Recently, on a Twitter call for a specific narrator, discussion broke out regarding the rate of pay we offer narrators. All four podcasts currently pay $30 for short stories, around 12-40 minutes of finished audio ($15 for flash fiction). A professional voice actor pointed out that current union and non-union rates for audiobooks from the Global Voice Acting Academy are around $200-$300 PFH (per finished hour):
If all podcasts were to pay their narrators by this scale, EA’s current pay rates would be under by an order of magnitude. But we aren’t able to “pay scale“, and we wanted to talk a bit about why.
Escape Artists is almost entirely donation-funded. We have no rich backers. We have no corporate overlord. We have no regular advertising agreements. All we have are our donors (PayPal and Patreon), our listeners, and very occasionally and only when we fully support the campaign ourselves, a few sponsors each year.
From that we produce over two hundred episodes a year across four shows, paying all the creatives involved. Writers and narrators are the biggest expense in our budget, and our biggest redline when we discuss income and costs is creative pay.
Our budget is based on an assumption of zero profit: we pay out what we earn. Here’s roughly how that breaks down:
- 45% goes to our authors and narrators, in a rough 80% authors/20% narrators split (that’s about 36% of annual spend on authors, 9% on narrators)
- 34% compensates our editors, assistant editors, hosts and audio producers
- 13% pays our admin staff — our accountant, contracts manager, IT, etc.
- 8% covers everything else – taxes, payment processing fees, the software we use, and the little we spend on promotion
We do rely, sadly, on a lot of people inside the organisation working for free. Some staff get a token payment for the hours of work they put in each week, as listed above, but our associate editors are unpaid, and there are a hundred tiny jobs that go into rounding out the work, which are donated labor or occasional honorariums.
This is all that the market supports. By the Hugo category definitions, EA’s podcasts are semiprozines because we don’t pay any one person at least one quarter of their income. If we did, we’d be classified as a professional publication. (There are so few professional magazines left that this Hugo category no longer exists.)
We are not underpaying narrators because we are predatory, seeking to keep the profit for ourselves. There is no profit. EA operates most years at a loss, with the owners personally absorbing the difference.
Lest this all sound like woe-is-me wailing: we know that we’re enormously privileged to still exist at all. Many, many other magazines have come and gone for very similar financial reasons. We try and live up to that by matching stories with narrators of similar backgrounds, by offering our staff opportunities for development, acting in an open and honest manner, and contributing EA’s time and resources to our community.
We do pay everyone above the assistant editor level, and we’re fortunate and grateful that we’re able to do so. Many other magazines and audio shows are only able to operate through volunteer labor, with only writers getting paid.
But our mission is not our narrators’. If a narrator feels the rates we offer are not worth their time, that is absolutely their prerogative and we fully support that decision. We do not pursue scale talent for precisely this reason, and we are enormously appreciative of those professional narrators who do volunteer their talents at our lower pay rates.
Our Mission Statement is clear: we consider exposure a cause of death, not a form of compensation. And we believe our behavior lives our values.
We know that nothing in this explanation does a single thing to solve the fact we’re underpaying. There is only one solution to that: more income. Which, to be frank, means more crowdfunding. All our current goals are about paying those staff we don’t currently pay, or paying those creators we do pay, more. If you can donate, we cannot tell you how much we appreciate it. If you can’t, we understand completely–but you can still help by spreading the word about our shows, sharing episodes online, and by leaving reviews. It’s true of any online venue that only a portion of the audience can afford to donate: if we grow the audience, though, that portion grows too.
Thank you so much for your support.
Matt Dovey and Setsu Uzumé, for Escape Artists Inc.