As The Closed Captioning Project LLC’s first tenet is accuracy, we present to you, Confessions of a Full-Time Transcriptionist.
by Jim Torpy
We understand what you want, I promise. We really do. You want your one-hour smartphone recording of an eight-person focus group discussion transcribed verbatim, leaving in all the um’s and ah’s and you know’s, with absolutely no mistakes and nothing left out, and you need the transcript back within 24 hours to distribute at a meeting that will make or break your product rollout. You think a dollar a minute, or $55 for the entire job, is reasonable.
You can get your focus group transcribed for that amount. There are desperate people and/or services out there that will accept that fee and attempt the work. What you won’t get is the result that you want.
Let’s say you’ve reached out to have your focus group transcribed because a business acquaintance told you I’m an experienced and reliable transcriptionist and not outrageously expensive. Then you receive my quote of $100-plus and you reevaluate your opinion about your business acquaintance.
Am I trying to rob you blind? No. Let me give you the perspective of the person who makes his/her living transcribing audio recordings.
First, yes, $55 an hour is a wonderful hourly wage. But that assumes that the actual labor involved in transcribing your 55 minutes equals 55 minutes. It does not.
It could, if you were Superman and had super-hearing and super-speedy typing skills, but Superman is probably hard on his equipment.
The fact is, even the fastest typists type slower than the average person speaks. And when you have multiple speakers, all of whom have to be identified in the transcript, you’re required to process a great deal of information from moment to moment.
Also, perhaps, you’d like the transcription time-stamped every 30 seconds as well. That will require another listen of the entire 55 minutes. And, much as I hate to say it, I’m not perfect and I often make mistakes the first time through, so I go through each recording at least twice, once to listen and type only and the second time to proofread, because if the quality of the transcription isn’t the best it can be, then I wouldn’t blame you for looking elsewhere.
In short, 55 minutes of audio recording does not equal 55 minutes of labor.
Transcribing a recording takes, on average, between four and seven times the actual amount of recording time and, as of yet, no one has found a reliable way to shorten that.
Voice-recognition software and robots can do word generation, but then you have to hire someone to proofread those transcripts, as automated software and robots are notoriously unreliable.
Robo-transcription is especially challenged and inconsistent when it comes to accents, regionalisms, colloquialisms, fast talkers, multiple speakers and/or speakers in a setting with significant background noise.
So, let’s revisit the math. Your focus group, 55 minutes, instead of taking me one hour to transcribe, say, takes six hours, plus an additional hour of proofing and possibly inserting timecode.
This cuts my hourly wage from $55/hour to something closer to $7/hour. Now subtract the costs of operating expenses, equipment costs, marketing, invoicing, payroll taxes, personal taxes, unemployment insurance, health insurance, everyday correspondence and accounting.
Bottom line, dollar-a-minute transcription does not provide even close to a living wage for the U.S.-based transcriptionist.
Transcribing isn’t just a skill. There’s a significant amount of art and cost involved. And, the fact is, not everyone can do it. Proficiency takes time and tons of practice.
We always say, type what you hear, but it’s not about just hearing the words. The transcriptionist has to follow, process and understand the gist of the discussion, so that when he/she comes across technical language, e.g., legal and medical terminology, historical and geographical references, etc., or words that are unclear, he/she is able to puzzle out the appropriate words contextually.
Try it yourself. It’s not easy. And it’s pretty much impossible to get quality, accurate transcripts for a dollar a minute.
Jim received his master’s degree in English from Kansas State University.