Back in 1992, word count of a document in the target language used to be the standard practice to compute payment for the translator and/or editor. This informal standard changed in the late 90s –source language word count (English being the source language) became the new measurement of payment and timeline computing.
In the U.S.-based Spanish translation market, the surplus of translators and the outsourcing of assignments to linguists overseas have exerted a downward pressure on word rates to the point that word counts have become an expression of how unprofitable Spanish translations can be. Several of my clients have resorted to a project-based rate instead in order to survive with an ever thinner razor margin of profitability.
One of my associates, based in Los Angeles, has expressed that his customers can drop him like a hot potato over a 1 cent difference with other providers. A long-time customer based in northern Florida has been shipping assignments to Argentina and Uruguay-based translators at an average of 5-6 cents per word. This fact is on track with what many American translation bureaus are paying U.S.-based Spanish translators.
What are competent Spanish translators supposed to do? Is carving out a profitable niche in this profession still possible for us? There is not a single answer to this dilemma. Part of the solution for some is to increase sales to direct customers and rely less on translation bureaus. Another option, which I favor, is to become more productive via the efficient use of translation memory tools and other software utilities. Please keep in mind that I said efficient, as many translators and translation project managers are still in the basics training track of these tools.
Speaking of productivity, I’ll write more on this topic later on.