Transcription platform Rev quietly slashed the minimum pay for its contractors earlier this month, and its workforce has been vocally pushing back against what it sees as unlivable wages since then.
Last week, on the same forum where the pay changes were first announced, CEO Jason Chicola attempted to quell concerns of Revvers, Gizmodo has learned. And while his mammoth forum post touches on a few concrete changes – like a tenure-based grading system – in approximately 2,000 words, he does little to address the key issue of shrinking paycheques.
The initial reactions suggest the breach of trust is deeper than Chicola may have imagined.
“It appears that Rev is continuing to refuse to acknowledge the fact that graders are consistently reporting a 25-40% loss in earnings over the last two months,” one early respondee on the forum wrote to Chicola, according to documents reviewed by Gizmodo. “Just because your profits margin stayed the same, doesn’t mean your workers’ did as well,” wrote another.
“I doubt this would have happened without customer reactions on top of of all of the internal freelancer reactions,” another Revver told Gizmodo over Twitter DM. “Yet it still doesn’t address the core fact that Rev pays its transcribers a pittance – that was already the case before the pay cut, and it’s even more the case after it.”
Besides glossing over the key issue that made his workers so angry, Chicola does not touch on the potential breaches of privacy uncovered last week by OneZero’s Sarah Emerson.
At the very least, Chicola has committed to a live Q&A (although how live it will be remains to be seen as Revvers are instructed to pre-submit questions).
Chicola’s post, which was also emailed to Revvers on Thursday evening, is reproduced below in full.
The last week has been a big learning experience for me and the Rev team.
We got a few things wrong...
We should have acknowledged the very valid reasons why many of you don’t want to claim harder files, namely problems with our flawed grading system (more on this in a minute)
- We should have announced the job pricing changes by email, not just in the forum
- We should have given you more time to digest the changes
- We should have given you a better venue to get your questions answered before the change rolled out
- We should have acknowledged the very valid reasons why many of you don’t want to claim harder files, namely problems with our flawed grading system (more on this in a minute)
We have grown a lot as a company, and I now realise that the old ways we communicate (occasional forum posts) aren’t enough. You guys depend on Rev and deserve better communication, and even more so to be listened to in the right ways. We’ve done a poor job on this as a company. This email/post is a first attempt at better communication, but I will follow up it tomorrow with a live video Q&A (details below).
We have a lot to work on
Revvers tell us they feel:
- Anxiety over grading, frustrated at our style guide and afraid of inconsistent graders
- Rev’s system is too harsh...a cruel robot that determines your fate...nobody to turn to
- Bad luck can ruin your career with Rev. A few technical glitches or bad grades can knock you out of Revver+...so there’s no reason to risk claiming a hard job!
Sadly, we totally agree with this assessment. I don’t make a living as a Rev freelancer; you guys do. You guys are the experts on what it is like to work in this online community we have built. The criticisms above, for example that the system is too harsh, are painful for me to hear because I know they are totally true and there are plenty of you that have been dinged for something small, often without a sympathetic person to turn to. We are very automated for efficiency, which I’m sure can be really aggravating when you need someone to explain your situation to. We know we have a lot of problems to x. The real fixes will take time...but we are announcing today 3 New Benefits for Revver+ that aim to reduce some of the understandable anxiety you feel over your metrics (again, details below).
Some things you might not know
- Our profit margin is the same today as a week ago or a month ago. We had many reasons to make this change, but improving our profit margin was not one of them.
- The price increases on harder jobs and the price decreases on easier jobs are about the same when you add them up
- Customers have been complaining about our quality on some jobs, and when we investigate we have found that our #1 quality problem is that rookies and new Revvers often claim hard audio that is above their skill level. That is the problem we are trying to solve. Everything in this email is about trying to solve this problem. If customers get better quality they send us more work. We will always keep trying to improve quality for customers. Happier customers means more work for you.
- Our retention of new Rookies stinks. It was never great, but over the last few months it tanked. The main reason is that, after they finish practice jobs, they claim customer work that is typically too hard for them. Their first impressions of Rev often crush their confidence, when we should be giving them work they can do well so they build their confidence.
Putting all of this together, hopefully you can see we are trying to get some of you to make different choices. We want some of you to choose harder audio files. We aren’t asking you to do us a favour... we are using financial incentives to steer you to the jobs that we think will result in happier customers and a healthier Rev. In hindsight we should have taken more time on this, to not only explain it better but to better understand all the reasons you might not want to do harder jobs and then do what we can with product or policy to x some of those issues. Again, I wish I could have done all this in a different order.
Many of you have told us that job pricing is only one of the reasons you don’t claim harder jobs. The other big reason is a fear of bad grades. In a perfect world we would grade on a curve, yet this is hard to do. Even on a good day, 10 graders might have 10 different opinions. It is very hard to improve a system full of subjectivity and humans with personalities and preferences - difficult to design it to always produce the right outcomes. We will improve the grading system but that will take time - months at least. All of this got us thinking that there are some immediate things we can do reduce Revver+ anxiety over grading. Then we kept thinking about how to give Revver+ additional benefits and here is what we came up with.
3 New benefits for Revver+
We will implement these changes before February 29, 2020 (and hopefully much sooner).
1. Tenure-based Grading Formula. Today we measure your eligibility for Revver+ based on your last 30 grades. Many Revver+ have done the math and realize that to maintain a 4.8 average, you can only “lose 6 points” and maintain your status (5.0-4.8)*30 = 6. A Revver might get perfect 5’s for years and years, and then have a few bad grades and lose their Revver+ status. We aim to x this. The new grading system will work as follows:
a. If the average of your last 30 grades is above 4.8, you qualify for Revver+ (same as before)
b. But if the average of your last 30 grads is below 4.8, we will look at a longer grading history for Revvers+ with tenure:
1. Revvers who have been with Rev 1-2 years: 60 jobs
2. Revvers who have been with Rev 2-3 years: 90 jobs
3. Revvers who have been with Rev 3+ years: 120 jobs
c. So to determine who makes Revver+, we will look at those two scores and use whatever is higher. A Revver with 3+ years experience could lose 24 points over 120 grades and still get the 4.8 threshold.
2. “Need More Time” Button. Some of the most frustrating Rev experiences we’ve heard about involved racing to meet a deadline, only to find a problem in the audio file or in life that leads you to miss the deadline and not get paid. To x this, we will give you a button to let any Revver request an extension to Rev’s deadline. Rookies and Revvers can extend the deadline by 30 minutes for short audio files or 2 hours for longer audio files. They can extend the deadline for any job, so long as they did not extend a deadline on their last 9 files. So Rookies and Revvers can extend a deadline on 1 job out of 10. Revver+ will be able to extend a deadline on one job out of 5.
3. Unlimited reapplications to Transcription or Captions. Rev operates four services which welcome freelancers from all walks of life - Transcription, Captions, Foreign Subtitles and Translation. Many transcriptionists do captioning and vice versa, since both require a strong command of English. But if you fail the test once you can’t reapply. Any Revver+ will be able to reapply an unlimited number of times to Captions (for transcriptionists) or Transcription (for Captioners).
NOTE - as we approach implementation, we are likely to change minor details of the policies above, but it is our intention to do 80+% of them as written.
We will do more, but this is a start.
Live Q&;A - Tomorrow, Friday, November 15 at 11AM CST
I will spend an hour tomorrow answering any questions you’d like to submit. Please post questions here in the forum , or if you’d prefer to ask in private you can private message @Ry-Rev on the forums or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Ry will collect the questions, identify the most common concerns and ask me in a live video Q&A tomorrow, Friday, Nov 15 at 11AM CST (convert to your local time ), on our YouTube channel .
(Note - we’ve never done a YouTube livestream. If we can’t make it work technically, we’ll find some other way to get you the videostream. We’ll post any updates in the forum in All-Announcements).
Why Rev exists
As I may have mentioned in the past, 15 years ago I was an early employee of Upwork (formerly known as oDesk). Upwork is the largest marketplace for work-from-home jobs. I had the opportunity to get to know hundreds of Upwork freelancers and in almost every case, I met people from all over the world, many in Eastern Europe, who were thrilled to be able to become their own boss and build a work-from-home career on their own terms. I became convinced that the Internet would ultimately give hundreds of millions of people the opportunity to chart their own path, from their own couch, in their pyjamas, so long as they had a broadband connection. I have spent most of my working career dedicated to this idea.
I founded Rev to solve problems I saw in Upwork’s business model. For customers, the problem was inconsistent quality. For freelancers, the problem was a constant need to apply to new jobs, and daily uncertainty over whether you’d be paid for the work you are doing.
I hope to grow Rev 100x from current levels, which will only happen if customers are consistently delighted and most Revvers, from the newest rookie to the most seasoned Revver+, enjoy their experience and tell friends to apply.
Our mission is “to create great work-from-home jobs, powered by AI.” Our 140 employees are working hard to make that a reality.
I’ve never been one for virtue signalling. I prefer to let actions speak, not words... historically I would rather let Revvers do the talking about what Rev is all about, since I felt that was more real than me talking about it.
I now realise that isn’t enough for a large online community. We left a vacuum and folks filled it with a lot of concerns. Some valid fears, some unfounded fears, some half-truths, and some untruths. It was our mistake to let that happen.
We will start listening and communicating more. The live video Q&A tomorrow is something we’ve never done. If you guys find it helpful I’ll do it a few times a year, since we want you all to better understand where we are headed and why we do what we do. And you can decide for yourself whether you believe our efforts to build a healthy community that serves Revvers is sincere.
Thanks for listening. -Jason
Featured image: Rev