The Evolution Of Transcription In Business Since The 1980s

We take a look at the transcription services industry’s history, from its humble beginnings in the 1980s to what the future may bring.

The decade of the 1980s

Typewriters and cassette tapes

One of the many transcription facts begins with the professional transcription services industry in the mid-1980s when busy market research executives celebrated the advent of the pocket-sized “compact cassette tape recorder,”. From which notes and audio transcripts could be made, after previously hauling huge reel to reel tape recorders across the country to record their focus groups and interviews. The qualities of transcription companies have always mattered in the early days too.  Asthe services of Royal Mail were crucial to the transcriber of the early 90s, Guaranteed and Special Delivery meant that if you reached the post office by 5.30 pm on a weekday, the client would receive their hefty parcels the following morning, an average 90-minute focus group would produce a 30-40 page transcript, with 1.5 spacing.

The invention of the World Wide Web in the early 90s enabled dial-up internet access and website hosting to explode into use, and the way transcription services were delivered changed forever.As technology and Artificial Intelligence become more integrated into many aspects of our lives. These audio cassette recordings were transmitted to a single transcriber, who used a typewriter to create a transcript by laboriously playing the tape back by hand and then typing word for word, or, as the 1980s advanced, a foot pedal and a Sanyo C90 Compact Cassette Player. Tapes and transcripts were delivered and returned by the postal system, and unless the registered post was used, many fingers were crossed that they would arrive at their intended destination; there was no GDPR back then!

The decade of the 1990s

Microsoft Office was first released in November 1990.This, combined with the proliferation of home and small office PCs, pushed the transcription services industry into a more professional realm, expanding its reach from market research to academic transcription, medical transcription, legal – which had always been a mainstay but was largely kept in-house, medical research transcription, and even meeting, presentation, and conference transcription.

Broadband and digital recorders in the 2000s

As a result, the modest cassette tape was replaced by the digital recorder, which revolutionized the way researchers – and transcription services firms – conducted business, and the industry continued to evolve as a result of the availability of first-of-its-kind transcribing software.Professional transcription firms had emerged and were growing, with websites that allowed clients to upload audio files, download them, and have a professional transcript made.

In the early 2000s, the introduction of email and broadband allowed turnaround times to rapidly increase, and at this point, more nuanced and expert level transcription services, ranging from verbatim transcription to intelligent verbatim and summary transcripts, were introduced, all to provide its diverse client base with exactly what they needed.

From 2010 to now

The evolution of research methods has kept pace with the evolution of transcription software, from face-to-face Skype interviews over the internet to audio transcription from mobile phones, podcasts, and live streaming. The majority of social media sound-bytes now contain subtitles and closed captioning, and thus the demand for transcription services continues unabated.

The security and confidentiality of personal data, which includes voice files under the Data Protection Act, is now a top priority. Providers of transcription services must adhere to GDPR and ensure that their methods protect their clients’ information. With ASR transcription businesses and Microsoft Word’s new Transcribe feature, it’s possible to cut the human transcriber out of the equation and substantially lower costs.

Brett Sartorial

Brett is a business journalist with a focus on corporate strategy and leadership. With over 15 years of experience covering the corporate world, Brett has a reputation for being a knowledgeable, analytical and insightful journalist. He has a deep understanding of the business strategies and leadership principles that drive the world's most successful companies, and is able to explain them in a clear and compelling way. Throughout his career, Brett has interviewed some of the most influential business leaders and has covered major business events such as the World Economic Forum and the Davos. He is also a regular contributor to leading business publications and has won several awards for his work.