Billing units – what’s the difference?

One of the main considerations when employing a transcriptionist is – how much will it cost me?

The answer to this question will depend on the nature of your dictation and the unit of measure you choose in calculating your fees.  Let’s look at some of the popular options available.

Hourly rate
For most organisations, this is the simplest method to calculate a rate to pay a transcriptionist, because this is how many organisations pay their staff.  However, there are a few issues to consider here and they are all very subjective.  When you pay someone by the hour to transcribe are you also paying them for time they aren’t transcribing – answering the telephone, filing, making appointments, etc.  There is also a element of trust – you rely on your transcriptionist to only bill you for the hours they are actually transcribing, not talking on the phone or being otherwise distracted by social activities.  In addition, by paying your staff by the hour, you need to factor in all the other costs associated with having someone on staff.  While typing speed is a consideration – a faster typist will complete the work in less time – if your transcriptionist does not have knowledge and understanding of your area of business, a lot of their time will be spent in research.  (More than a typist)

To address all the unknown factors when determining your expenses based on an hourly rate, you can consider options of paying based on quantity.

Audio minute
The advantage with this option you know exactly what you’re up for at the outset – you simply calculated the time of your audio, multiply it by the rate per audio minute and voila.  However, there are drawbacks to this method, too.  You pay for any “dead air time” – periods of silence when the speakers are collecting their thoughts or planning the next part of the document, or when the recording equipment is accidentally left on for the drive up the freeway:  Listening to your version of car karaoke to Cindi Lauper’s Girls Just Wanna Have Fun is very entertaining for the transcriptionist but not very economical for you.  This unit of measure works well for interviews, focus groups, etc, where there is more likely to be constant audio.

A productivity-based calculations removes the issue of “dead air time”:  You only pay for what you receive; if we don’t type there is no charge.  While the final cost will only be known once the work has already been completed, there are calculations that can assist in guestimating your costs before the work commences.

From a productivity basis, there are also several options available to you.

Gross line
With this unit you pay for the total number of lines within the document.  A line is counted whether it takes up the full page width or just has 1-2 characters on the line, or even that extra line between paragraphs.  How many lines are you paying full rates for but only receiving 10% of the work?

Nett Line
To account for the “part lines” a nett line is calculated on a standard number of characters per line (usually of 65 characters/line).  Each keystroke takes time for the transcriptionist to create.  Key strokes are required to make not just a characters but spaces, returns, plus extra formatting requirements (bold/unbold, underline, italic, special characters like µ, shifts for capitals, etc.)  A nett line counts up the number of keystrokes in the entire document and then divides by the agreed number of characters per line.  However, even with a nett line, there are variations in calculations.

VBC (or Visual Black Character)
Basically, what you see is what you get.  If you can see a mark or a character on the screen or page, that mark is counted and included in the calculations for the nett line count.  White space like spaces between words and lines between paragraphs are not included. This is the easiest format to verify as it is easy to miss counting the extra keystrokes for all the “white” space in the document.  However, this method does not take into consideration the extra key strokes (and therefore time) needed to create capital letters, bold/unbold,  etc.  withoutspacesorcapitals,yourfinaldocumentwouldlooklikethis.

AAMT Characters
This calculation includes every single keystroke required to create the document you require.  This includes all the extra keystrokes required to create capital letters, turn on (and off) bold/underline/italic, insert special characters, etc.  The difficulty with this method is that you cannot see how many keystrokes are actually required to create a character.   Two keystrokes are generally required for capital letters and to turn bold both on and off again.  But what about special characters – is ½ five keystrokes (Alt+0189) or three (1/2 and using the default autocorrect function in most word processing programs)?

ASCII Characters
Character counts are based on the ASCII table of characters and include spaces, tabs and returns.  However, it does not include creation of special characters and formatting (bold, capital letters, °, etc).  This appears to be a fair compromise between the VBC and AAMT options.  While it takes a little bit more effort than the VBC option to manually verify, there are generally no hidden keystrokes and many word processing programs have a character-count function that calculates figures based on the ASCII formula.  On average, there are about 17% more keystrokes in the ASCII calculation compared to the VBC calculation.

The method you choose will depend on your business and the nature of your recordings.  My Typing Service can assist you with all your transcription needs and can determine the best method of calculating costs based on your individual needs.


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