How is translation getting cheaper?

It seems just about every bulk translation agency is claiming to have found a great new way to make translation cheaper, be it through the exploitation of the under-qualified and the under-skilled or through some new-fangled technological monstrosity the latest Zuckerberg-wannabe would like to inflict on the minions. Many of these ‘technology pioneers’ send me emails requesting I ‘sign up’ for the latest crowdsourcing ‘innovation’ (they all look pretty similar to me) or agree to post a review, guest post or advertisement for their latest MT development on my site. They never receive a positive response.

The ‘quality levels’ farce

The ‘bulk’ translation market is incessant in its claims of being able to be offer translation of varying degrees of quality for less. One recent trend is the offering of various ‘quality levels’, something professional translators cannot and will not do. For us there is only one quality level: professional, publication-ready quality. We’re not really able to untrain our minds to just go with the first thing that hits us and skimp on research, just like you can’t untrain an expensive, high-quality mechanic from carrying out a careful repair. We can’t suddenly make ourselves less skilled and therefore cheaper and faster. We have to be ready to stand by the quality of our translation as individuals and have no other translators to hide behind in the event of a customer complaint, so we aim to make every job a representation of the best we are able to offer.

The real tell in this translation service at different quality levels is that one can often pay incremental amounts to have an increasing number of under-charging, usually under-qualified and under-skilled, translators edit the translation. This is like saying if you hire one twelve-year-old boy to write a press release, then get this press release proofread by his fourteen-year-old sister and finally signed off by his fifteen-year-old cousin, the result will be of increasing quality and at its highest levels, high quality. True, proofreading and editing by another translator are services commonly offered by boutique agencies and freelancers, too, but this is to provide top-notch quality, not an attempt to provide something vaguely passable by outsourcing to the under-charging, under-qualified or under-skilled in an attempt to skirt the costs of real translation.

The EN 15308 farce

Another common myth is that EN 15308 certification (or any certification, for that matter) guarantees quality, and that it can come cheap.

One agency I had not yet cooperated with recently requested that I fill in an updated version of their application form and tick a box to confirm that I would complete translations according to the so-called “Vier-Augen-Prinzip”, or “two-man rule”, meaning that all translations I produce for them would be proofread by a second party at my end.

This standard was put together under consultation with a number of large translation agencies who desired a means of communicating quality to their clients. The idea presented to the client is that this will ensure greater quality because the second set of eyes will spot anything overlooked by the first translator. In theory, this should be a second similarly qualified translator with relevant knowledge of the field, because the second translator should be sufficiently skilled so as to be able to retranslate the given document in a worst-case scenario. You can imagine my surprise when I asked for more details, only to be ‘assured’ that “the certification only requires a second person to proofread the translation” and “This person doesn’t necessarily have to be a translator herself”, since this goes against all my interpretations of quality assurance and likely the letter of the certification they hope to obtain.

Even more shockingly, when I explained I would then need to raise my stated word rates to cover the cost of the proofreader, including a rate for 100% identical segments that have not been locked (i.e. specifically marked as not for translation), I was reminded that this person “doesn’t necessarily have to be a translator herself”, and “Therefore you (I) don’t need to worry about the word prices.”

So this agency expected me to tick a box to skirt them of their responsibility in ensuring translations were appropriately checked in line with their desired EN 15308 certification. Further, they expected me to find someone who is at least bilingual in German and English, native in English, who has time to spare to read my translations for free. Just how many out-of-work, bilingual, German-speaking English native speakers with time on their hands do you know? An absolute farce and a true damnation of the supposed value of the EN 15308 certification standard, should this agency obtain it. I pity any genuine boutique agency that put real effort into implementing the principles behind this standard.

Multiple Personality Disorder (a.k.a. Lingo24’s “Coach” project)

The latest in a long line of brainy ideas is “Coach”, from Lingo24, for which Lingo24’s CEO is currently trying to get some venture capital together. The idea is that this technology could be used to “break down translation jobs into smaller component parts, allowing the high-level, high-cost work to be sectioned off, leaving the bulk of the routine work for less skilled (and so less expensive) translators.” So he believes the bulk of “routine work” (is our work EVER routine?) can be done by the “less skilled (and so less expensive) translators” – which, given the rates paid by Lingo24, we can somewhat accurately suppose will be the under-skilled, under-experienced, and most importantly under-charging translators who are the sustenance of this bulk translation market. The funny part is that he expects real translators (you know, the ones with experience, degrees, professional memberships, further training, and that other thing… ah, yes, skill!) will do these siphoned-off “high-level” parts. The “premium” translators (who, nevertheless, are happy to work for Lingo24 and at their rates) will happily provide all the important terminology to create glossaries for the students and hobbyists that will handle the rest of the project.

As illustrated above, this model is doomed firstly because high-quality translators, or “premium” translators as Arno likes to call them, are impossible to find for the rates Lingo24 pays translators. So it hereby fails on a most basic level: an assumed resource is unavailable for the assumed cost.

Now we come to the next flaw: the fact that the assumed improvement in quality by using higher quality translators for the hard parts (only) breaks every known principle of consistency. I will try to explain some of the reasons in brief below, but experts are welcome to elaborate in the comments.

Firstly, it should be remembered that all translators translate differently. There is no such thing as a standard or “routine” translation where everything is identical – even highly standardised documents like marriage certificates may contain deviations or include additional information that requires the eye of an expert. The very best of translators have wildly different styles and it is nearly impossible to ensure this terminology and style is consistent. A minor example: The German word ‘Vertrag’ can be both ‘agreement’ and ‘contract’ in English, and there are some cases where the former is better, some cases where the latter is better, and some cases where both are okay provided they are used consistently. A non-expert, like the person tasked to decide which term should be used throughout, won’t know this. The only individuals in a position to guarantee consistent and correct terminology and style are specialist translators of a standard that puts them out of the price range of any of these bargain basement agencies in the first place, as explained above. Further, I doubt Lingo24, like their bulk translation contemporaries, would ever risk sending translations for review by translators of such a high standard: firstly because their proofreading rates will be considered “phenomenal”, and secondly because an expert will simply spot many more errors that a fellow layman would overlook, thereby further increasing proofreading, review and editing costs. We have therefore established that the assumed outcome, an increase in quality, is fundamentally unobtainable and even actively hindered by the methods proposed.

The take-home message for Lingo24’s would-be investors? Lingo24 may promise quality translation at low prices, but this does not mean it is possible. Speak to multiple translation industry experts, i.e. working translators and academics, before you decide to invest in a world very alien to those peering in from Silicon Valley.

Who says translation is getting cheaper?

Christian Arno, for one:

And thebigword, for another:

I put my hands up: rates DO look like they are going down. That is, if you are going by the dubious offers on certain ‘translation marketplaces’ and believe the likes of Christian Arno’s comments on the industry problems and thebigword’s sob story of missing funds for their sales team’s latest cross-Atlantic sales run (most eloquently explained by Kevin Lossner). You may also think it if you went by the offers sent to multiple translators at once by desperate agencies incessant in their search for that which is the ‘pot of gold at the end of the rainbow’ for project managers at translation agencies catering to the bulk translation market with “competitive” rates: the highly skilled translator with low rates. Note that they will never find that pot of gold, but will keep searching for a better ‘resource’ to exploit as they compete on price with similar ‘competitive’ (cheap) translation companies. As long as there are wannabe or desperate translators to undercut their existing suppliers, translation rates at this end of the market can continue to be dug deeper and deeper into the cellar (until eventually the flood comes rushing in).

Vulnerability of the bulk translation market

This lower price segment strikes me as very vulnerable. If you compete mostly on price, you leave yourself wide open to competitors who can beat you on price through efficiencies you are not in a position to exploit (e.g. tax ‘optimisation’, cheaper ‘resources’), as well as the ever-looming threat of slightly-less-crap machine translation. Someone will always find a way to be cheaper or beat your level of exposure to potential clients. If your business depends on their business, your business model is equally unsustainable. So to any translators still battling in this market, my advice is to up your standards, up your rates and up your quality – or be ready to jump ship (or climb out of that cellar) before the plunge.

Rates are not going down

According to the BDÜ and SFT, rates are slightly increasing, albeit not necessarily in line with an increase in living costs. For example, Kevin Lossner published a study of the three-year trend in rates detailed in the BDÜ rates survey back in 2011. Couple this with the latest survey results, and you’ll see rates are still increasing. Similar evidence is to be found in the SFT survey results, which are available free online, although they are now a touch out of date. They do nevertheless indicate that rates are largely standing still if not increasing. If going by the statistics collected by the BDÜ and SFT, rates are most certainly not going down, and if anything, they’re going up.

You’ll also often see claims by agencies that plenty of professional translators will accept very low rates – and the truth is that while some people who call themselves translators may accept such rates, these people are not likely to be professionals. Refer to the BDÜ or SFT rate surveys above, as well as the ITI/IoL rates survey to find counter-evidence – professional translators do not work for the kind of rates thebigword presents as reasonable (0.038 GBP or less than 0.05 USD per word).

The disparity between what the bulk agencies think is reasonable and what professionals are actually charging is quite fascinating, isn’t it? It was such distinctions that made me finally see the value of professional associations (I admit that it took me far too long). In a world where the services of bilingual housewives and language students are such a hot commodity, it makes sense to distinguish oneself and exchange ideas with fellow professionals, not fellow ‘translation providers’ of varying quality. This includes the exchange of ideas about what is an appropriate rate to charge our clients.

Your rates are going UP… if you want them to

How else do I say this? My rates are going up. The rates of most of my translator friends are going up, at least in line with inflation. Why? We don’t accept low rates. It really is that simple.
Next time you’re encouraged to bid low or lower your rates, remind yourself of the following:

  •  Underprice yourself and you will be undervalued. Where there is information asymmetry, the buyer cannot help but make an uninformed choice (and risk buying a ‘lemon’). If the buyer chooses you, make it for the right reasons – perceived quality and professional contact. After the first job, if satisfied with the quality, they will have no reason to go elsewhere.
  • Assuming you get that client, how long do you hope to keep this client? A long time, right? Then you must choose a rate that will keep you happy for the short term and content in the medium term. Long term, you should be able to raise your rates. If the client chose you because you were cheap in the first place, it’s unlikely they will react kindly to a rate increase, even one that is in line with inflation.
  • Every time you submit to low rates you are lining the pockets of those who seek only to undermine your very profession, and in so doing, you provide false confirmation that yes, quality does come cheap. Not only that, but such behaviour may be frowned upon by colleagues who will at best consider you a bit unwise, and at worst a desperate, poor-quality translator who has let the side down. It’s just how it is.

In this industry you are limited only by what you ask for. If you ask for a low rate, that is what you will get. If you ask for a fair rate, you have at least a chance of getting it and filtering out those who will undervalue your services.

In my experience, my highest-paying clients, both agencies and direct clients, are the most pleasant, most prompt in their payment practices (usually seven to fourteen days), and most respectful of my work. They also seem to like to refer me to their friends when they are in need of translators.

Be under no illusions

The bulk translation market served by those who offer different quality levels and various quality assurances that at the end of the day mean nothing, but all for a reasonable cost, is a completely different market. These things simply don’t coexist because the providers of high-quality translation will not work for those rates.

Quality translation will always have a cost that reflects the value provided to clients, and there will always be clients who recognise this and will gladly pay dearly for our services. It’s all about finding (and rescuing) them.

About the Author:

Rose Newell is a British-born, Berlin-based copywriter and translator specialising in high end and high tech. Rose works exclusively with direct clients, mostly located in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. This blog is a labour of love for colleagues, not a sales funnel for paid membership groups, webinars, seminars, courses or coaching services. As one of those who has consistently spoken out against instagurus, readers can trust this blog will never be monetised. Truly successful translators have no need for the pittance generated by such activities.

53 Comments

  1. lenin Garo 19/11/2017 at 2:45 am - Reply

    Very good point concerning the quality levels. “For us there is only one quality level: professional, publication-ready quality.” It’s strange that people come up with ideas like this. Money may talk, but at a certain point it starts talking in circles.

    • Rose Newell 11/12/2017 at 2:47 pm - Reply

      I quite agree. But then I have to ask why the agency you represent (link removed: I only allow links to freelancers’ websites from my blog) writes this on their homepage: “LOWEST PRICES IN THE MARKET”. That’s a ‘circle’ right there – a vicious one, as you force yourself to continually bid lower. All you need is one other company to be playing the same strategy, and you both lose. Not a good way to compete at all. That’s part of what the article is trying to say.

  2. Nikolaos 24/10/2016 at 8:20 am - Reply

    Great article! Everyone must read. I think the cost of translation today is depend of quality and this seperate the professional translators from translators. Keep going Rose 🙂

  3. […] advice at universities, or even worse than that, conflicting and negative advice. I discussed the various sources of rate information in a previous blog post, so if you’re not sure where to start, some of those links to information from professional […]

  4. […] Everyone seems to be finding new ways to make translation cheaper while at the same time promising good results. Not possible.  […]

  5. […] “ Everyone seems to be finding new ways to make translation cheaper while at the same time promising good results. Not possible.”  […]

  6. […] Translation isn’t getting cheaper – I’ve talked about this in my post about How To Raise Your Freelance Rates, but LingoCode […]

  7. […] lien http://lingocode.com/translation-isnt-getting-cheaper/ a été bien relayé par des blogs et tweets de collègues tels que celui de ma consoeur Sara […]

  8. […] Everyone seems to be finding new ways to make translation cheaper while at the same time promising good results. Not possible.  […]

  9. Sara Freitas 08/10/2013 at 6:39 am - Reply

    Excellent insights. I have rarely seen this so well explained. And my own experience aligns with the “trends” (altho hard to identify on our pixellated market). I can only add my own anecdotal evidence. The rate gap is increasing. I have consistently raised my rates over the past 6 or 7 years (still not at the “top” end, though, probably somewhere near the upper middle, wink). The best long term customers come to me directly through referrals. They are disenchanted with repeat bad “big agency” experiences. Some have had so many disastrous translation experiences that they think all translations are inherently “broken” and come to me for copywriting in English (!!). And, increasingly, I am finding that when a poorly qualified lead comes to me through a directory or the internet (those are the ones that tend to buy based on price and request several quotes from different service providers) I am rarely in competition with rates the equivalent of a few cents per word lower than mine…but rather half or a third or a quarter of my rates (and more often a third or a quarter than half!). I don’t know what the explanation is for this, but rarely does a price-sensitive prospect tell me I am just ten or even fifteen percent “too high”. The gap is simply staggering in 90% of the cases. So, I would say that the low end is getting lower, and the high end still has room for price increases as the skills these customers are seeking are extremely rare.

  10. […] another post (we love lingocode), you see exactly the same […]

  11. EP 07/09/2013 at 5:53 pm - Reply

    Very good point concerning the quality levels. “For us there is only one quality level: professional, publication-ready quality.” It’s strange that people come up with ideas like this. Money may talk, but at a certain point it starts talking in circles.

  12. […] Hotel Sign Fails Shandana Minhas & her translators Dinging for ‘Grammatical Errors’ Translation isn’t getting cheaper What is a Certified Translation? The Real Value of Interpreting Julia Sherwood & her authors […]

  13. […] Everyone seems to be finding new ways to make translation cheaper while at the same time promising good results. Not possible.  […]

  14. Jim Jamieson 22/08/2013 at 4:53 pm - Reply

    Arno is a cheapskate and a shyster. He always has been and always will be. This is a man who claims to run a “Scottish” company when 99% of his workforce are physically based in Romania.

  15. […] Everyone seems to be finding new ways to make translation cheaper while at the same time promising good results. Not possible.  […]

  16. […] Translation isn’t getting cheaper: A simple post debunking the myth prevailing among professionals like us that translation is really getting cheaper. […]

  17. Conor Bracken - Andovar 14/08/2013 at 6:09 pm - Reply

    In terms of rates, I find that for the Western European languages, the rates are both going up and down. For areas of specialization, rates are increasing, but for translating more general content, such as travel content (hotel descriptions), rates are going down. The reason is undoubtedly due to the economy/unemployment levels, and the fact that such content *may* require less experience to translate.

    Regarding the Lingo24 approach of breaking translation down, I think it can work for certain kinds of content. On one project, a client had descriptions of tens of thousands of hotels. They agreed a two tier rate (which I proposed) where the first few paragraphs of marketing text were done by professional translators and editors, and the subsequent bulk of text was done by student translators and newcomer translators. This could work because the bulk of that content was listings of room features and hotel facilities (leveraged with a glossary and translation memory). The client had the content independently reviewed and was happy with the results.

    I don’t see why the system doesn’t work with certain kinds of content so long as the content is broken down intelligently.

    For LSPs, the perception of lower prices is coming from One Hour Translation and Gengo.com and similar companies with flat rate fixed pricing. For my company, we are now meeting clients who cite their rates every single day.

    FYI, TheBigWord wrote a similar letter around nine years ago — I got a copy and remember it well. They are just recycling an old policy used in the past.

    FYI (2), a certain MT company is threatening to sue me for libel if I expose come of their practices in inflating BLEU scores and how relevant they are to real quality metrics…

    Whether you are a translator or Language Service Provider, you need to be able to articulate why companies like OneHourTranslation.com and Mygengo.com with their impressive client lists are not offering comparable/acceptable quality at low rates.

    • Rose Newell 14/08/2013 at 9:55 pm - Reply

      I agree that rates are splitting. That’s sort of what I imply in the article, but that the result is that for me, as an individual translator tailoring to specialist markets, my rates are only going up. The bottom does seem to be getting lower and lower, but even that is not sustainable… something will crash at some point. Such content may indeed require less experience to translate, but will still require experience to translate well (I’d rather stay in a “welcoming, serviced suite filled with natural light” than a “friendly, bright room with service”). But sure, not everyone cares and we can’t always make them. I’m glad your client was happy, but I still believe that creativity and skill are things that cannot really have their value estimated until they are seen. Further, I’m not sure all jobs have such a clear split. You split off a specialist part of a project from a general part. Coach seems to suggest this process will be automated and done within the same job. That’s not quite the same.

      Yes, I’ve heard about similar letters from TBW in the past. I think there was one four or five years ago.

      That MT company case sounds interesting. I hope you can find a way to get the truth exposed via some other means. Libel laws can be awfully gagging. Surely one should be allowed to state a fact

      Finally, “Whether you are a translator or Language Service Provider, you need to be able to articulate why companies like OneHourTranslation.com and Mygengo.com with their impressive client lists are not offering comparable/acceptable quality at low rates.” I liked this. Absolutely. That’s a fine message for everyone.

  18. Sebastian 12/08/2013 at 9:55 am - Reply

    Excellent piece, and overdue analysis of the market situation. While I think there is a lot of ungrounded “tech fear” in the industry as well, this analysis is spot on. I think it is legitimate for the market to pivot, and some companies will pursue different directions to see if they’re successful (Google puts its money on big data, and for a lot of applications, that strategy works). It is important to emphasize that language is more than words put together. We are still decades away from algorithms being smart enough for humor, nuance, cultural context and so forth, and we need to communicate better that good translation is a valuable service that cannot be “outsourced” or “given away”. Turning to a “crowd” is an interesting approach, and I do think there are a lot of meaningful applications for it, but some think it is a remedy for almost anything. The most essential part of translation is trust. Trust comes from knowing who your service provider is. Trust also comes from transparency (e.g. though reviews, recommendations, etc). Quality linguistic services will matter more and more as the web becomes increasingly multilingual and intersecting. I think the important aspect this blog post also raises is what good strategies in the industry could or should be to raise more awareness about price dumping and attitudes towards the value of language services in general.

    Lastly I am very happy that the text emphasizes exactly what we’re also trying to accomplish with Lingohub, i.e. making people the center of language services, communicating a sense for sustainable business relationships as the centerpiece of trust and evolving translation environments to a point where we facilitate human connections and focus on translation work, while pushing the technical aspects to the back, letting technology take care of the technology so to speak…

    Thanks for posting, looking forward to reading more.

    • Kevin Hendzel 14/08/2013 at 8:54 pm - Reply

      You write “…quality linguistic services will matter more and more as the web becomes increasingly multilingual and intersecting.”

      Leaving aside the fact that none of this apparently newly discovered respect for human translation actually made it through in your interview, how do you reconcile this purported commitment to translation quality with your practice of paying rates that prevail in the bottom basement of the industry?

      The “pay peanuts, get monkeys” rule is just as inflexible in the translation talent market as it is in any market for human expertise.

      And just for the record, I am not pulling this out of my ear. I built a prominent U.S. boutique translation company from $250K in annual revenue to $25 million in annual revenue before selling it to a publicly traded company 2 months before the 2008 financial collapse. And without a single cent of venture capital.

      It’s amazing what you can do when you treat the people creating value for you with a modicum of respect.

      • Rose Newell 14/08/2013 at 10:05 pm - Reply

        Hi Kevin,

        I’ve been in touch with Sebastian. I was very suspicious at first, too, and didn’t publish his comment until today as a result. The rates listed are their cut for the use of the service. The rates paid to translators are between their clients and the translators themselves, who are invited to sign up to the portal. I’ve had a look and told them they have some way to go before they will get professionals signing up there, but they do seem well-intentioned and seem to have taken my comments on board (apparently Sebastian has forwarded our email exchange to his boss).

        I am of course worried that Lingolab will simply become a “cut out the middle-man” tactic, leading ultimately to worse results and Lingolab’s eventual failure, but not before it’s done some more damage to client perceptions of what translation should cost. There are also plenty of similar platforms out there trying to get our attention. What they are trying to do is create an online platform that means the client sees what the translator sees, skipping formatting issues and so on. I’m hoping they’ll heed my advice and take a look at what is already out there before making a failed attempt to reinvent the wheel, but forget the spokes we appreciate so much.

        As to your comment in general, wow. I would love to refer every bottom-feeding, bulk LSP to that. It’s a very uplifting lesson.

        Rose

  19. Obi Udeariry 08/08/2013 at 7:12 pm - Reply

    Excellent article. Looking forward to hearing the sermon on the Mount live.

  20. AURORA HUMARAN 08/08/2013 at 1:35 pm - Reply

    «The problem is that some such lies may be believed by the merely naive, who would actually be prepared to pay dough for higher quality.»

    Indeed! That is why we need to continue speaking out.
    GREAT POST!

    Au

    • Rose Newell 08/08/2013 at 1:37 pm - Reply

      Thank you, Aurora! And speak out we shall! I hope people will come to hear more such discussions of speaking out come October. Hope you liked the advertisement. 😉

      Rose

  21. […] Everyone seems to be finding new ways to make translation cheaper while at the same time promising good results. Not possible.  […]

  22. […] Everyone seems to be finding new ways to make translation cheaper while at the same time promising good results. Not possible.  […]

  23. Kevin Hendzel 08/08/2013 at 2:10 am - Reply

    Rose, it looks like you’ve turned up the temperature on your blog. Good for you!

    Here’s what I wrote about the Lingo24 article that appeared on the Telegraph website (the moderators there keep removing my comments there, so I’ll put them here.)

    ____________

    My colleagues’ excellent comments below about translation and the folly of this enterprise are all correct. However, objections like these are unlikely to be compelling or persuasive to language clients or even the general public because they appeal to aspects of language and translation that are not obvious.

    Also, they will also be taken (mistakenly) to be self-serving and reflective of a vague “fear of the future,” which they are not.

    Anyway, my problem with the fawning silliness in this article is the wholesale abandonment of anything even remotely approximating journalistic standards for solid business coverage.

    I realize that the phrase “equity funding” causes journalists’ tummies to go all a flutter, but there is exactly zero causal relationship between “equity funding” and “reality.”

    By my count there have been well over 50 equity-funded language services companies over the last decade that also had self-delusions about how much revenue they would generate. Virtually all of them have vanished into the ether without a trace — because they overestimated the capabilities of machine translation, exaggerated the market for such services, or decided that the entire market was wrong and they would just be the people to “fix it.”

    So now we have this genius who is trying to take on Google whose service is recognized to be the best of machine translation and is, incidentally, FREE.

    One final thought. The lunatic idea of dividing up a text to send to multiple translators based on difficulty reminds me of the drawbacks of dissecting a frog to learn about the secret of life.

    Sure, you get to see how everything works. But you’ve killed the frog.

    • Rose Newell 08/08/2013 at 9:49 am - Reply

      Absolutely brilliant analysis! Thank you for sharing it here!

  24. (name removed) 07/08/2013 at 6:25 pm - Reply

    Excellent post, Rose! I agree with absolutely everything you’ve written. I almost spat my coffee at thebigword’s generous offer of 0.038 EUR per word. I still struggle to believe that anyone anywhere genuinely works for that sort of money. I just can’t fathom it.

    However, I don’t think that it’s just the agencies and newbs who are causing this problem. I can think of at least two apparently experienced and respected translators who have attempted to outsource work to me at horrendously low rates, both of whom I let know exactly how I felt about it. One of them even tried to suggest that she didn’t have the time even to introduce herself properly, but had time enough to write me two A4 sides of vitriol for starting negotiations with a respectable rate for my good-quality work. This particular translator even suggested that I clearly don’t understand the benefit (read: security?) of having long-term, reliable work (she was offering me a book (great) but at a low rate (not so great)). I interpreted this as a poor (and badly targeted) attempt at intimidating a more junior colleague.

    Assuming she really was as experienced as she claims, I can only pity her and her ilk for having so little self-respect and self-confidence; I’ve never pursued low rates and have always made it clear that I’m only interested in ‘good-quality clients’ – because I’m a professional. As a professional, I can’t honestly say that I’ve ever had trouble getting ‘long-term, reliable work’.

    I can’t help but wonder what’s going wrong for so many veteran translators to still be accepting much lower rates (or are they just exploiting newbies for their own evil ends? What an awful thought). Perhaps professional associations need to be doing more to empower translators, but then again, I’m fairly sure that I’ve always felt empowered to ask for the rates that my work (and, more importantly, I) truly deserve. It’s a shame that posts like yours are still necessary, but I truly believe that the tide is turning; now that there is more emphasis in our industry on the entrepreneurial linguist, more and more translators seem to be recognising their own worth. Onward and upward, I hope!

    • Rose Newell 07/08/2013 at 6:49 pm - Reply

      Even sadder that I felt it necessary to remove your name from this posting to protect you from the resulting backlash. Your comments needed to be said, and you said them well.

  25. Monica Colangelo 07/08/2013 at 3:21 pm - Reply

    Congrats on a brilliant post, Rose. I loved it and shared it on FB, G+ and Pinterest as well.
    I started my own quixotic quest against translation agencies via my blog a few months ago. (By the way I could do with a boost from colleagues who share the feeling).

    I always claim I was born in the wrong place and at the wrong time. (Boy, would I have loved to have been born in Buckingham Palace!). But no, I was born in Argentina, which makes me a native speaker of Spanish, the third most-widely spoken language on Earth. And which means that being an English into Spanish translator I work in the most sought-after language pair and I’m faced with unloyal, fierce competition day in, day out. Agencies seek to lower their rates all the time and they always find someone who will take them because they’ve got a full- or part-time job and it brings in some extra money. I purposely mentioned “someone” rather than “a translator” because there are loads of people out there who believe just because they’ve learnt English for a couple of years or have been living in the US for a while they can give translation a shot, robbing me of the work I deserve to get because I obtained my university degree in translation 37 years ago, I have this many years’ experience in the widest range of fields and I’m talented (needless to say, modesty is not among my virtues). But I refuse to accept unacceptable rates. And after a painful experience with a British agency I’d been working with on an ongoing basis for over five years, I’m all of a sudden out of work… and two months behind with the rent. How fair is that?

    • Rose Newell 07/08/2013 at 5:18 pm - Reply

      Not very…

      By the way, your point here:
      “robbing me of the work I deserve to get because I obtained my university degree in translation 37 years ago, I have this many years’ experience in the widest range of fields and I’m talented (needless to say, modesty is not among my virtues)” – I wouldn’t say any of this entitles you to the work, but it may make you the most qualified and produce the best quality work.

      Don’t rely on Brits. We’re notorious cheapskates. Germans and Dutch are a lot more reliable in my experience…

      • Ashley Cowles 08/08/2013 at 9:51 am - Reply

        Where did you get the ridiculous impression that us Dutchies AREN’T cheapskates? 😉

        • Rose Newell 08/08/2013 at 10:11 am - Reply

          I’m talking about my lovely Dutchies. I work for a few small agency clients in the Netherlands. They pay fairly. Perhaps partly because they understand German well enough to know I’m accurate, and English well enough to know I write well. 🙂

          …Plus, in my experience, the Dutch agencies – even the bottom-feeders – do seem to actually pay their freelancers and on time.

  26. Trini Clares 07/08/2013 at 10:14 am - Reply

    And we mustn’t forget the newbies who want to do the right thing but are desperate for work and will easily be persuaded by the arguments of these big agencies, thinking they have no other option but to work with these rates because things will get better later. Unfortunately, the won’t because there will be an endless supply of newer and more desperate translators who will be willing to undercut everyone else.

    I also opted out of working with the big agencies some time ago and decided to concentrate on smaller clients who value my work and tend to pay on time and treat me much better.

    Trini

  27. Tomas Donoval 07/08/2013 at 10:02 am - Reply

    Very well written! Especially that part about the different quality levels. I can do nothing but agree that ‘For us there is only one quality level: professional, publication-ready quality….We can’t suddenly make ourselves less skilled and therefore cheaper and faster.’

  28. Oliver Lawrence 07/08/2013 at 9:55 am - Reply

    I don’t really see why these agencies’ policies cause so much angst and affront in the translation profession. Ignore them and move on. Any translation buyer who seriously believes they can get top quality at low prices isn’t a serious businessperson and certainly won’t get to work with you or me.

    • Rose Newell 07/08/2013 at 10:02 am - Reply

      The problem is that some such lies may be believed by the merely naive, who would actually be prepared to pay dough for higher quality. It damages the businesses individually and the economy as a whole in this way because a quality-focused client can end up with something that doesn’t fit their image.

  29. Trini Clares 07/08/2013 at 8:52 am - Reply

    Great post, Rose.

    I agree wholeheartedly that quality doesn’t come cheap and it’s the fact that most clients can’t tell the difference that has lead us to this situation.

    Those of us with a few years in the business have seen this approach by the big “industrial” agencies a few times already. Sad, almost tearful messages telling us that things are really hard at the moment and will we, by the kindness of our hearts, consider lowering our rates so that everything can continue as it is? I don’t think so!

    Trini

    • Rose Newell 07/08/2013 at 9:54 am - Reply

      Quite! Competing on price is just ludicrous when there is a constant supply of newbies and a limit to how much even the best translators can translate in a day…

  30. Kasia E. Slobodzian-Taylor 06/08/2013 at 8:33 pm - Reply

    Dear Rose,

    I’m so glad that you decided to discuss this hot topic. I’m so sick and tired of agencies who are constantly moaning about supposedly being ‘forced’ to lower translators’ rates. At the same time, they’re ready to spend thousands on their marketing and advertising campaigns. I say ‘NO’ to low rates and only charge rates that will guarantee me a good standard of living because I deserve it! I’m lucky to have clients who pay well, and I don’t even bother wasting my precious time on agencies/clients who can’t appreciate the value of my work. I’m very happy to have found a fellow translator with exactly same views!

    Many thanks.

    Kasia

    • Rose Newell 06/08/2013 at 8:53 pm - Reply

      Dear Kasia,

      Nice to see you on here! I agree with you. However, I don’t think our views are that rare… it’s more the follow-through that can be in short supply! 😉

      Glad you enjoyed the article.

      Rose

  31. […] Everyone seems to be finding new ways to make translation cheaper while at the same time promising good results. Not possible.  […]

  32. Heidi Cazes 06/08/2013 at 7:13 pm - Reply

    Excellent article!!
    This is compulsory reading for all translators.
    There is too much hype out there, trying to convince us that translation has become a commodity.
    There are too few voices talking about the truth of quality and professionalism.
    Thank you!

    • Rose Newell 06/08/2013 at 8:54 pm - Reply

      Thank you, Heidi! Indeed, lots of silly hype, but it really does reflect a market I (we) don’t work in. The important thing is to make that clear to translation buyers and sellers alike.

  33. Margaret Hiley 06/08/2013 at 6:16 pm - Reply

    Hi Rose!
    Well said! One argument I always make against low prices is that even if you potentially might be able to produce a high-quality translation, accepting work at low prices means you will have to translate far more within a certain amount of time in order to make a living, which means you simply don’t have time to translate to a high standard. And repeatedly producing lower quality work over a certain period of time unfortunately means your ability to produce high work will become lost. Accepting low wages traps translators in a vicious cycle that it is extremely hard to get out of once they are in it.
    Good luck with the move!
    Margaret

  34. Rod Darby 06/08/2013 at 5:17 pm - Reply

    yay! go you, Rose: you are so right about this matter, and I just hope and pray that all serious, professional translators will stand together. (I can’t ever recall hearing that lawyers’, accountants’ or doctors’ “rates” are falling.)
    The good news is that at least two of the Big Four auditing firms in Germany are willing to ignore the enticements of the agencies and waste their valuable time dealing with a one-man band which might at any given time be playing somewhere in France or Ghana, all for the dubious pleasure of paying double what any self-respecting agency would charge them. (Guess I must be doin’ somethin’ right.)
    Best wishes from Takoradi.

    • Rose Newell 06/08/2013 at 5:32 pm - Reply

      Haha, and long may it continue. I hope the move went well! And hey, be in touch should you feel yourself overloaded. 😉
      Best wishes from sunny Hamburg (soon to be Berlin)
      Rose

    • Charlie Bavington 07/08/2013 at 9:40 am - Reply

      As I rather tediously tweeted a month ago, the issues translators have are rarely unique to us. See here http://www.accountingweb.co.uk/anyanswers/question/have-any-clients-asked-you-reduce-your-fees for new on price pressure being applied to accountants, and see here http://criminalbarassociation.wordpress.com/2013/06/12/this-is-what-is-happening-to-honest-hard-working-legal-aid-lawyers-and-why/ for the pressure some sections of the legal profession are enduring.

      I respectfully suggest we don’t detract or distract from the challenges *we* face by wrongly comparing our situation to the situation others are, or are not, in.
      Charlie

      • Rose Newell 07/08/2013 at 9:59 am - Reply

        I get you. I’ve heard the same about lawyers, both in Germany and the US (I don’t personally know any British lawyers working independently). Accountants I wasn’t aware of but that’s also predictable. It is perhaps a wider problem with freelancers: constant supply of desperate newbies willing to undercut, as well as some experienced people who don’t know what they’re worth, along with a lack of any real collective action to stop the downward spiral.
        Meh. Either way I’m out of it. I don’t work for any big agencies or any in the UK, at the moment at least. Private clients and good agencies in Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Austria..

        • Charlie Bavington 07/08/2013 at 11:46 am - Reply

          Quite. I never get these emails from the large agencies, ‘cos I never even registered an interest with them. I have none. Interest, I mean. I only hear about these things from other people. Of course, in a free market, they’re quite entitled, but I always get a feeling of “Price-focused supplier in focusing on price shock” when news like the recent thebigword email breaks.

          As you may know, I have many and severe reservations about any form of formal collective action or groups, but I see plenty of good in warning people plenty & often of the consequences of being part of the supply chain for bulk commodity shifters. But then let people make their free and informed choice.

          I suspect all sectors of the market will continue to co-exist, although the proportions may shift. If not, and it all gravitates towards google translate + correction by A-level students, it will merely show we have failed to demonstrate any added value, in which case we deserve to fail.

          • Rose Newell 07/08/2013 at 12:15 pm

            Charlie, you don’t need to register with the large agencies to get emails from them. I get a lot of such emails through my ITI profile and my ProZ profile. Many seem to just fish my email from the internet, too. Anyone reading my blog or seeing what my presentation topic is at the IAPTI Conference would guess I’m not going to respond favourably, but they’re not spending that long to filter people out. That said, I didn’t get thebigword email, but I did receive a few emails from Capita lately, despite my protests.

            I agree. I think the top end of the market is liable to become more competitive. The translators with only moderate skills of expression in their target language will fall out of the market. It’s already happening. My skills in written English are one of the major reasons my clients list for choosing me.

Leave A Comment