• Dr Emma Hewitt

Academic transcription for 80p per audio minute… too good to be true?

If you’ve ever shopped around for a transcription service, then you may well have wondered how some service providers can be so much cheaper than their competitors, and whether there is much difference in what you can expect to get for your money. Some of the budget options can be a good fit if money is tight, but before rushing to subscribe to the cheapest service you can find (or budgeting for the lowest price point in your funding application), it’s worth having a closer look at what is being offered and checking that their headline price is really what you’ll end up paying.

How does transcription pricing work?

Most transcriptionists charge per audio minute (p/am) rather than the traditional hourly rate of pay. In other words, if the price is £1 p/am and your audio file is 60 minutes long, the price you pay would be £60 regardless of how long it took the transcriptionist to complete the work. This is far preferable to paying by the hour for the transcriptionist’s time, since you can calculate the total cost of their work upfront according to the total recorded length of your audio files, making it much easier for you to budget for your project. Whilst this method of pricing gives much more transparency, do be wary of prices that seem too good to be true. Often there are hidden costs that are glossed over in the headline prices. 

Is it really the final price?

As an example, I’ve seen one of the larger transcription companies (who shall remain nameless) advertise that they offer academic transcription for 80p per audio minute. However, dig a little deeper and you find that this price doesn’t quite measure up with reality.

  • First, there is no mention of VAT in this headline figure, which is added on at the end of your quote, bringing the cheapest price you could get up to 96p p/am.

  • However, if the quality of your audio is not classified as ‘Broadcast quality – BBC news, etc’, the price goes up to at least £1.44 p/am. Or, if they classify the noise as ‘Very faint or often background noise’, the price rises to £1.68 p/am.

  • If the recording includes any non-native English speakers as well as ‘Very faint or often background noise’, you can expect to pay at least £2.16 p/am.

  • You will pay as much as £2.64 p/am if you also opt to include timestamps. But if you also need your transcript tailored to specific formatting requirements, the price rises further still to £2.88 p/am.

  • Finally, if there are more than two speakers in the recording, the final price would amount to £3.36 p/am.

Now, it could be that all your audio files are crystal clear recordings of one or two two native English speakers and you don’t require any timestamps or tailored formatting. In which case, the price you would pay (96p/am) isn’t too far off their advertised academic rate. If this is the case, you may well appreciate the fact that you can access a cheaper service by ruling out these additional costs.However, in my experience, this isn’t the norm. At least not in a project that includes audio files with diverse participants in a variety of locations. And even if you believe the sound quality of your recordings is pretty good, since it’s a subjective classification, it might be best to budget for at least a little occasional background noise so that you don’t get any unwelcome surprises when you receive your final bill. This brings the actual cost closer to the region of £1.50 - £1.70 p/am.

What can you expect for your money?

You usually get what you pay for. For this reason, if the final quote still seems too good to be true, I would question how they can achieve such a competitive price. Many of the larger transcription companies pay their workers a pittance for painstaking work. Others outsource the work to overseas typing pools for cheaper labour and quicker turnaround, whilst some use automated voice-recognition software. This can make a considerable difference to the quality of your transcripts and you may later spend a considerable amount of time correcting or adding in extra bits. You might be willing to sacrifice a certain level of accuracy in the interests of a cheaper service, but this is something to consider carefully if you’re keen to proceed with your analysis quickly and efficiently.I would be asking any reputable transcription provider if there is a money back guarantee if you’re not happy with the quality of their work, or whether they can provide samples of their transcripts and references from previous clients.

Finding the right transcription service

Once you have done a little research and found a transcription service that appears to suit your budget and requirements (see also my blog post ‘7 Essential Questions when hiring a transcription service for qualitative data), see if you can jump on the phone with them. This will not only help you to get a feel for their general ethos and whether you get the sense that you can work with them, but it will also give you another opportunity to ensure you have all the relevant facts and information. It’s vital to know whether all factors have been accounted for upfront, or whether additional charges can be added to the bill later. The last thing you want are any surprise bills once your money has already been accounted for. Whilst this might mean that the outsourcing process takes a little longer, it’s worth the investment in the long run as it should help to ensure you have a good experience, especially if you’re committing funds for a large project.

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