If someone said you could get paid to watch TV, you might raise an eyebrow.
And for good reason. Rarely does the world work in such wonderful ways.
But in this case, it’s actually true — though you may not have much wiggle room as far as what, exactly, you’re watching.
You can earn money transcribing the audio of television shows, movies and other media as a closed captioner, all from the comfort of your living room. Or your kitchen counter. Or a wine bar on a beach somewhere. (Hey, just an idea).
With that kind of flexibility and freedom, who cares what’s on the tube? If your ears are perked and your typing figures are ready, read on to learn more about this sounds-too-good-to-be-true remote work opportunity.
What’s it Like to Work from Home as a Captioner?
Working as a captioner is, in some ways, exactly what you might expect. You watch and listen to video programs and type what you hear.
But once you start digging into the world of captioning jobs, you’ll soon discover there’s a bit more to it than putting actors’ dialogue into writing.
For instance, there are actually two main types of captioning jobs available. The first is offline closed captioning, where you type up the transcript of pre-recorded shows at your own pace.
But you might also find job ads for real-time captioners, who transcribe something as it’s being televised in real time — which is, as you might expect, a touch higher on the stress meter. For that reason, most real-time captioning jobs require extensive experience and possibly even specialized education, sometimes using a stenotype like a court reporter.
Offline closed captioning is the most flexible option, allowing you to set your own hours and transcribe the audio at your convenience. Of course, the more captioning you do and the more efficient you are in the process, the more you can earn, since these jobs are generally paid on a per-video-minute basis. (More on that below.)
Offline closed captioning is also more accessible, with many entry-level, freelance roles available to applicants who don’t have a college degree, let alone experience as a stenographer. So for the purposes of this post, we’ll focus on those positions.
How to Qualify and What to Expect as a Closed Captioner
While you might not need your bachelor’s degree to become a captioner, certain skills will come in handy. Attention to detail, fast and accurate typing and general ease around computers are musts. It’s also helpful if you’re a bit of a lip reader!
You’ll need some basic equipment to get started, too, including a working computer, a solid internet connection and likely a quality pair of headphones — especially if you’re working with kids around. (Or from that beach bar we were talking about).
Some captioners invest in a foot pedal that makes it easier to slow down, pause and playback audio while leaving your hands free to keep on typing; some add a second monitor so they have more screen space to watch the show and use the captioning software at the same time. But all of these are relatively minor, one-time expenses and may not be required depending on the specific position.
So, let’s talk turkey: How much do captioners earn?
According to Rev, one of the leading captioning companies, you might make between 40 and 75 cents per minute of captioned video, which can add up to over $1,500 per month for top earners. That means your total pay depends not on the amount of time you spend working, but rather the final captioned video’s total length — which is why your listening and typing skills are so important. The less time you spend working on each video, the more you stand to make overall.
Keep in mind, however, that the cash turnaround isn’t instant; it takes a while to find a position, get hired, and get all your paperwork in order, and then you still might have to wait a week or two for a paycheck once you get started.
Although the earnings might not sound like much, it is possible to make a solid income as a captioner, and even start saving up some money. You can curb the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle, even if you don’t have a lot of extra cash to spare.
Where to Find Closed Captioning Jobs
So, ready to put those Mavis Beacon lessons to work?
As you may have noticed in your work-from-home journey, you can increasingly find telecommuting positions listed at traditional job websites, such as Indeed and Monster. That goes for captioning jobs, too — just enter “transcription” or “closed captioning” in the search box.
You may notice some site-specific positions through companies like VITAC or CaptionMax, large captioning firms that mostly hire captioners to work full time in their brick-and-mortar offices (in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, and Minneapolis, respectively).
But there may also be some remote positions shuffled into the mix, so it’s worth a look.
You can also turn to the following resources for more work-from-home captioning options.
A captioning service based entirely on a network of freelancers, Rev is a great place to get your start as a captioner. The gig is uber-flexible — requiring little more than the laptop you’re likely using to read this post — and you can get started in as little as 48 hours.
Better yet, you actually do get to choose what you work on when you’re with Rev. The lineup of captionable material includes “classic TV shows, modern movies” and “educational videos,” and you only take on the projects you want to. Who knows? Maybe you’ll actually get paid for your next binge session.
When it comes to remote work of all stripes, FlexJobs is a tough board to beat, and captioning gigs are no different.
While it doesn’t have a dedicated “captioning” category, you get lots of hits when you search the term — and you can even filter results by their level of telecommuting-friendliness (“some,” “mostly” or “100%”).
Closed captioning not quite right for you? Need something with a little bit more flexibility… or a little less listening to the same line of speech tens of times over?
Happy binging — er, earning! 😉
Jamie Cattanach (@jamiecattanach) has written for The Penny Hoarder, VinePair, SELF, Ms. Magazine, Roads & Kingdoms, The Write Life, Barclaycard’s Travel Blog, Santander Bank’s Prosper and Thrive, and other outlets. Her writing focuses on food, wine, travel and frugality.