Union blacklist warning lifted for BeeAudio

After running afoul of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, Rogue Valley audiobook producer BeeAudio has struck a deal and is back in the good graces of the union.

"The deal made clear business sense," said James Adams, BeeAudio's founder and chief executive officer. "We want to be the most competitive full-service audiobook producer and even with the deal, our prices are the best in the business. At the same time, narrators can feel free to go where the work is, which is with us."

SAG-AFTRA slapped a "Do Not Work Notice" on BeeAudio in November, warning narrators and others to stay away from the Ashland firm when initial attempts to gain a union contract failed.

Adams said at the time the organization hadn't clearly stated its case and that he would continue to work with both union and nonunion individuals.

BeeAudio produces audiobooks for a broad range of publishers and titles, covering everything from biography to fiction in any dialect required. BeeAudio's name is nowhere to be found in the finished product, said Adams.

"We produce books for publishers who own the rights and sell our product to the publisher," Adams said. "All of our clients are confidential and produce under their own label, a bit like the private labels you see at the store."

The firm has incrementally ramped up production since Adams formed the business in 2008 and began production the next year.

The company anticipates completing 1,000 titles during 2013.

"One of the realities of being black-listed by the union is that some people are reluctant to cross the union — and many others don't care," Adams said.

BeeAudio has grown to be one of Oregon's largest independent producers, yet much of its operation is virtual, reducing overhead to a minimum with no office, salaried staff and a production and payment process providing its talent a fixed share of revenue.

The agreement provides beginning narrators $150 per finished hour and more experienced narrators up to $240. Finished hours are based on the final length of the recorded book, not the amount of time needed.

Even with the new union deal, Adams said, BeeAudio will hold the line on the starting cost of an audiobook to $325 per finished hour by cutting margins and increasing volume.

"When you're in business, you always work hard to increase volume," Adams said. "The reality is that our volume went up 300 to 400 percent last year, despite the blacklist. But you want to keep growing and my responsibility is to the people who work for us."

SAG-AFTRA represents more than 160,000 performers worldwide. Adams, a former managing editor of the Sunday London Times, launched BeeAudio, which now employs 150 people across the globe, in 2008. Until now, fewer than 10 of the company's employees were union members.

BeeAudio has signed 80 narrators since the agreement was signed, boosting the company's roster to more than 225 narrators, editors, proofers and researchers.

Adams said the misunderstandings leading to the "Do Not Work Notice" were amicably resolved once SAG-AFTRA Audiobook negotiator Jane Love reached out to him last month.

"It's always true that reasonable people on both sides can achieve remarkable things and this deal is right for us and right for the industry," Adams said.

The union said the deal marked the 28th audiobook producer — including Audible, the largest producer in the market — to reach a deal with SAG-AFTRA since 2008.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness.

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