Four Things You Didn’t Know About SAG-AFTRA And Audiobooks
If you’re a member of SAG-AFTRA (heretofore referred to as “the Union”), then you might be a bit baffled at some of the loopy rules and general confusion surrounding audiobooks and your role as a union member. Let me take a few moments and clue you in on some little-known facts about audiobooks and the Union
1. You can do audiobooks on ACX and get pension and health contributions.
Many narrators mistakenly believe that ACX is off-limits to Union members. Nothing could be further from the truth. ACX is owned by Audible and they have a Union contract specifically for ACX projects. The only requirement is that you get paid at least $250 per finished hour (PFH). If you’re getting paid that much, you can convert the book to a Union gig via a paymaster and contribute to your pension and health as well as have it count toward your health insurance qualifications. However…
2. ACX rates are “all-in”.
Usually, when doing a Union job (including audiobooks for major publishers) the narrator gets their rate and then an additional 13% is sent to SAG-AFTRA pension and health in their name.
Not so with ACX. The rate is inclusive of pension and health, as well as the 5% paymaster fee and any other fees that might pop up (such as PayPal). In other words, all those percentages come out of your paycheck, instead of being added on top. So that $250 PFH rate ends up being closer to $200PFH. And if you’re outsourcing your editing, proofing, and mastering, that take-home pay gets even smaller. These are some things to factor in when constructing your rates.
3. You can do non-union books without “working off the card” or going FiCore.
Want to try a fun party trick? Call up the main Union helpline and ask if you can do a non-Union audiobook. They will practically berate you for even suggesting that you can do non-Union work. They will inform you that as a Union member, you may not do non-Union work because of Global Rule One which says exactly that: you may not do non-Union work. Got it? You may not do non-Union work!
They are wrong.
Like many facets of voice-over work, as of this writing, there is NO Global Rule One for audiobooks. That means you can do all the non-Union audiobooks you want and you won’t be penalized or “get in trouble”. And you never have to consider the dreaded FiCore. These jobs won’t count toward your healthcare qualifications, nor contribute to your pension and health, but you can do them. This is especially useful for royalty-share titles or for working with smaller publishers who may not have a Union contract yet.
4. You can qualify for Union membership by doing One book.
Ask any actor in Hollywood how to get a Union card and they will tell you that they have to get vouchers from assistant directors, Taft-Hartley for 30 days, etc etc. and that getting the card is a long road filled with kissing butt, doing low-paying work and hoping to land that rare Union job.
If only they knew.
The reality is that any actor can become a card-carrying member by simply narrating one audiobook under a Union contract. That could be for a publisher that has a contract or even ACX. And there is no minimum length. Do an hour-long book for $250 on ACX and you qualify. No vouchers, no Taft-Hartley.
This post really scratches the surface of the relationship between SAG-AFTRA and the world of audiobooks. While you won’t find a lot of this on the Union website, the audiobook reps are very knowledgeable. I won’t post their emails here, but if you ask other narrators, they will be happy to provide those contacts. And those contacts will, in turn, be glad to answer your questions. You just need to talk to the right person.
So go forth and speak words! While a bit confusing at first, if you’re a SAG-AFTRA member (or just Union-curious), you’ll find the audiobook world is a great place to be an actor.