Authors and Audiobook Narrators don’t speak the same language when it comes to pricing production costs. When I wrote my book “The Author’s Guide to Audiobook Creation,” my editors and proofers quoted me prices for their services based on length – per 1,000 words. Audiobook production costs are also based on length, but not in the way most authors understand.
When authors are trying to figure out how much the audiobook creation will cost, they are faced with some daunting options:
- Royalty Share Split
- Royalty Share Hybrid
- Pay for Production
- Per Finished Hour (PFH)
- SAG-AFTRA Union Minimum
- Royalty Plus Stipend
- Whatever the Narrator Can Get Away With
When I polled my fellow authors at Author U in Denver, they unanimously agreed they had no idea how any of the above pricing works – except Option 7, which they thought narrator’s prices might really be.
That’s not how authors look at it. They pay for editing services by word count. Why not price audiobook production that way – by word count?
$30 per 1,000 words
That’s it. If the book is 40,000 words long, the audiobook version will cost the author $1,200.
Here is how this works for the narrator.
I read at an average rate of 9,300 words per hour. At $30 per 1,000 words, I would make $279 per finished hour (9.3 x 30). Other narrator’s mileage may vary, but I’ve included a chart below:
Per 1,000 words, Per Finished Hour (PFH) at 9,300 words per hour read rate
- $32 = $297 PFH
- $30 = $279 PFH
- $28 = $260.40 PFH
- $25 = $232.50 PFH
- $20 = $186 PFH
- $10.75 = $100 PFH
So, the least expensive PFH rate on this chart ($100 PFH) for a 40,000 word book would be $430 ($10.75 per 1,000 words)
1. Q: What does Per Finished Hour (PFH) mean?
A. “Per Finished Hour” is the way payment is usually calculated in the audiobook industry. Generally, narrators are paid for every hour of finished recording, rather than the good old days when narrators were paid by studio hour.
If it takes me about two hours to record and three hours to edit and master one finished hour, and my rate is $279 PFH, then I’m making $55.80 per hour. Better, if I pay an audio editor $50 PFH (but the best editors cost more) and focus on recording, I make $89.50 per hour. Note: narrators also spend time reading, prepping and proofing the book, so even the previous per hour wage estimates are low.
2. Q: What about Royalty Share (RS) Only?
A. ACX and some (but not all) distributors, such as Listen 2 a Book (L2aB), offer royalty share options. On ACX, the Author (or Rights Holder, in ACX speak) and Narrator (Producer on ACX) simply split the profits from each audiobook sale. ACX takes 60% of each sale, so the Author and Narrator split the rest 50/50 – 20% of each sale each.
If more royalty share flexibility is needed – for example, 2 narrators splitting royalties with the author, Listen 2 a Book can handle any royalty percentage split, not just 50/50. If you have a multi-voiced project they can do 34/33/33. They can also formalize doing a hybrid $100 PFH + a 75 (author)/25 (narrator) split, for example.
In all royalty share cases, the Narrator/Producer is doing all the production work up front, hoping the audiobook sales will generate enough sales over time to make it profitable.
3. Q. What are the union audiobook narration rates?
A. SAG-AFTRA Minimum on ACX is $225 PFH. Formerly recorded exclusively under the AFTRA Sound Recordings Code, today there are also more than 25 separate SAG-AFTRA agreementswith audiobook publishers and producers. Those minimum rates are between $150 and $400+ PFH. Not all narrators are union members, but many of the most experienced are.
This “x dollars per 1,000 words” formula takes some of the mystery out of what it costs to produce audiobooks. Pricing by word count can lead to more authors saying “yes,” because they understand clearly what their final cost will be.
Richard Rieman of AudiobookRevolution.com is an audiobook self-publishing consultant at AudiobookConsult.com, a top Audible narrator, and an in-studio producer of authors narrating their own titles. Richard is author of “The Author’s Guide to Audiobook Creation,” Gold Medal Winner of the 2016 Global eBook Award in Writing/Publishing.