What is Our Work as Transcribers/ Translators Worth?

February 22, 2012 § 5 Comments

Dear Colleagues,

Not long ago I was having lunch with some of our colleagues who do a lot of transcription work for the courts.  Inevitably, the conversation turned into a discussion about the enormous amount of work involved in a transcription/ translation assignment.  Although I do not devote much of my professional practice to this interesting and difficult discipline, I have had my share of transcription jobs throughout the years.  I know first-hand how demanding and time-consuming a transcription can be.

When an attorney retains you to transcribe a police interview, wiretap, telephone call, or foreign-court testimony, the case starts with the transcriber (Often a translator or a court interpreter) getting a bunch of tapes, CDs, or MP3s. The first step is to figure out how to open the files that contain the audio and video recordings; and as many of you know, this can be hard and frustrating. Once the files are open, the transcriber needs to listen, “clean up”, and listen again, over and over, until she can understand and transcribe everything that was said. This can take an incredibly long time. A rule of thumb for many transcribers is about one hour of work for one minute of recording.  Then comes the checking of the transcription work, and finally the translation process begins: translation, proof-reading, review.

By the way, we cannot forget the court testimony, including all the preparation and waiting time at the courthouse.  In all: It is a complex, detail-oriented, demanding, and often underappreciated area of our profession.

In my opinion, this type of highly specialized work has to be well remunerated, and I believe that the transcriber must charge differently for the three main aspects of the transcription service:  She should charge a professional fee for the time it takes her to transcribe the recordings,  a per-word fee for the translation part of the assignment, and then again a professional fee for the time spent in testimony preparation, time waiting around at the courthouse, and time spent on the witness stand.  Some colleagues believe that this is way too complicated, and they opt for charging a pre-determined professional fee for the time spent doing the job, all aspects included, without any distinction between transcription and translation work.   This first system has always worked for me, but since I do not do as many transcriptions as some of you, I ask you to give us your opinion.

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§ 5 Responses to What is Our Work as Transcribers/ Translators Worth?

  • Tony, I am with you 100% of the way. But you can’t ignore the fact that your colleagues who charge a fixed fee have already worked those details (transcription + translation + witness prep) into their fees and simply show the client a flat fee for ease of negotiations.

    If they don’t, they are doing themselves, their colleagues and the profession a disservice. Themselves in that they are not earning enough in relation to their efforts; their colleagues because they may be undercutting the market; and that reflects in the profession because it does not and the efforts put forth by the professional, which in turn result in the lack of respect we have all been discussing in various forums on the internet.

    Thank you, Tony, for bringing this up.

  • Masud Hasnain says:

    I get stacks of CDs and tapes to translate, they DO NOT want transcription, just the translation. While I am typing this, I have eight CDs in front of me. If I start charging 1 hour for each one minute, then I think and according to my estimate, I might finish all the work sometime in 2013 or 2014. I have thirty CDs, sitting under the table behind me that I finished a few months ago. The government these days are wiretap phone calls left and right. My two cents.

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  • Alicia says:

    Hi, I got a quote request for work that read:

    “I’d like an estimate for the following: 2 hrs of Audio.
    1) transcribe the English utterances in English
    2) transcribe the Spanish utterances in Spanish
    3) translate the Spanish utterances into English and transcribe the English translation”

    to which I replied quoting my rate /hr. saying it would take me 120 hrs. (1 hr. per audio minute) to do it. The company’s reply was: “your rate is 10x higher and your turn is 5x longer than any of the quotes I received.” So I replied using the guide you offered in your article. Then the company’s last reply was: “Standard time is 4-6 hrs per one hour except when we ask someone who is certified and then its 30 hrs. We charge 300 per audio hr submitted for Spanish to English transcription.”

    I didn’t get the job: but wonder what did I do wrong & is what they ask for and claim to be the norm realistic?


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