appalling due to the pressure to produce quickly and move on to the next book. Just listen to samples posted on ACX. I'm an experienced actor and capable sound recorder with over 37 years of experience and this is my overview. The business is also terribly incestuous. I'm glad to be in it! Although it's strange and sad that rates have decreased over the years. There also seems to be a lot more people thinking anyone can do this, or I should say, do it well. As someone who works regularly on ACX, I take great care and pride in producing quality work, and the lower rates that non-professionals will accept there, and the sub par work, are resulting in poor product. I strongly believe this brings down the whole business.
  • The abundance of home studios has watered down the "good narrator" market. Everyone with a closet and a mic suddenly thinks they have the craft to narrate and desire to be compensated far above their value - which is negligible at best in many cases.
  • The opportunity to work is there for the ACTOR willing to hone his craft. It is not for people who have a voice box and a computer. So there.
  • The 'bar' has been so lowered in the AB world that I don't know if it will ever recover. And I don't blame digitalization or any other technology. The large producers/publishers like Audible, Random House, Tantor, Brilliance, Highbridge, Harper, Penguin, etc., regard ABs as a cash cow. It's the only area in publishing that's making any money, and those folks are gonna squeeze that sponge as hard as they can for as long as they can. They don't care about the art of storytelling, they care only about the bottom line, how low they can keep that per finished hour cost. End of story.
  • I am very concerned that actors and others working non-union and below union minimums are undermining their own ability to do this work professionally in the future, as well as that of those of us who currently depend on this work as full time narrators.
  • Quality is important. If you are new to this work, I strongly encourage you to work with a director and make sure you are using the highest quality recording equipment and studio that you can. That said, not everyone will be able to "break in" to this work or be successful at it. Not all voice actors are suited to long form narration, just as not all actors are suited to on-camera work or Shakespeare. Keep your expectations realistic.
  • I do my own editing and am a bit of a perfectionist, which adds time to the process, but all my authors and publishers have commented on the quality, so I feel it is worthwhile.
  • Would like to try the publishing house experience (and not having to edit!), but the pfh rates without royalty (and that snowball's chance of a blockbuster!) seem awfully low at $200-$400pfh.
  • I enjoy narrating audiobooks and want to make a living doing so. I need to make a business plan and market myself.
  • Just a point of interest, I believe the APA (Audio Publishers Association) is the only organization that offers any sort of benefit to narrators, in the way of mixers, webinars, and APAC. I currently serve on the Executive Board of, and am the Chair of the committee called "Narrator Resource Station," which is a special interest division of World-Voices. We are working to develop the same (and hopefully more!) benefits for narrators, including social gatherings, webinars, helpful resource materials such as "FAQ" sheet about the industry, best practices, and compilations of popular threads on social media (think topics such as "what's the best remedy for a sore throat" or "do you have to have a perfect repository of accents in order to be a narrator?" etc.) Membership fees are very reasonable and I invite you to check out our new website at if you are interested.
  • There's too much self-promotion involved for my taste. I accept being my own engineer and researcher, in addition to narrating; but I balk at being my own agent and doing my own public relations. So I don't get as much work as I might if I were enthralled by social media.
  • More and more is expected of narrators as time goes on - for less and less money. ACX has contributed to the downfall of talented narrators vying for its titles by encouraging rights holders to engage in questionable practices that pros steer clear of. Since narrating and producing 10 books for ACX, I've decided to break away from audiobooks and move into other niche markets of voice over. I don't feel ACX has the narrator/producer's best interests at heart. They cut the royalty share from 25% to 20% last year, which is a big de-motivator for me. Even though I've been to APAC, I still don't know how to get work with other publishers (the big guys). I'd like to know how-to get in, but I haven't had any far. I have set goals for this year to find out how-to and then do it!
  • Only having been involved in Audio Book Narration for 3 years, I still consider myself to be a newbie...I'm open to new ideas and new areas to audition for opportunities.
  • Too many narrators in the business.
  • Just begun, but my goal is to work for major publishers in Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Young Adult or other similar genre. If not that, I'll take pretty much anything - as long as I get paid.
  • I am looking to work with non-ACX authors and publishers. It has become diluted with a huge influx of "narrators," although I'm not sure how serious they are. I suspect most have never actually recorded an audiobook. There is also a flood of new e-books, most of which are of poor quality. E-books selling for 99 cents are posted on ACX, where a narrator working for nothing up front does all the work, then the AB is put up for sale for $15, with no publicity or marketing to speak of. The result is basically a total loss for the narrator. The problem is that I don't think Audible cares. Audible makes the same if 10,000 titles each sell 10 copies or if 100 titles each sell 1,000. The only loser is the narrator, and it appears there is a bottomless supply of us. Nope, I am extremely disillusioned. The work has fallen off dramatically for many people at my experience level, and the ACX - Audible monster has been unleashed, never to be reined in.
  • I am a narrator first and foremost. I should not be expected to be an UNCOMPENSATED (or very low-paid) engineer/director/editor/proofer/QC and post-production supervisor all at the same time. Those are not my honed skills ... let alone the fact that the cost and/or time involved to finish the post production chews into the narrator's pay. AND ... How am I - are we - to produce our best creative work with the critical ear turned on ourselves all the time? 
  • The industry has changed. And the new model, I think, has been a huge detriment and detractor of the creative work. I think the work has GOT to suffer as a result. Not to mention our income.
  • At two years in, I still feel like I'm "just getting started." I'm very interested to see the (survey) results you get!  
  • Still learning . . . This is an industry that rewards narrators for specializing in audiobooks, and being there for the long haul. It takes years to get known, and the longer you are a familiar face, the more reliable and appealing you become to producers.
  • The waters are so murky. There are so many narrators and so many self-publishing authors that it is becoming really difficult to discern what jobs are truly worth your time and worth working on. Then, when you do find ones that are worth working on, there is extreme competition. Honestly, the amount of time I have spent honing my craft in this area has just not yielded the results I was hoping for. One of my titles went to #1 overall on the Audible Best Seller list, but I'm still having a great deal of difficulty finding meaningful work.
  • I am absolutely in love with the process of audiobook production. Every aspect of it, both the artistic and technical sides. It is a truly beautiful craft. And the people in the community are extremely passionate and wonderful and intelligent.
  • When I started I had such high hopes, but the earnings are downright insulting. Like the arts in general, narration has become open to all comers. Few will make it to the top flight, there will be constant pressure from those who pay to cut costs. Because of this sudden expansion the publishers do not yet reward experience in the way other arts do, but that may change over time when value added is recognized (in my dreams).
  • It's become more competitive because people with less experience and home studios are in the mix now. They will do it for less, and publishers pay less because they can. The quality suffers, but there's not much we can do to stop the trend. 
  • For me, I've always pursued audiobooks as a sideline to my other jobs. A nice perk when they come along, but not as a main income. Thankfully, I haven't relied on them as a primary source of income, as it would be even more difficult now.
  • ACX has grown to be incredibly successful and yet they have decreased the Royalty Share percentage and seem to be more selective with choosing titles that deserve a stipend. That is not right and not fair.
  • With the availability of technology and personal studios, this business is in constant change. Initially I was put off by old school narrators who paved the way with their VERY hard work and who, no doubt, continue to do great work, but are nevertheless somewhat territorial and negative in describing the work to newcomers. However, I am now recognizing that it is not as difficult as it is made out to be, and am sloughing off the authoritarian attitudes of some on the web groups and doing my own thing and enjoying it well! Onward!
  • Great way to keep busy.
  • Most manuscripts contain far too much foul language, most of it pointless. They erroneously think it enhances readership or adds to the book's character. That makes it difficult for those of us who don't want to use our voice and talent for filth, to find suitable work.
  • When doing royalty share I'm not even making minimum wage for all the time I put into it.
  • While ACX has kept me busy, it is a challenge to find a predictable good seller.
  • Just glad to finally get to check this off my bucket list!
  • I did a few books earlier on with no guidance, pre ACX. It was awful, not worth the money, and I walked away. Now that I'm rounding the learning curve I feel they are enjoyable and I prefer the current model of the audiobook work marketplace, which involves fewer "cattle call" auditions and more relationships with casino professionals.
  • I will continue to narrate, build my portfolio  and improve my skills. The good pfh rates and work with "major" publishers will come! I believe it will happen!!
  • Have set up own audiobook business with professional studio. 
  • It's fun work, and using a place such as ACX, it's pretty easy to land a book. But with the royalty structure ACX offers, it's easy to start feeling like slave labor. Another example: a book I narrated a few months ago generated $1,037.00 in gross sales to ACX in November. I received $85; I assume the rights-holder also received $85. It makes it tough to rationalize spending 30 or 40 hours prepping, narrating, editing, mastering, and submitting an 8-hour audiobook.
  • I have narrated solely for one publisher. To expand I need to diversify and reach out to more.
  • There is consolidation going on within the audiobook industry, and increased competition as output shrinks will force third-party producers like Deyan Audio to become rights-holding publishers in their own right if they are to survive. The market is getting flooded with new narrators, and this competition is impacting more experienced narrators, especially those who are not Audie winners with cachet. Brilliance is the elephant in the room and will be forced to become a Union house in the near future.
  • I'm just starting out. I've listened to some samples on Audible; including my own older ones. I have to say, rights holders need to be more picky about who they hire.
  • I work in radio and have done vo for many years.I find audio books to be a great challenge as well as a great time for growth and expansion. I like doing them, but it definitely requires a different mindset. I imagine part of that is short form vs long form thinking ... staying for the long haul!
  • ACX has drastically lowered the bar for narrators to enter the market, which has resulted in a LOT of people jumping into audiobook narration who, frankly, should not be doing it. The overall impacts of this are: 1) A deluge of poorly performed, and even more poorly engineered audiobooks flooding the market, and lowering buying public's opinion of audiobooks as a legitimately professional entertainment (and literary) venue. 2) Major publishers have become less willing to expose their brands to the risk of casting newer talents working from home studios. 3) Independent rights-holders are less likely to understand the value of, and pay reasonable rates for, experienced, professional narrators. Not sure what, if anything, can be done about this.
  • As a voice over coach once told me, as well, and others: I am a hyphenate. For example, I own The Lion's Den Production and Diversified Maintenance Systems. I am a Building Services Contractor-Audiobook Producer. The two don't always play well together.
  • I am a public school teacher who is about to retire, and I am hoping that audiobook narration and production will become my new, final career. Voice work has been something I have wanted to do all of my life and I am finally getting the opportunity to do it. I love telling stories and doing voices, so doing audiobooks is a natural for me.
  • The business has changed dramatically since I started. Then, it was still old-school, recording in pro studios with engineers/directors. In the last 2-3 years that changed to mostly home studio recording (even for major publishers). Bear in mind that this is West Coast. The East Coast still does more studio work. The union saved us from ruin by keeping rates from falling into the cellar, but in some instances I believe they settled too low, though I think that might have been the best option possible. Something happened in the process that left publishers with the impression that the minimum union rate was it, and they wouldn't negotiate higher (even, I hear, for many long-term established narrators). I used to be able to negotiate $225-250. Now I know I will probably get less. The influx of voiceover talent (brought by ACX) didn't help - for every narrator trying to negotiate a higher rate there are now hundreds of actors willing to do it cheaper.
  • Just beginning in the audio book genre. Though I am a professional VO and have been in the VO industry for 20+ years.
  • It seems that home studio narration is really the future of the Audiobook industry, and I think that's fantastic. I love the flexibility and the lack of commute. I worry though, that as more and more home studio narrators become involved, and as more and more of them are willing to actually edit and fully produce titles (as opposed to having the production company or publisher pick up those costs & responsibilities), the more our collective value is cheapened. I urge all narrators to become SAG-AFTRA members! It's the only way we can protect ourselves from unfair wages and earn health coverage and a pension while we're at it.
  • It's detrimental to the industry overall to have this new, ACX-inspired one-man band approach. Audiobook narrators should be actors and not readers/editors/proofers/masterers. If someone wants to grow and break into big publishers' rosters, they should concentrate on ACTING skills. One publisher told me, "If I see a resume with 100 ACX titles, I'm not interested. That shows me that someone hasn't the talent and skill to move on and move up." ACX has fundamentally changed the industry. It's not all bad, but it's not all good. Savvy actors will skillfully pursue relationships with publishers and use ACX as an occasional, one-off opportunity, not the primary source of their work. Actors should also be particular about what they record. Narrating awful writing exclusively doesn't help one get to be a better interpreter of the written word. Just because it's offered and out in the world doesn't mean it's in one's best interest to produce as a voice talent. Spend that time in voice training!
  • I spend about 85% of my time narrating audio books for about 50% of my income. I'm paid less now as a veteran narrator of over 150 titles than I was on my first few books in 2005, rates have slid over the years and would have continued to slide had the union not become more active in the industry. All that said, it's sill my passion and my love :)
  • ACX has been mainly a disaster for the professional narrator, lowering expectations and quality standards for the entire industry. However, authors who would have never been produced under the "old" model can now get audio books of their work made completely risk free ... which isn't entirely a bad thing.
  • It remains to be seen if the consolidation of the industry is good or bad for individual narrators ... though it is scary.
  • It is an art and a craft that involves more than a nice voice. One needs to cultivate technique, passion and endurance. It is not for everyone. The best narrators are either natural storytellers or have learned and honed their craft through the years.
  • There is a difference between the quality of most ACX-produced books and front-list titles for a major publishing house and a prominent author. And the only way royalty share will work is with a popular author to generate sales, which will be rare to encounter via ACX.
  • Get an agent, provide a strong demo tape, hustle, and follow the traditional route to cultivating a career. As a venerable producer says, "This craft is not for everyone's Aunt Mary." It's not a niche now, but along with other VO, a profession. It is hard work. It can be very rewarding, as long as you like to read a lot and be alone in a booth for hours every day. And I do. It is a full time job with some flexibility, although growing expectations and requests for quick delivery diminish that a bit.
  • Too many amateurs with bad sounding work out there. The field seems to be flooded with anyone with a microphone. The books available via ACX have lowered in quality over the past year.
  • I'm still in the dinosaur age of using an actual paper manuscript and want to move over to an electronic device with annotation software/app. What device is the most popular - iPad, etc.? Also, of all the annotation apps out there, which one is favorite among audiobook narrators? I've decided to only narrate non fiction projects that will have long lasting appeal at this point in order to extend the life of residual income.
  • I'm still trying to navigate my way. I really do need to find a way to branch out and get exposed to more publishers in an effort to increase my amount of work. I am stuck. I want to narrate more, but to work at the higher paying level.

John Florian is a voice actor and publisher of VoiceOverXtra, the voice over industry's online news, training and resource center. A former print publishing executive and magazine editorial director, he founded VoiceOverXtra in 2007, which today offers the voice over community industry news, how-to features, online and workshop training, the Voice Over Legal guide, and an ever-growing online resource center of articles and links. In 2013, he produced Voice Over Virtual, a major online industry conference.

Jim Conlan has led a dual career for most of his adult life: advertising executive and voice talent. As a founder of Radio Works, he has written and produced thousands of radio commercials for clients all over the country. As a voice talent, he learned from some of the best in the business by directing on an almost daily basis. Jim now devotes most of his time to training voice talent, doing voice over projects, and narrating audiobooks. Some 40 titles are currently available on Audible under the name, James Conlan. "So I wasn't just a co-author of the survey," Jim says, "I was a respondent!"

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Comments (4)
1/27/2017 at 11:44 AM
I'm new to narrating and I wish there was another alternative besides ACX. Just today I went to see if there were any open auditions and it gave me 1513 open auditions. I ticked the box to remove royalty share and dropped down to 23.

Out of those 23 I'd say only five were actually open for auditions. The majority of them had "intentionally blank" in the audition area (we already have a narrator/producer), some obviously didn't bother proofreading, or they want several different voices (80-year-old man, New York Woman, child, Midwestern,etc) for one story, but they are unwilling to pay for the extra work.

I get the idea of royalties and I look at whether the book has been selling well in any other format whether in digital format or hardback. If it isn't selling that way, I doubt adding a voice will boost sales.
9/19/2015 at 1:31 PM
Clearly, the audiobook industry is growing and the talent base is steadily improving. The publishers realize that they will have to pay more for great talent, especially when they see the kind of phenomenal success, i.e., The Martian, narrated by R.C. Bray, which demonstrated the power of the audiobook format as a launching pad for everything else.

The Martian started as an audiobook before gaining the attention of a print publisher and then on to the movie directed by Ridley Scott, starring Matt Damon. I don't think this is a fluke. I believe it is the start of the new normal. The Martian won an Audie Award and was nominated for a Voice Arts®, all playing into garnering attention from whomever, including those who will be looking at the film for Oscar consideration. It all adds to the necessary buzz.

Awards are a great indicator for outsiders, especially if the savvy award-winner makes his prize known to the people who care about such thing. This is one of the values of touting awards - nothing new to movie studios, publishers and TV Networks. Taken all together, this in-depth survey and the "the new normal" point to the need for the talent to declare their value at a level commensurate with making a living. Publishers are already listening and coming up with creative ways to tie in cross-promotional dollars and partnerships to help share the costs.

The talent, however, especially in the absence of a fully engaged labor union, must gain a deeper understanding of how the money flows, so that they can clearly see how and from where their fair share can be sourced. Armed with this kind of understanding, the talent (preferably the talent’s agent), can better negotiate a good deal.

If you want to read just for the love of story telling, there are many ways to volunteer for that. If you want to turn your passion for narration into a decent living, the negotiations are open.
Roy Wells
9/11/2015 at 10:37 PM
On that earnings chart, you show that four people claim to be earning over $100k. This claim is pure unvarnished bs. Nobody can earn such a sum narrating audiobooks.
Howard Ellison
9/10/2015 at 3:34 PM
Phew! Congratulations! That's a fantastic roundup of passion: for the craft and against the way the industry is set up. Sales promotion is just one of many issues: I was amazed to read that Audible etc make big money on AB, given the casual, offhand marketing.

I recorded three books (interesting and well written) only to be dismayed by the grotesque audio quality of the samples, and the fact that a search for their titles generally brought up just the printed book. Press PR over here in UK was evidently up to me (and I have the capacity do it), but newspapers didn't want to know.

It's creatively tragic. I can't afford to do books. Yet like so many of my colleagues, I love love love the storytelling.
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