Rate Race

by | Jan 9, 2009 | Compensation

Like most freelance service-oriented businesses, voice-actors struggle sometimes to set a fair price for their work.  

Many variables can come into the transaction, and that prompts a serious balancing act of pros and cons, or at worst, veering towards a gut feeling, and second-guessing.

Then there are those who have a flat rate sheet, or set price with a formula for certain jobs, and they just. don't. give. an. inch.  I honor and respect those people.  They're usually the well-established, in-demand, proven performers who can pick 'n' choose what jobs they accept, and the client pretty much knows their bottom lines.

I've written many times on this subject, and find it pretty fascinating.  I wish I could say I had a set formula.  I'm not one of those.  I think each job has it's own unique conditions and personalities which come to play, and each client deserves to be negotiated with in good faith for each job (within certain guidelines and reasonable parameters — hey I have bottom lines too!).

Johnny George recently posted a back 'n' forth with Mike Harrison on the Yahoo VO Group forum on this very issue, and I found it very helpful.  I think you will too.  It's posted in its entirety "below the fold".

Thanks Johnny for sharing this wisdom so openly.


I had an interesting conversation with Mike Harrison this week that I
wanted to share with the group. Mike & I have been networking over
this past year.
Hi Johnny…
My question du jour regards VO rates. Some clients like a per-word
rate, others like a per-page or flat fee. I have a prospective client
that is asking for a per-word rate for 2500 words and 4000 words. As
I've never worked with a per-word rate before, I consulted the survey
results on Voice 123 and found that the rate for 2000 to 6000 words is
43 cents. For sake of argument I rounded it to 45 cents which, when
multiplied, came out to $1800 for 4000 words. Yet, if typed
margin-to-margin and double-spaced, 4000 words comes out to about 14.5
pages which, when computed using my standard narration rate, could
come out to between $300 and $500.

That's obviously a huge difference. If it were you, would you just
quote the requested per-word rate, or would you point out the vast
difference, suggesting that they could save a heap of dough?

Johnny responds:


If you are alright with either rate, but the lower cost rate sounds
better to your client, I would say to them that you are looking out
for them and endear them to your service as you are looking out for
their best interests.
Here's my take on 2500 & 4000 word projects: 2500 wds divided by an
average of 250 wds per page equals 10 pages. If you charge 40.00/page,
that equals 400.00 and the 4000 wds project equals 640.00. If you are
offered a on-going work load that could potentially bring in a project
like this each month, offer them a lower per page rate. I have gone as
low as 20.00 per page when I was getting 200 pages/month. The market
spans about 20.00 to 60.00 page, so you are within a reasonable and
competitive area.
Per word rates can be tricky and I have my per word rates listed as:

Per word (At the discretion of voice talent)

001 – 200 words @ .95 / word
201 – 500 words @ .85 / word
501 – 1000 words @ .75 /word
1000 + words @ .65 / word | Negotiable thereafter

Mike responded:

I agree with you, that looking out for a client's best interest is the
way to go. But I'm kinda leery of giving both rate schedules because
past experience has shown that a client sometimes seems to think I'm
trying to change the way they're accustomed to working. For example, a
prospect recently asked if I was OK with $200 for a 25-page script in
10-point text. I ever-so-politely explained that the 'accepted
minimum' type size is 12-point (for greater ease in reading, which
would keep recording and editing time lower), which would turn his
25-page script into at least 30 pages, and asked if they would
consider a slightly higher rate. I never heard back from him.

So, I'm fearful of offering a rate structure different than what they
ask for because, rather than exploring the possibilities, clients too
often just try to find someone else.


Johnny's response:

Best thing to do is exactly what you did ask someone else in your
network. Eventually we will all cover this and the clients will all
get the same answer from everyone. I think I am going to post our
conversation on the Voiceover boards on Yahoo, if you don't have a
problem with that. THAT will help spread the word even further and faster.
Remember to hold your ground when you realize that a client is really
trying to under-mind and cut your rates without pity. There should
always be a breaking point.

Mike's response:

I proposed to this client a range of $600-700 for 2500 words and
$900-1000 for 4000 words, and said there was a little room for
flexibility. They came back asking if I would consider $500 and $800.
I've since learned that this is for audio guides (museums etc), and
have heard that this type of work is generally priced lower than
regular narrations. Is this a fair rate for that, or are they asking
me to give my work away?


A per word rate is only as fair as it is worth your time. Obviously
it takes more time to record a 1000 word script compared to a 100 word
script. Rates tend to go down at a per word rate when the copy
expands. However, a talent needs to figure where is the break point
where it becomes less profitable to do longer scripts for less of a
per word rate. 

This is something I have battled with regarding audio books. Seems
the rate is so drastically low and the higher amount of words
increases the need for more pickups. So a talent needs to find that
point individually. However, we all as voice brethren should support
a fair and disciplined rate that is a good base for everyone and weed
out the "dime-a-time" talents. 

We welcome an open discussion.

Johnny George
Johnny George Communications Inc.



Share This