Founded in 2011, Transcribblers was originally just the digital storefront for my solo freelance transcription, which I’d began in 2009 while doing similar work at a private research firm in NYC’s Financial District. Having recently graduated from Tufts University with a degree in Drama (2007) and working hard to break into New York City’s professional theater scene, transcription – which felt like writing plays in reverse – was always my favorite part of “data entry,” and I was naturally inclined to see the artistry of producing transcripts.
Eventually, this attention to detail and commitment to quality grew my client base to the point where I could leave my office and go full freelance in 2011. Having more control over my schedule allowed me to invest in my artistic career, accommodating daytime rehearsal schedules and other opportunities that involved working remotely or abroad.
After a couple years, Transcribblers had grown to the point where there was more transcription work than I could handle. So I did what any sensible entrepreneur might try – expand. I trained some friends and other folks I trusted to transcribe to my standards, and for a time, we were really doing well. Large projects would come in, be divided up and dispatched with care post-haste.
Unfortunately, that success wouldn’t last. Client payment delays making outsourcing a challenge, plus encroaching automation, discount overseas and online services, and other competitive challenges have forced Transcribblers to contract in recent years. And besides, I never liked being a “boss” – I would much prefer to restructure as a worker cooperative if there was ever another opportunity to grow.
But rather than move on from the trade, and cede the craft to computers and corporations, I have decided that I would prefer to participate in the industry’s demise as well. This is why I have recast the business as an art project, and why I have created the Artistic Initiatives that form the past, present, and future of Transcribblers. The three interwoven projects form a trajectory, from our core credo of quality, to the abolition of labor and the liberation of workers.
Currently, Transcribblers: The Game! appears in performance live on Twitch.tv when there’s work to be done. This “performance of labor” is a fun and innovative way for me to provide myself some semblance of direct accountability; my “co-workers” and “managers” who tune in can’t see or hear the work, but enjoy keeping me company and making sure I get the job done as quickly as possible.
The future of Transcribblers, if my research pans out and I’m able to find the right collaborators, will be in the development of The Transcribbler, a proposed free-to-use and open source AI transcriber and translator that would be trained by the worker-owners of the Transcribblers co-op. I envision this as an eternal, evolving art project forever creating art objects from people’s speech, instead of commodities. Along the way, transitional work can be provided to transcribers, and any revenue generated through traditional business practices can be used for job retraining and other mutual aid services as The Transcribbler approaches full competence, all while promoting economic democracy.
I would like, if nothing else, the legacy of Transcribblers to be that of a firm that consistently centered the humanity of its workers, clients, and transcript subjects while doing excellent work.