Back in the early ’90s, U.S.-based translators were pretty busy. They had the Internet, the WWW, CompuServe, AOL, FTP, and access to the latest and greatest of software and hardware, not to mention CAT tools…while countries in the so-called developing world had older equipment, no Internet or WWW, and no CAT tools. We cornered the market when it came to Spanish translations (for example). Proximity to our clientele was very important. Even with email access, clients were still sending us floppies and CDs via FedEx or courier. We commanded good –not great– rates.
Then globalization happened. The Internet, email and the WWW started to break down borders and reach into remote home offices in the developing countries, where a low cost of living allowed translators to charge much less per word. I lost some clients, who could no longer afford 10 cents per word in 2001. Clients started to outsource projects with a rate 50-60% lower than what we translators residing in the States were accustomed to charge.
Translation job boards started to appear on the Web, such as Aquarius, TranslatorsCafe, and Proz. Then places like Odesk, SoloGig and Elance started to offer translation jobs, among other freelance offerings. Nowadays, many projects are being outsourced through these freelancer job boards. I recently came across a posting on Odesk:
We are in need of translators to handle high volumes of Spanish to English (and sometimes English to Spanish) translations for the indefinite future. We need translators willing to work with us at a lower rate due to the high volume, so please respond with rate per word. (Source: https://www.odesk.com/jobs/Spanish-English-Translation_~~ad93d707bb4e3d74?utm_source=SimplyHired&utm_medium=organic&utm_campaign=SimplyHired as viewed today).
I have heard this excuse before, lower rates offered in exchange for high volumes. There’s even a parallelism at play here: low/high, which targets our hearts, not our minds, and primes us for an emotional response…a desperate one perhaps?
I received a slightly different spiel yesterday in my email box, something that went on like this: “We are a well-known translation company based in Silicon Valley and we are offering 4.8 cents per word…”
What is a Spanish translator supposed to do with such unfair competition? First, we can react, gripe and complain about this unfair competition. Second, we can respond to such an email in a professional way but letting them know we find these rates unacceptable. Third, we can ignore it, not allowing it to push our buttons, and move on to capture the customers who are not hung up on rates per word.
This last suggestion is part of a larger recommendation that I have set out to follow myself: Do not use –nor react to– emotionally charged words, such as low, high, top-notch, etc. For this same reason, I have begun to reject the adjective high-quality in “high-quality translations”, because high cannot be measured objectively.
Perhaps it is time we adhered to another way of charging for language services, either per hour or per project. The per-word rate model is moribund and it should be the subject of a new conversation among all the market players.