Why NPR Stopped Charging for Transcripts

I wanted to respond to Eric Newton's post asking about the business decision to stop charging for transcripts. I thought I would share this blog posting. I have been on vacation, furlough, and am now out in San Diego visiting KPBS.

Eric Newton wrote this post about the transcripts on Aug. 21.
As much as we appreciate the journalism... wouldn't this business story be just a little more helpful with a few actual numbers? Such as... how many people used to use the pay service? ... at $3.95 each, how much did that bring in each year? ... how much did the translation cost NPR each year? ... how much, thus, was NPR losing each year (presuming in the absence of numbers that it was a losing proposition) ... given the debates between content being behind "pay walls" ... what is the lesson here? is it that few will pay for a transcript when the audio is free? Hard to derive meaning from a business story with no numbers... appreciate the public service of releasing the transcripts for free, simply want to know more facts.

NPR's response:
Why NPR.org Scrapped The Fees And Made Transcripts Free

By Bruce Melzer
Director, Digital Media Business Development
August 24, 2009
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.

(ACS: Eric asked about the costs and I was told that NPR does not release detailed budget lines to the public about individual product lines.)

POST LAST WEEK
Transcripts of favorite, missed or maddening stories on NPR used to cost $3.95 each, but now they are free on NPR.org.

Previously, NPR charged for transcripts because an outside contractor worked fast to prepare them to be available to the library within a few hours of a piece airing. It was a costly expense which NPR did for the benefit of classrooms and deaf audiences, or anyone who wrote to Listener Services and was willing to pay.

As of the new NPR.org site re-launch on July 27, over 20,000 visitors had gone online to get transcripts.

Now, all you have to do to get a story's text is visit www.NPR.org and click on the transcript link to the right of the audio button, located just below the story's title.

Quotes from these transcripts are for non-commercial use only, and may not be used in any other media without attribution to NPR.

Why now?

"Transcripts were once largely the province of librarians and other specialists whose job was to find archival content, often for professional purposes," said Kinsey Wilson, the Senior VP of NPR's Digital Media department. "As Web content becomes easier to share and distribute, and search and social media have become important drivers of audience engagement, archival content — whether in the form of stories or transcripts — has an entirely different value than it did in the past."

NPR took the new website launch as an opportunity to offer free transcripts, according to Laura Soto-Barra, NPR's Senior Librarian.

"We made a decision to go ahead even though NPR pays a considerable amount of money to produce transcripts on deadline," said Soto-Barra. "Transcripts are posted six hours after the shows air, except for Morning Edition's transcripts which are posted four hours after the show is broadcast. We have offered free audio for a long time and we felt that free transcripts were long overdue."

New software allows NPR's staff to receive daily metrics and supply data for "most popular transcripts yesterday", most popular transcripts for the last seven days" and "most popular transcript ever".

Keep in mind transcript coordinators do their best to catch and correct errors on the text. But since there is a quick turn-around time on transcripts, mistakes can occur. If you notice a spelling or typographical error, please email Transcripts@npr.org, where it can be corrected.
Soto-Barra said that NPR transcripts may contain minor or significant errors, ranging from the use of "ex-patriot" instead of "expatriate."

In another example, a transcriber mistakenly quoted filmmaker John Waters as saying of former Manson follower Leslie Van Houten: "She's a yuppie," when what he really said was, "She's not a yuppie."

Transcript coordinators "Dorothy Hickson and Laura Jeffrey do their best to find and correct errors but unfortunately, they cannot proofread every piece," said Soto-Barra. "Librarians and transcript coordinators appreciate when someone calls their attention to errors, particularly when they involve name spellings and use of (unintelligible)."

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