Monday, November 28, 2011

The Pink Chair: Q4. A good narrator can expect an annual income of: $ __________

4. A good narrator can expect an annual income of:
$ __________

Today, I'm going to try and answer the last of four questions (see above) that were posed in a letter of inquiry from a narrator candidate. Before we go there, you should probably go back and review the pay models in question one (click on the link above).

4. A good narrator can expect an annual income of:
$ 0 - ...

Well, now we come to the heart of the matter don't we? Let's face it: times are really rough economically speaking and, many people are hoping to leverage whatever skill sets they might have for money. Perhaps you've been told you have a really nice voice. Or maybe you've been volunteering as a story teller at your local library. Maybe you have some voice over experience. Maybe you've listened to audiobooks and said, "I can do that" or even, "I can do better than that." And maybe, you can; but let's be perfectly candid here: as a beginning narrator, your compensation levels are going to going to be fairly low. If you are currently unemployed however, anything is something or; if you're looking to narrate for a little extra cash, baby could probably get a new pair of shoes :-)

You're probably looking at the answer I gave to question 4 above and going "WTF? That's no answer!"; but it is actually the most accurate one that can be given. Please also keep in mind that, for the finished hour rate, different companies expect different things from their narrators besides simply reading. Pre-reading the book, doing your homework, some preliminary editing (home studio narrators should be delivering product without double takes, etc) and corrections are not figured into the finished hour rates.

$0 - $49/finished hour: We start at "$0" because there are narrators who will do a book for free. The narrator maybe volunteering for a company like Librivox which provides free dnloads of public domain titles. It's a way for some people to get some experience. At slightly above "$0" are the narrators who work speculatively on a title, hoping for a cut on the unit(s) actually sold in a revenue or royalty sharing scheme. If you are working on an rShare project, it should be because you really love the story and feel you could do it justice. [Before the rShare crowd starts sending me e-mails about how this model is still developing and, that there are success stories, wherein a narrator can make more than s/he would make in flat fees, I say put up or shut up. There has been one confirmed success story. I know who it is; but more importantly, I know more people for whom this has NOT been a success story.]

$50 - $124/finished hour: I've heard of a studio that pays its narrators $50/finished hour. The narrators come in to the studio and narrate. I do not know who does the engineering or post or; what other support services may be provided (e.g. research) so maybe the narrator does more than narrate and so the $50/finished hour rate may be an inflated figure. I know of another studio that pays $100/finished hour. The narrator comes into the studio to record; but they are also expected to self-direct, self-engineer and, are responsible for their own research. The studio also charges the narrators $500 to learn how to use ProTools, though they are not a ProTools certification or training center. Also at the $100/fh mark is the stipend offered by ACX (the Audible Creative Exchange program) in lieu of rShare. The narrator provides the finished product to ACX and uploads the book from his/her home studio.

$125 - $199/finished hour: I recently read a story wherein a home narrator was being paid $125/finished hour; but he was not only narrating but was doing the post-editing and cutting the masters as well, which helped bring his actual rate down to $37/finished hour. It made me wonder what else he would do for the money/experience :-(

Generally, however, narrators working in this range are goto readers. They pre-read, do their look-ups ahead of the sessions, either work from home or come into a studio and, do the corrections sessions. Their work is solid and reviews are generally good. At Blackstone Audio, Inc. the narrators have their research provided for or their own research is paid for; technical assistance is available (no charge); post engineers handle the processing, editing and cut the formats; and proofers go over the audio with their bat ears. This is not the same model every audiobook publisher uses however, and you, as a narrator, should ask what exactly is expected of you when you take on a job for an audiobook company.

$200 - $350/finished hour: Narrators working in this range have experience, name recognition, industry awards. They work regularly and play well with others. It's nice place to be. Per finished hour rates that exceed $350/finished hour (maybe even those that exceed $300/finished hour) are disappearing; but it's nice work when you can get it :-)

Flat fees: I have heard of a couple of incredible flat fees paid to some celebrity readers. I cannot confirm them, so I'm not going to offer them up for discussion; but really, it's so outside of the business norm that they really shouldn't be considered in the mix. Chances are, the person who wrote me wasn't using a pseudonym to cover his/her megastar status so we'll throw the celebrity fees out of the equation. An author read, however, is not the same as a celebrity read (unless the author also happens to be a celebrity.) In this case, the author is paid a flat fee for his work; but that is a privately negotiated deal and, again, shouldn't be considered in terms of what a good narrator makes in a year.

What a good narrator makes in a year, depends on what pay model s/he is working for (see questions one), how many books the s/he completes in a year (see questions two and three) and, what rate s/he is working for (see above.) It completely varies from person to person and from audiobook publisher to audiobook publisher.

I know of very few narrators at any skill level who "just" narrate audiobooks. Many have other revenue streams including acting, voice over gigs, teaching, selling insurance, lawyering.... As little or as much money as you may make in audiobook narrating, I might suggest that you not quit your day job :-)


  1. As a listener, this has been a great and informative series, DEC. Many thanks.

  2. Wonderful summation! Though you didn't mention the stipend-plus-royalty scenario. At one time or another, and even though I haven't done all that many audiobooks, I've been paid in each one of these categories. My yearly income from audiobook work has varied greatly over the couple of years I've been narrating/producing them, and I have several other income streams, mostly other VO and live storytelling gigs, when audiobook work droughts come upon me. Though it's the work I love most, it's not the most lucrative per working hour.

  3. Greetings, Tanya! Thanks so much for such a detailed and highly educational series! I just posted links to these 4 articles in answer to a question on (

    You are very generous to share your knowledge in your blog. I think a lot of people could learn from the info you've provided here. Have you thought about asking the APA to post links to this series on their site?

    Thanks again for taking the time to share your perspective.

    Karen Commins