Transcription Services

Transcription Service Rates: What Cost Tells You About Transcription Services

By Thomas Carter on January, 24 2019
Thomas Carter

No one should spend more on transcription services than is necessary. However, when first exploring a new market, you’ll often be faced with various price differences that can sometimes feel confusing. It makes you wonder if these different rates actually mean something or are just there to fleece the uninitiated. When it comes to transcription services, there’s a little bit of both going on. But, as a general rule, higher price points tend to indicate a higher quality transcription service.

As with many things, the old adage holds true — you get what you pay for! Here, we’ll give you a rundown of what to expect when it comes to transcription service rates, and provide some insight into what costs tell you about the transcription service in question. With a little bit of information under your belt, you should be able to separate the nonsense from rate hikes rooted in value. Let’s get started!

The Really Cheap vs. The Rest: Will Speech to Text Software Work for You?

When we talk about transcription services, there are really two quite distinct options on offer that tend to (unhelpfully) get lumped together — speech to text software and human-based transcription services.

Speech to text software services, also called automatic speech recognition (ASR), use algorithms to automatically detect speech and turn it into a written transcription. A few of these services are free, and most offer free trials. The majority operate on per minute fees and/or subscriptions. Subscription models generally come with monthly caps on the amount of audio you can upload, meaning that most paid ASR services work out to around £0.07 - £0.10 per minute of recorded audio — no matter what billing model is used.

You may wonder why you should bother paying when there are free options out there. The answer is that paid ASR provides access to a slightly more robust service and outcomes. In general, ASR struggles when it comes to accuracy. But, if you are willing to pay, you will likely get slightly better results. More concretely, paid services deliver security mechanisms like encrypted storage and data transfers that are often lacking from the free options. But, if security is a concern, don’t simply assume anything based on price points. The same goes for human transcription services. When it comes to transcription service security, always look into the details.  

Although speech to text software services are cheap, there are a few significant issues. To start with, most automated transcription services fail to breach accuracy rates of 80%, even under ideal circumstances. What’s more, those ‘ideal circumstances’ are critical and difficult to obtain. If audio quality isn’t perfect, there is background noise, or multiple people are speaking at once, the results can become highly inaccurate — sometimes devolving into gibberish that you will find it impossible to use. ASR will also struggle with slang, colloquial language, accents and other regional quirks.

Realistically, ASR services are handy in some situations, but they’re highly limited. Broadly speaking, ASR works best for Americans with neutral accents, speaking slowly and one at a time into a high-quality recording device in a silent and sound dampened room. Anything less, and you are going to need to factor in the cost of spending quite a lot of your own time making sense out of the ASR delivered transcript. This is why most people choose human-based, quality transcription services that provide greater accuracy and reliability — even though they cost more.

How Much Do Human-Based Transcription Services Cost?

A human-based transcription service can be as cheap as £0.40 per minute of audio, but it is not uncommon to end up paying in excess of £2 per minute. There are real differences in these price points. But, it is worth starting with why that initial four-fold price jump from speech to text software is even worth considering in the first place.  

A typical human-based transcription service will deliver 99% accuracy guarantees, compared to the 80% max with an ASR service. Even more importantly, human transcription services come with quality control guarantee mechanisms. Audio quality can still impact the outcome. But, the capability to handle small audio issues is dramatically expanded — basically limiting your concerns about audio quality to the extremes.  

New call-to-action

Genuine Reasons for Variation in Human Transcription Service Rates

Although some companies charge more simply because they think that they can get away with it, there is a lot of variation within human transcription services that genuinely impacts costs. First of all, there are a number of types of transcripts that quality human transcription services offer, all of which generally operate with different starting price points.

The standard service is called ‘intelligent verbatim’ or ‘word for word’. Here, every detail of a recording is captured, but idiosyncrasies of speech are removed — ‘ums’, ‘ahs’, repetitions and false starts. This makes the transcript easier to read, but also easier to transcribe. For any individual company, intelligent verbatim transcripts generally sit in a middle starting price bracket.     

If you go up in cost, you get ‘verbatim transcripts’. These include literally everything. All the ‘ums’ and ‘errs’ are present, and you can even pay for the inclusion of notes on laughter, pauses or tone of voice. It is more work to create a verbatim transcript, so they cost more.  

Notes/summary options are generally the cheapest choice. These go the other way in terms of detail — only delivering a brief summary of the contents of a recording. This level of detail might not be fit for purpose. But, if it is what you need and want, you will generally get a price break compared to the other options. Again, this makes sense — these types of transcripts are easier to produce and take less time to make.   

Security and turnaround times

A lot of transcription service rates rise when you need a quicker turnaround time. Base rate turnaround times per company vary. But, if you want same-day results, you will generally have to pay a premium. Conversely, you might be able to get a discount if you are able to wait more than a week to get your transcripts.

Security is another factor that is legitimately linked to cost. Depending on what you are having transcribed, it might be critical to find the most secure service. Equally, you might be able to save money by choosing a service with lax policies.

The largest impact that security has on cost is the use of offshore transcriptionists. The ability to pay offshore workers less translates into the delivery of a cheaper service, but comes at the cost of diminished accountability. Offshore transcriptionists make it harder for anyone to pursue security breaches, making the chances that such a breach occurs more likely. With offshore transcriptionists, you get a cheaper service. But, that comes with a higher risk.

Other security features such as the use of TLS or SSL encrypted login portals and ISO accreditations also cost money. They have a smaller direct impact on transcription service rates, but are still a factor.   

Why Transcription Service Rates Are More Complicated Than Headline Figures

The cost of transcription services can be complicated. The starting price varies depending on the type of service you’re looking for, but there might be additional costs that you need to keep an eye out for. Don’t assume that the headline figure is what you’ll actually pay per minute. Some transcription services operate with ‘all inclusive’ fees. But, really low starting price points, particularly, are an indication that there will be a lot of hidden costs. It’s common to be charged extra for the following:

  • Poor audio recording quality

  • Accents

  • Multiple speakers

  • The identification of speakers

  • Adding timestamps

  • Proofreading

  • Fast turnaround times

You can generally find out what these extra costs will be on a company’s website. But, particularly with things like fees for poor audio quality, it can be hard to determine the threshold at which the extra fees will be triggered. It is often safe to assume that a low starting price point indicates more easily triggered extra costs. But, that is something you will only really figure out through experience. Calling up and speaking with a representative, however, can bring a lot of clarity to any specific service.

Ultimately, extra fees for transcript extras can be good or bad depending on what you want. On the one hand, you are often able to pay less if you don’t care about timestamps, proofreading, turnaround times or the identification of speakers. But, if you want all of those things, the costs will add up. Inclusive price packages often work out for less, but only if you actually want and need all of those included features.

Takenote_Blog_CTA_2

Summary: Prices Matter, But What You Need Will Have the Greatest Impact on What You Pay

Price is important as it tells you a lot about the service you’re using. You should expect to pay around £2 per minute for a quality, human-based transcription service. If you find price points that are lower than that, then the end cost will usually end up rising due to extra charges anyway.

The best way to save money is by planning ahead and finding a service that will give you a discount for long turnaround times or bulk orders. That will allow you to get a transcription service that provides excellent accuracy and quality while avoiding having to pay too much for it. If you don’t care about security, then you can offset some of the costs by choosing an offshore option.

When it comes to ASR, it can be useful if you don’t care too much about accuracy and your audio quality is extremely good. But, don’t expect to get an overall result that’s even close to a human-based offering.

Finally, if you want to know what cost tells you about a transcription service, then here’s a basic thing to consider. High baseline costs indicate that the service operates to high standards, including excellent security and fast turnaround times, and comes with fewer extra fees. If a higher price isn’t associated with these things, then you’re being taken for a ride.


You have been reading about transcription service rates and what cost tells you about transcription services. If you have other questions about what transcription services offer and how to make the right choice when it comes to your transcripts, we have written an Ultimate Guide to Transcription Services

just for you!

Submit a Comment

Stay up to date