Loss-Leader Pricing in Voiceover
When you begin a voiceover career, one of the first things you learn is that in order to be successful, you need to treat what you do like a business.
Because it absolutely is.
However, some professionals are offering advice that might actually harm your business in the long run. One of the strategies being pushed involves a business tactic known as “loss-leader pricing.” This strategy is simple: you significantly reduce the rate you would charge for a voiceover with the idea that by doing so, it will bring in more clients. Then, when you have someone as a repeat client, you can up your rate.
At my local supermarket, the store produces several products that are ingredient-for-ingredient copies of the brand named versions. These store-branded products are then sold at a marked discount to the big brands. Sometimes the market will offer a special where if you buy the brand name product, you get the store brand version for free. This is a loss-leader. The idea is that when you try the store-made version and see that it’s identical to the brand name, you’ll come back to the store and buy the store’s version instead, saving the consumer money in the long run and making a return customer for the store.
Now, this may work when you’re selling shampoo, but when it comes to voiceover - this strategy may not translate as well.
Let’s say for this example I’m a producer for an advertising agency and I need a quick VO to lay down on a commercial spot to show a potential client what it will sound like when it’s done. This is known as a "spec spot" or doing something "on spec." So I do a Google search and click on the first link I see. It takes me to a site where I can pick from hundreds of voiceover artists all willing to work for pennies on the dollar. I pick one, send them the script and get the audio back in a few hours.
Even though according to their profile, this person said they had over 29 years of experience as a “professional voice artist," the recording submitted sounds echoey - like it was recorded in someone’s untreated bedroom and not a recording booth. I don’t have the time to get the VO to re-record it (likely they couldn’t do any better anyway) but because this was just a spec script for a job I hope to land and not the actual finished product, it might be acceptable.
Now let's say I happen to land this client and they want to go and produce this spot for real. So the script is revised and I email the VO... But now they’ve hiked their rate to $125. Wait, what? Why would I use someone that wants to charge me MORE for the same amount of work? Especially when I'm now one click away from hundreds of other VOs all willing to work for the same original dirt cheap rate.
This is the problem with loss-leader pricing: unless your work is EXCEPTIONAL - I mean no flubs, no mouth noise, a perfect read expressing exactly what the client is trying to convey with no hassles (and especially no room echo) - the client is not going to come back to you.
And as voiceover pro Steven Jay Cohen pointed out in a post, some agencies use bottom-of-the-barrel sites like Fiverr-dot-com to get a voice artist just for filler, then make a note to ensure they never use that voice talent for any real work later on.
Loss-leaders may be appealing to someone looking for a discount, but that someone is probably not going to hire you if you hike your rate for the next job. They’re just going to look for the next dirt cheap VO to do the job for them.
And there will ALWAYS be someone out there willing to work for a lower rate. So the next time you’re offering to do a voiceover for 2,500% below fair market rate in the hopes that you get a returning client, consider the idea that you might just be shooting yourself in the foot for your future business.
About Rob Marley - A Los Angeles native, Rob is an accomplished voice talent, coach, producer and writer, now living in the Hill Country of Austin, Texas. Find out more here.