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Audiobooks: How Many Hours
To Produce A 'Finished' Hour?
 
By Xavier Paul
Voice Talent / Coach / Audio Producer

I’ve been an audio producer for various media for 15 years. After speaking with several authors on the topic of producing their audiobooks, the question came up,
”Actually how long does it usually take someone to produce one finished hour of an audiobook?”
The answer surprised everyone in the room. I believe this is due to the "anybody can do it” mentality that pervades in society about the true nature of what’s entailed in doing voice over work.
 
People think, "How hard can it be? You just stand there, or sit there, and talk. Easiest job in the world."
 
SURPRISING TRUTH
 
The truth is that it generally takes a total of around 6.2 hours for a producer to complete one hour of an audiobook.
 
"Six and a half hours!?!” they exclaimed as their jaws hit the ground.
 
They picture, "Well one hour on the page, one hour of reality in the studio right?”
 
WRONG!
 
WHY SIX HOURS?

Here’s how you get to six hours of work to produce one completed hour of an audiobook.
 
It takes about two hours to narrate what will become one finished hour.
 
After the narration is recorded, it then takes an editor (who might be the same person as the narrator) about three hours to edit each finished hour of recording.
 
After that, you’ve got to do what’s called a quality control (QC) pass over the finished project. This means spending time re-listening and suggesting words, sentences, or sections to re-record.
 
If anything is off or wrong, we’re going back into the studio to get it right. And that takes about 1.2 hours for every finished hour.
 
PAY FOR QUALITY
 
So based on this, authors - especially new authors - need to realize that you get what you pay for when it comes to qualiy audiobook recording.
 
That means that reasonable rates for one produced, finished hour begin at $200 - and that's not including the talent fees. Yes, talent fees.
 
Why should it be assumed that "audiobook production" be quoted at one rate that "automatically" includes narrating, preparing, engineering, editing, proofing, file rendering, delivering the huge file via FTP or mp3, and re-records if the author or publisher isn't happy?
 
Of course all of this is predicated on the fact that you have a professional, seasoned narrator who understands his/her instrument and knows how to be consistent and work fast.
 
Some narrators like myself who are also producers know how to self direct and deliver accurate audio that is broadcast-quality consistently and quickly.
 
TALENT-PRODUCER-DIRECTOR
 
When I get behind the mic, I’m not just thinking as a talent, I’m really three people: talent, producer and director.
 
Perhaps this is because before I started doing audiobooks I worked consistemtly (and still do) in the area of national commercials for major national brands.
 
These recording sessions are some of the most difficult in the business, requiring that the talent have a solid technique in order to have a career.
 
THE VOICE OVER SKILL
 
I wish the "anybody can do it” mentality and perception attached to doing voice over work would cease and give way to the appreciation of the reality of what voice over work really is: a highly refined skill that only an elite group specialize in globally.
 
How can it be any other way with all that this skill set entails?
 
ABOUT XAVIER ...

Xavier "X-Man” Paul is an internationally-known voice-over talent with extensive credits in all voice over genres, as both a specialist and producer. Most recently, he is the new on-air promo announcer for the NBA, narrator for the History Channel’s UFO Files, performs characters for the Grand Theft Auto video game, is a new character in the animated series, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and performs TV spots for clients including Merck, Gatorade, Burger King, Reese’s Peanut Butter Puffs Cereal, Colt 45 Malt Liquor and Foot Locker. He is also a voice over coach and provides full-scale audio and radio commercial voice-over production services.

Email: info@coolvoiceradio.com
Web: www.coolvoiceradio.com
 
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Comments (11)
Ian King
4/11/2016 at 5:05 AM
Very helpful, and thanks for clarifying this. I've been having a lively discussion on LinkedIn about this very thing. I was asked to quote my rates recently and actually had no idea what to quote.

With professional help, well - it really helps! Unfortunately I did under-quote, as I found it hard wrap my brain around the cost vs how many audio books you would actually need to sell to recover those costs.
So this sheds new light on the real value of the audio book industry.
Holly
3/2/2016 at 11:49 PM
YES yes YES... and don't forget the time that goes in before you even get into the booth--reading, making character notes, rehearsing an accent, researching pronunciations and so on!

Thank you so much for this!
Earl Thomas
9/28/2011 at 12:19 PM
Thank you, Xavier. I appreciate your concise answer to this question. I have not experienced audiobooks, but have voiced for the websites of 2 mining companies and other promotional videos on YouTube. You are welcome to view my profile on Linkedin. Wishing you a great day.
Xavier Paul
9/6/2011 at 4:41 PM
Thanks to everyone for your supportive comments and retweets. Pelase continue to retweet this article as much as possible so that we begin an industry trend and buzz, resulting in an understanding of this issue.

As we become more vocal about audiobook/voice over production realities and cohesive as a group of voice talents, producers/editors on this issue, the buyers will begin to take notice and give us the financial compensation we need and deserve.
James Alburger
9/3/2011 at 6:54 PM
Excellent commentary, Xavier. For an audiobook, your calculation of time involved to completed hour is pretty accurate. As an audio producer of television promos, and before that a studio engineer with one of the top recording studios in Hollywood, I've spent far more than 6 hours just working on a single 30-second promo or radio commercial. As Rick Lance mentioned in his comment, the amount of time it takes to produce excellent audio is simply not appreciated or understood by many producers and talent buyers. Unfortunately, there are far too many voice talent who do not value their time or who will low-ball their rates just to get the gig. More articles like this can help to change that mentality.
Xavier Paul
9/3/2011 at 4:27 PM
Thanks to my colleagues for all of your supportive comments. The truth is, audiobook production is in the process of exploding. With this explosion there needs to be a standard set all the way around: for rates, talent expectations, production details and results. This will ensure that talented producers/narrators, editors and other post-production personnel get payment that is reflective of their experience. I think there needs to be another union set up dedicated to this issue. For those who wish to discuss this in greater detail and strategize on how we can go into the new era of voiceover with pride and financial dignity, feel free to contact me directly with your questions, thoughts and suggestions.

Xavier Paul
info@coolvoiceradio.com
Rick Lance
9/3/2011 at 2:02 PM
I loved your article, Xavier! Boy, we need more of this kind of "reality check" based commentary out there. I get irritated at the way some people ... especially naive clients ... blow off the time it takes to produce good audio. I heard a while back about a 3:1 ratio of recording/edit time to produce one hr of finished audio. I've used that as a guide. But perhaps that isn't accurate anymore.
John McLain
9/2/2011 at 2:14 PM
As a book narrator who also does his own editing and research, I can attest to the truth of this article. Audiobooks are a lot of hard work - but I sure do love it. As the industry continues to grow at a rapid pace, I think articles like this one are very important.
Darla Middlebrook
9/2/2011 at 11:44 AM
I love this article. Recently, I was asked the same thing by several local authors. When I told them the estimated timeline ratio of about 4 hours of work per finished hour of audiobook, some of them responded that they thought a more experienced narrator could do the task in less time. I indicated that this might be so, but I didn't think so. Now, I will hand out a copy of this article each time someone doubts my estimate of time.
Johnny George
9/2/2011 at 10:49 AM
Very well said, Xavier. Too many discount our efforts, and I believe you explained it well for all of us.

Appreciate your insight.
Dan Deslaurier
9/2/2011 at 6:41 AM
I appreciate reading this article during the month when Voice Over Awareness is celebrated--a most timely look into what really goes into the craft that we devote ourselves to. Thank you Xavier and John for a spot-on column!
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