Should I charge for my Audio Dramas?

I was inspired to write this post after reading some discussion on the subject in the Audio Drama Production Podcast Facebook group.

So you’ve just spent around (let’s say approximately) 100 hours of blood, sweat, and tears creating an Audio Drama. You came up with a story idea; you developed it into a plot, and divided that plot into scenes. You created the characters needed to tell the story, you found the voice actors you wanted to bring these characters to life, and cast them.

Whilst waiting on the lines to come back in from the actors you have a look at what music and sound effects you might need. You go out on a Saturday afternoon to record some footsteps up a hill where no one else should be, but there’s a dog running around and it won’t stop barking, and there’s someone with a very loud car stereo idling 100 yards down the road. You get the picture; we’ve all been there.

Once you finally have all your music and sound effects, your actor lines begin to come back in. Some retakes are needed for a few pops and peaks, and in instances where the intended delivery has been misunderstood. These things happen, but that’s another week or two waiting on all your materials to finish the job.

After that it’s time for the long lonely hours hunched at the computer, listening to the same scene over and over again as you tweak the timing of the dialogue, move that one footstep that doesn’t fit quite right, and adjusting the volume of the music. Yes it’s long and lonely work, but you begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Your masterpiece is taking shape, line by line, scene by scene.

It Lives!

So after at least the 30th “final draft” mixdown, you’ve listened to your show on every set of speakers and headphones available to you, and you’ve even given it a run in through the car stereo for good measure. Your audio drama is finished, and it’s ready for the world to hear it.

So… considering all the work you’ve just poured into this show, would you be being unreasonable if you were to charge, say, £1 or $1 for it?

At face value, absolutely not. BUT, (and this is a big BUT) should you charge anything at all for it?

Firstly, you need to ask yourself what your end game is in Audio Drama, what are you looking to achieve? And will charging a per episode fee help or hinder those ambitions?

If the folks at We’re Alive had charged $1 per episode when they came out the gate in 2009, do you think they’d now have total download figures in excess of 20,000,000? Do you think they’d have a fanbase that enabled them to raise over $30,000 in two weeks in their recent Kickstarter campaign? Unlikely.

If we turn back to your own show, let’s say (and this is an optimistic estimation) you get one paying customer for every 100 free downloads you have. Instead of the opportunity to impact hundreds, maybe thousands of people with your content, you have made $5 after a few months.

Will this pay your rent, or put food on the table? No.

Can you use it to pay your talent? No.

$5 after a few months probably doesn’t even cover your hosting costs. So what have you actually achieved here? You’ve simply spent a huge deal of time, energy, and passion, creating something that only a handful of people will ever hear.

Even if people were prepared to pay for Audio Dramas, we still don’t have the numbers required to earn a living from it. How many of your listeners are Audio Drama creators themselves? Quite a lot I’d wager. So if we we’re charging for shows, we’d actually just be passing the same £1 or $1 back and forward, and nobody would actually be any better off.

I am absolutely 100% pro-monetization, and for the opportunity for creators to be financially rewarded for their work. But I think that will be achieved through the impact you can have on people because of the content you have created. Win over new listeners, entertain them, hook them, build relationships with them. Those roots will run much deeper and stronger than anything you’ll achieve by charging a fee for the privilege of listening to your show.

Build slowly, patiently, and in time your audience will be fanatical about your story world. Once this happens, who knows? You might have the opportunity to run some short adverts before each episode, or to write and sell an eBook with some written tales from your world. You can create and sell t-shirts, posters, series extras as premium content, or set up affiliate links to books and films in the same genre as your story.

In summary, don’t be fooled into the false economy of charging for your episodes. You have great stories to tell, and they deserve to be heard. If you want to make $5, you can make that by selling pizzas, or mowing someone’s lawn.

And as Audio Dramatists we have the opportunity to achieve so much more.