Are Cheap Transcription Services Worth It?
Many businesses across a range of sectors and industries rely on transcription to make their data more searchable and easier to parse and interrogate. And when it comes to transcription services, businesses of all shapes and sizes face a wealth of choice.
Even the budget-conscious have a plethora of transcription options. But in your quest for a bargain, make sure you’re comfortable with some of the less obvious overheads. Choose a service provider purely on the basis of cost and you may find that you pay in other ways that offset the upfront savings on cost.
Cheap transcription services tend to be cheap for a reason. They either employ software to carry out transcriptions or outsource transcribers from overseas… and both of these are potentially problematic in their own ways.
Here, we’ll look at some of the reasons why suspiciously cheap transcription services are seldom worth the savings, as well as detailing how you can get a great quality transcript at an affordable price.
Cheap transcription services often use unreliable ASR
A lot of the cheaper transcription services use Automated Speech Recognition Software (ASR), and while this has certainly improved in recent years, it still has some glaring fallibilities. Chief among these is accuracy. Most automated Speech-To-Text apps top out at around 85% accuracy. And that’s under perfect ambient conditions with clear, high-quality audio and no background noise.
A strong regional accent, use of homophones, technical jargon and a noisy recording environment can all curtail transcription accuracy. As such, the time and money you save can quickly be absorbed by the time and expense you need to invest to get a member of your team to go through the transcript and correct mistakes made by the software.
ASR has its uses and can give you a rough record cheaply, but if you value accuracy over speed and paying the lowest price, the human touch is invariably a better option.
Cheap transcription services may outsource to overseas transcribers
If you want a transcription that’s carried out by actual transcribers, be aware that not all work to the same standards, nor are they bound by the same systems of legal accountability.
When transcription service providers outsource to overseas transcribers, this may result in an upfront saving for you, but it can also result in serious security vulnerabilities. Also, an overseas transcriber will likely speak English as a second language. While they might have an excellent grasp of conversational English, they may struggle with the intricacies of your audio or video file. This may mean you’ll get a less accurate transcript.
More importantly, if a transcription service is based overseas or outsources to a transcriber based overseas, that transcriber will not be accustomed to the robust data protection laws which make the UK among the safest places in the world to transcribe your audio data.
You may not know how many people have accessed your files, how many times it has been shared or how many copies of it have been made — a sobering thought if your audio or video contains sensitive data.
Cheaper services provide limited options ultimately meaning you still need to spend significant time editing
Transcription, no matter who is carrying it out, has a wide range of applications. Depending on your industry and the specific use case, you might require something slightly different every time you use a transcription service. A cheaper service may not allow you the range of services you need to make the most of your data. For example, they may not offer:
The “umm”s, “err”s, “like”s and false starts that make up natural conversation aren’t usually ideal when getting a transcript. However, there are some use cases (like the legal profession, law enforcement or human resources) where these can provide invaluable context as well as insight into the speaker’s emotional or mental state.
Therefore, without the option to include them, they may prevent you from getting the full picture for your intended use case.
If your audio or video file has more than one speaker it may create a problem if you use a cheaper transcription service. They may not differentiate between one speaker and another, instead simply giving you a block of raw transcription.
This can make the text more difficult and frustrating to parse, and contributions can be attributed to the wrong people, making citation problematic.
Timestamps can make lengthy transcriptions much easier to trawl for the information you need while also making for more accurate citation. And, if you use a cheaper transcription service, you may not be able to choose this as an extra.
Detailed notes are an extremely useful way to pare down a lengthy passage of audio by trimming away off-topic chat, deviations and filler words. This leaves you with a neater and leaner version of your transcript that’s easier to mine for important data. Established transcription services will often provide this as a service so you can get the transcript that suits your needs.
Turnaround times: When you need it… or when it’s done? (Read the Small Print)
Whatever you need your transcription service for, there’s a high chance that you have a strict deadline in place to either the transcript itself or the information presented in it converted to another format (like a slideshow or presentation notes).
When choosing a transcription service, you need to choose one that makes your deadlines their deadlines. Otherwise, your data could be in your service provider’s hands when you need it most. Service providers will often advertise turnaround times that only apply to single, short files, so it’s important to check the small print.
Quality and affordability: How you can have your cake and eat it
As we’ve established, it can be problematic when you choose a transcription service solely on the basis of cost. But let’s be realistic: companies have finite budgets, and there are inevitably times when they have to keep a close eye on their overheads. So, how can they get a quality transcript at a budget-friendly price?
A little research can go a long way. Transcription services offer their best rates to customers who require less demanding turnarounds. If you can engineer things so a wait time of 7-10 working days for your transcript won’t slow you down, you can make significant savings. It’s also worth finding out exactly what kinds of services your provider offers. A set of Detailed Notes might be more affordable than a Verbatim transcription as well as being potentially more useful.
Once you know what you’re looking for, you’ll find that you don’t need to sacrifice quality for cost.