Why do transcribers charge by the audio minute, not by the word?

20 May

keyboard earphonesWhat is the industry standard and fair way to charge for transcription work? Why do transcribers charge by the audio minute rather than by the typed word? This article explains why and offers a fair and standard pricing structure, too. It’s part of a series, and you can find the other articles in the series and a link to my popular book on the subject at the bottom of this article.

I was working with an agency on presenting an offer for a transcription job to a company. As usual, we provided a per-audio-minute rate. This works well and is the industry standard, as it’s predictable in advance and doesn’t change according to how long it takes the transcriber to do the job (of course, it’s up to the transcriber to check the tape and make sure they’re charging a per-minute rate that’s fair to them and the client. Mine is based on two speakers, a clear tape and non-urgent turnaround time, with fair and transparent add-ons per minute for more speakers / tape issues / urgent turnaround).

In this case, the client wanted a quotation by the number of words typed and/or the time it was going to take me to transcribe the tape. So they wanted to know my words-per-minute typing speed for a standard transcription.

Is there such a thing as a standard transcription speed?

In a word: No. There is no such thing as a standard transcription typing speed.

For a start, the speeds you can calculate from your own documents are not worked out in the same way the typing test people work out your official typing speed. That’s done on the basis of a standard five-letter word plus one space (I worked this out, because I’m like that, and a document that showed as 11,582 words would be 10,459 “standard words” which gave me a typing speed of 50 or 45.5 words per minute).

For another thing, the typing speeds you are measured on as a copy-typer are different from those you can achieve doing audio typing / transcription. I can type at about 70 wpm, but my transcription speeds vary WILDLY, as you can see below. If a client is used to hearing about a good typist typing 70 wpm, are they going to be impressed if we offer them a price based on 35 wpm? Probably not.

Of course, when transcribing, it’s rare to be able to keep up with the speakers without pausing the tape. It’s also rare to be able to hear everything perfectly first time – everyone has to rewind and check. In addition, a good transcriber will fact-check as they go along – company names, people’s names, the names of albums … and this slows things down, too, of course.

In addition, it’s completely impossible to calculate a standard transcription speed as it will vary according to

  • Number of speakers
  • Accents of speakers
  • Speed that the speakers speak
  • Turn-taking versus overlapping speech
  • Background noise
  • Quality of the tape
  • Degree of accuracy / in-transcription editing the client wants (e.g. turning non-standard English into standard English, transcribing every um, er and repetition vs. tidying the tape up slightly to not include ums, ers and repetitions)

I actually went back and checked a few transcriptions that I’d done recently (I note how long jobs take me and could take the word count from the Word document. My words-per-minute varied between 35 wpm and 60 wpm over a range of transcriptions, and that variation was not predictable by the type of client or the type of content (I do mainly journalists’ interviews and corporate work transcribing presentations, videos and conferences).

What is a fair way to charge for transcription?

The fair way to charge for transcription is by the audio minute. This is fair on the transcriber, if they have a range of pricing to suit different situations, and is fair for the client because they will in most cases know the charge up front (an exception to this would only come if they booked in 30 minutes and sent 90 minutes of tape with more speakers than expected and suddenly super urgent: if the client specifies exactly what they have, the transcriber will be able to quote clearly in advance for them).

I charge …

  • A minimum rate per audio minute for up to 2 speakers, speaking clearly on a good quality tape and not urgent (with 24 hours for up to a 60-minute tape)
  • A certain amount extra per audio minute for each additional speaker
  • A certain amount extra per audio minute for a particularly challenging tape quality (checked beforehand and only used if it’s a truly terrible tape or with huge amounts of background noise)
  • A certain amount extra per audio minute for urgent turnaround (under 24 hours for up to 60 minutes; negotiable over that tape length)

This charging structure has worked well for me over my transcription career so far.

If you are asked to provide other kinds of pricing, do bear in mind my points above, and feel free to refer your client to this article to explain further!

If you’ve found this article useful, please click to share!

If you want to learn more about Transcription as a career, buy my book: A Quick Guide to Transcription as a Career – buy from Amazon UK or visit the book’s web page for worldwide links and news.

Related posts in the series:

How do you start a career in transcription?

Why you need a human to do your transcription

Being a professional transcriber – software to use to help

Ten top tips for transcribers


Posted by on May 20, 2015 in Business, Jobs, New skills, Transcription, Word


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21 responses to “Why do transcribers charge by the audio minute, not by the word?

  1. wonderfullyelegantetsian

    March 26, 2016 at 6:19 pm

    Great info!! How do you feel about using third-party agencies? If you don’t use them, where do you find your clients??


  2. Sajida Zar

    June 27, 2016 at 8:56 am

    A very interesting article. I actually like the pay per word method – it is the fairest in that clients are charged for the actual number of words typed but does have the disadvantage of not knowing the cost up front.


    • Liz Dexter

      June 27, 2016 at 11:56 am

      That’s interesting. Do you do it on the standard typing speed test basis, i.e. counting a “word” as six characters (five letters plus a space) or just on the word count? I’m just thinking that a transcription I do for an economic conference would have far longer words than an interview with a pop starlet, so 1000 words of each would be a very different amount of typing if it was just counted on the word count itself.


  3. Sajida Zar

    June 27, 2016 at 1:15 pm

    I use the word count from Microsoft Word – I will have to research how it actually calculates the number of words! I agree with your comments Liz, about longer words in different situations.
    In practice most of my experience has been sub contracting with transcription companies, and they invariably use the audio minute method. It is only one translation company that wanted to use the pay per word method.


    • Liz Dexter

      June 28, 2016 at 7:43 am

      Ah – that makes sense, as that is the standard model that translation companies use with translators and proofreaders. The word count in Word is just strings of text with a space either end (so proof-reader or proofreader would be one word, proof reader two).


      • DJ

        March 31, 2017 at 9:10 pm

        I have been doing medical transcription for approximately 27 years, including 24-1/2 years as a small business owner, and by far the fairest method to charge for transcription is per line. This is usually based on a 65-character line, and may or may not include spaces, headers, footers, etc., depending how you want to set it up.


        • Liz Dexter

          March 31, 2017 at 8:47 pm

          That’s interesting, thank you. I don’t do medical transcription, but all my clients ask for per audio minute rates so they know the maximum cost upfront.


          • DJ

            April 10, 2017 at 8:37 pm

            As usual, the transcriptionist ends up on the short end of the stick…being paid the same amount whether it takes 2 hours to transcribe or 4 hours to transcribe a 60-minute audio tape.


            • Liz Dexter

              April 10, 2017 at 8:42 pm

              If it’s a new client, I have a good listen first and adjust the rate accordingly if there’s something that will make it take longer. Regulars are good at letting me know if the tape quality is really poor and I charge extra for extra speakers. So it usually works out in a range that’s fair for the client and OK for me, too.


        • Celia Daly

          May 14, 2017 at 7:51 am

          I am thinking of applying to a medical transcription company having recently retired as a medical secretary for many years, part of their application form asks me to state my fee for audio minute, – what would you say is a fair rate per audio minute. I do not want to over charge but equally do not want to undercharge! Many thanks Celia daly


          • Liz Dexter

            May 14, 2017 at 10:48 am

            Thank you for your question, Celia. I don’t unfortunately know what a fair rate for medical transcription is – I would suggest doing a search for medical transcription and if you find agencies offering it, take that price minus a little bit as they obviously want to make a profit. It also depends on where you are regionally, I would imagine. You sound perfect for the work so I hope it works out for you!


          • Dj

            May 14, 2017 at 3:16 pm

            I would never charge by “audio minute” period. Medical transcription standard is per line, with or without spaces, headers, etc. depending on what you want to charge for, or not. Check out MT Stars forum for a lot of great info, and you can even search companies to get the “good, bad, and the ugly” on them. The profession is really going downhill fast, and we are greatly being taken advantage of, with no compensation for our knowledge, skills, expertise, etc., so be sure to do your research on any companies that you are considering. Good luck!


            • Liz Dexter

              May 14, 2017 at 5:35 pm

              This is really useful, thank you. As I’ve said before, I don’t have experience in this area, so glad others in the transcribing community can offer advice.


  4. Lucia

    July 15, 2017 at 2:21 pm

    Hi Liz, thanks for the article. What would be the minimum amount to be charged per minute? Would 2 USD be ok or a bit much? I’ve been offered to transcribe videos, where there are 2 people talking on Facebook live videos, in Canadian English. I’m a Spanish speaker, so I know it’ll take a bit longer to do it. That’s why I thought 2 USD would be a fair amount to me. What do you think? Thank you in advance.


    • Liz Dexter

      July 15, 2017 at 2:43 pm

      Hi Lucia, you will need to have a search of the specific market in your area to check. Also I’m unclear – if you and the client are in a Spanish-speaking location and you’re transcribing English, then you can charge a premium, but if you’re in an English-speaking area and the client is English-speaking they would expect a standard rate and you would have to absorb the extra time it takes doing it in your second language. I hope that helps a little.



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