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Saturday, October 10, 2015

Is Your Voice Only Worth A Fiver? You May Be On To A Winner

Hypocrite, turncoat, traitor! These unwelcome epithets could be hurtling my way anytime soon. You see, I have changed my mind about the much maligned freelancer platform Fiverr.

For the uninitiated allows customers to book creative professionals for just five dollars. Want a new company logo? No problem, that will be a fiver please. Need someone to present a video promoting your business? That will be five dollars madam.

Great for customers, terrible news for those who earn a crust in the creative industries... and that includes voice actors.

In fact voice overs are a big part of Fiverr's portfolio and for some time now I have dissuaded my voice over students from using the site. "Your voice is worth so much more than a fiver" I would tell them.

In fact you don't even earn five dollars, because twenty percent commission is deducted from your earnings. That means you end up with a miserly four dollars which here in the UK converts to £2.63, just enough to buy a grande latte. Hardly worth the effort of talking into the microphone.

The Worm Turns

So why have I had a change of heart? Before I begin to justify my volte face, I want to tell you a very contemporary story. 

After a long day coaching in the studio, I didn't relish the walk to the tube station on what was a filthy wet London night. I mentioned to my colleague Anthony I might book a cab. "You'll be waiting for ages" he said "and they will charge a small fortune. Why not use Uber?"


I had read about the global furore this controversial start up was creating, but I wasn't sure how it worked in practical terms. "It's simple" he said enthusiastically.

"You just download the app to your phone, book your cab and a GPS signal tells the driver exactly where you are. You know where the taxi is too and how long it will be before it arrives. All the drivers are vetted and you don't need any cash because your credit card has been pre-registered. It's brilliant."

I reminded Anthony of the protests by concerned cabbies around the world who feared for their livelihoods. "Ah yes" he replied with his entrepreneur's hat on "that proves it is a successful business model."

Uber is what marketers term 'disruptive' - it breaks the mould of the old way of doing things, benefiting consumers, but causing consternation and anger among traditional service providers.

This is Fiverr's modus operandi too.

The voice over world is being rudely awakened by a provocative upstart challenging the established order. Its business model allows new voice talents to enter the market bypassing the experienced, more expensive pros and pushing down rates.

So why on earth would I recommend such a cheapskate company to already beleaguered voice talents? The answer lies in my own experience - not as a seller, but a consumer.

How much?

I had been looking for a video to promote my VO training programme for a while. A few enquiries had yielded a price range from hundreds of pounds to over a thousand and with some options there was even a waiting list. I stumbled on Fiverr - surely a professional promo could not be produced so cheaply and so fast? 

There before my very eyes were $5 offerings from animators, film makers and digital producers. It must be too good to be true, I thought.

I was right, it was.

The 'basic' package (ie the five dollar versions) usually meant template-style productions; in other words predetermined stock images over which the client had very little control. If you wanted visuals that were relevant to your business, the price started to creep up. Require a quick turnaround? That was an additional fee, not to mention supplementary charges for music, script and miscellaneous extras. 

On completion of the project I was even prompted to give a tip, which I felt duty bound to do. 

I did book a gig (as they like to call jobs), but I ended up spending in excess of a hundred dollars. Still good value, but light years away from the bargain basement price of the Fiverr USP. It was a pretty good experience, but the work took longer than anticipated and a couple of my instructions were repeatedly ignored.

In fact I got the impression I was one of many clients the service provider was working with at any one time and he had difficulty keeping up with demand. Not so good for clients, but great for him.

That said, all in all I felt happy with the end result. 

The penny drops

It was at that point I realised that if video producers can earn decent sums of money on this platform, what about voice actors? I investigated further and looked into some of the offerings on the site.

The same 'add ons' seemed to apply to the voice over artists on there.  The following price list is fairly representative of sellers' charges and you may want to consider developing something along these lines for your own voice over services:

Up to 100 words basic gig quality (Mp3)  = $5
          Proof read your script (checking grammar etc) = $10

          High quality (i.e. Wav) =  $10

          Commercial license use = $20 (this applies if the client is using the gig for business purposes)           

          Fast 24 hour turnaround = $20

          Revisions (up to 3 revisions of your project) = $30

          Provide more than one accent = $20 (per accent)

          Add royalty-free music = $40


There are lots of permutations and apart from the basic gig which has to be five dollars, you can charge what you like, so let us see how much you might earn with a typical corporate script.  For this example I will assume the project is a couple of pages (about eight hundred words, or less than five minutes of completed audio) and the client is running some sort of business.

How the figures stack up

This is a bit number heavy so please bear with me.

For our fictional job your basic charge will be $40 (800 words at $5 per 100 words).  The client requires a high quality Wav file at an additional $10, plus because we have ascertained the company is a profit making one, a commercial license needs to be purchased at $20. Also this particular client is in a hurry, consequently the Fast Turnaround $20 option will be applied at the checkout.

As the buyer's first language isn't English, the customer requests you proof read the scripts and make relevant adjustments - this attracts another $10 as per your quote. The buyer also wants the reassurance you will do revisions if requested, so  $30 is now added to the basket. 

At the point of sale we have a grand total of $130 or £85. If the client is happy with your work, you may also receive a tip of ten percent or more. Not bad for reading two sides of A4 and certainly comparable to some of the jobs you see on the pay to play sites. 

All That Glitters

Before this starts sounding like a commercial for Fiverr, I want to address the caveats. Bear in mind twenty percent of your fee is deducted in commission, so the real figure will be lower at $104 (£68), plus doing three rereads as offered in your thirty dollar add-on may be spread over several days, requiring more work than anticipated. 

When it comes to creating a profile, Fiverr do not seem to allow audio-only mp3 demos (unlike Voice123 or so you will need to create a video of your samples for your page; you don't necessarily have to appear on camera, but this does require some thought and skill.

If the project is short and for a non-profit organisation or individual that does not care too much about quality, you may end up earning just the five dollar basic fee. Consider the competition too - there is plenty of it and you will need to promote your presence to stand a chance of being spotted. 

If you are an established voice over artist or have some experience under your belt it may not be worth your while or reputation to sign up, but if you are just starting out this could be a gainful venture to consider.

Final thought

For those ranting and raving about lowball rates, I say we need to ask ourselves what kind of voice over business we would like: protectionist, where unions secure high rates for the elite few and restrict client choice, or a market driven, meritocratic business based on talent and diversity?

I suspect that, given the advance of the digital economy, we will have very little choice.

By the way, I have yet to book an Uber taxi in London and still prefer to hail a black cab... dependable, reassuring, expensive.

What do you think about Fiverr?  Please let me know in the Comments below.

Gary Terzza teaches voice overs in London England.

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