Posey's Tips & Tricks

The Future of Office 365 Pricing

With a raft of new Office 365 features in the pipeline, Microsoft also seems ready to change the way it bills its subscribers. Will it replicate Azure's pay-per-use model, or will it look like something else entirely?

Out of all of the new Office features that Microsoft announced very recently, the one that's gotten the most attention is the ability to transcribe audio files within Microsoft Word. If you haven't heard about this yet, the idea is that professionals such as lawyers and journalists will be able to record audio interviews on their smartphones, then import that audio directly into Word for transcription.

I have no doubt that this will end up being a convenient feature. For many years now, I have been using Dragon Naturally Speaking as a tool for dictating the books, articles and blog posts that I write. (In fact, I dictated this entire column.) As a tech journalist, however, I do sometimes find myself having to transcribe audio files. Rather than performing a manual transcription, I have set up a profile within Dragon Naturally Speaking that will allow me to perform audio transcription. While this is certainly not something that I do every day, having the ability to create an audio transcript is a huge time-saver.

Assuming that Word is able to accurately transcribe what it hears, I have no doubt that the transcription feature will be well-received.

The main thing that caught my attention about the Word audio transcription feature, however, is that apparently it will not be free. Microsoft has not yet released a lot of details about how the transcription feature will be made available, but based on what I have read, it seems that the transcription feature will require OneDrive and will be based on Azure Speech Services. That being the case, it seems plausible that Microsoft may adopt an Azure-like pricing model, in which users pay for the resources that they consume.

That pricing model would mean that someone who transcribes hours and hours of audio would end up spending more money than someone who simply wants to try out the feature on a 30-second audio clip.

While it is certainly possible that Microsoft will use a pay-per-use pricing model for its audio transcription service, I think that it is probably more likely that Microsoft will offer a transcription add-on to its existing Office 365 subscription plans, or at least its business-oriented plans. For example, Microsoft might tell its customers that they can add audio transcription capabilities to their existing Office 365 subscriptions for an extra $2 per user per month. (That's an arbitrary price; Microsoft has not released any pricing details yet.)

If I had to make a prediction as to how Microsoft will sell its transcription services, I would guess that initially the services would be made available as an add-on to the basic Office 365 subscriptions that are available today. However, I suspect that Microsoft's long game may be to eventually create what essentially amounts to an Office 365 app store. If that turns out to be the case, then Microsoft will probably include only basic capabilities in the base Office 365 subscription. Ancillary capabilities could then be added on by selecting those capabilities from the app store.

This approach would mean that those users who only need the most basic Office capabilities would end up paying a lower price than those who need more advanced capabilities.

Ultimately, it is impossible for me to know for sure what Microsoft has planned for its transcription service, and for Office 365 in general. The one thing that we know for sure, though, is that Microsoft is planning to charge its customers a separate fee for the transcription services. Depending on the feedback that Microsoft gets from its customers, it seems extremely likely that Microsoft will eventually begin charging an ancillary fee for other Office features.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 16-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.

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