By Bruce Melzer
One of the biggest changes we made with the launch of the new NPR.org was offering free transcripts on the site. Ever since NPR started transcribing its radio programs in 1990, we have been selling transcripts to help defray the costs of producing them. In the old days, we used to mail out copies of the transcripts, a time-consuming and expensive process for all involved. In 2002 we added e-commerce to the transcript operation and were able to drop the prices and deliver the transcripts via email.
Why did we give up this revenue stream? First and foremost, the users expect to be able to come to our site and read the story they heard on the air. As rich as the radio stories are, reading is faster than listening, our users told us. Although we were writing Web versions of many radio stories, a number of stories still didn't have much text. Making transcripts free solved that.
A second reason is accessibility for deaf and hard-of-hearing users. Although NPR has always had a policy of providing free transcripts to these users, we eliminated the need for them to contact us for transcript copies.
There are solid business reasons for making transcripts free. Sales have been dropping over the years. As people search for, discover and share content, offering free transcripts will boost the traffic to NPR.org, traffic that can be monetized with sponsorship. Finally, search engines like text. Many of our stories could not be found by the search engines because they did not have enough text. Now it will be easier for the search engines -- and ultimately the users -- to find and enjoy NPR's stories.