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Discussing low-paying jobs with outsourcers
Thread poster: laure claesen

laure claesen  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:36
Member (2005)
English to French
May 24, 2008

Hi to all,

I would like to start a talk with translator colleagues from France & Europe (or even elsewhere) who like me are feeling uncomfortable with the decrease of rates offered by agencies. I have been noticing this trend for several months now. It seems that a general slashing of rates is taking place, and don't you feel that if we reply to such offers, we are likely to, as the French say, "saw the branch on which we are sitting"?

Recently, I critized an agency who had posted a job on ProZ because the rate offered was unbearably low ((Eur 0.05 pour a 10.000 words job Eng>Fr to be delivered within the next 3 days. I wanted to read what they had to say about it so I was a bit punchy.

I reproduce our email conversation below, for which I would like your comments :

From: laure claesen
To: xxxxxxx
Sent: Saturday, May 24, 2008 7:04 PM
Subject: [ Jobs]

"Good evening xxx

Whilst I am interested by your offer, I feel that your rate is really very low, considering how urgent this job is (one might think that you don't really mind about quality, unless the client themselves aren't...)


I am experienced (7 yrs), trained and qualified, my business as a freelancer started 4 years ago.[...]

Looking forward to hearing from you soon.

Best regards



I really don't like your criticism about the rates. This is very awkward of you.
The job was entrusted to another, good quality translator who is happy with the conditions of the deal.



of course this is awkward, but the matter was so blatant I could not have ignored it. This trend of lowering the rates is real, I have been noticing this for a while now and I am deeply worried about it.
Why do you offer only Eur 0.05/word, whilst the lowest rate agreed by translators unions (cf. SFT) is hardly lower than 0.075/0.08 minimum?
I am sure you are a very respectable agency, because I often come across your posting. However, I think by trying to pay the lowest possible rates will discredit you with the professionals in the trade. If your rates are too low, you will encourage the market to offer less and less whilst demanding more and more, and all our colleagues will suffer. To provide quality, the job must take place in reasonable conditions. Now, in France, below 0.07/w is totally unsustainable, you have to work day and night to be able to survive, and in the end, what you produce is rubbish.
I am sure many colleagues translator share my opinion.
And, I hope that the person who is presently sacrificing his/her weekend to deliver on Wednesday at 0.05 also thinks like me. Should we always prefer a grudge to sincerity? I do not think it is a good idea.

I would like to hear what you have to say.
Best regards


Dear Madam,
It is the market that makes the price.
Enjoy your weekend."

Do you think that this person is right, that we should realize that the market is commanding this decrease and that we have nothing to do but abide ?
I feel that if we do, out of spite or need to work, sooner we will ruin our businesses AND THIS WILL BE OUR FAULT, won't it.
We must defend our profession and our quality. This is also a very serious appeal, especially to newcomers, who inevitably start this problem because they don't feel confident enough to negociate higher conditions

Thanks for your feedback.

[Subject edited by staff or moderator 2008-05-25 06:54]

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KSL Berlin  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:36
Member (2003)
German to English
The market ultimately pays what it must for the quality that is needed May 24, 2008

Now that might be very little in the case of a lot of the text that businesses generate, stuff that would probably be better off fed to a shredder than translated.

However, I am sure that the agency you mention will get exactly what it pays for. If the end clients are satisfied with this, they get what they deserve

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Marcos Guntin  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:36
German to Spanish
+ ...
An ominous prospect May 24, 2008

Hi Laure and all fellow translators,

the matter you address is indeed worthy of attention. In order to contribute to this discussion, I would first say that my experience has shown me a very complex and preoccupying reality. Shortly said: it is not so much that rates are going down, but rather that they have always been there, in a certain sense. What I mean is that the translation market is quite gigantic and displays very large irregularities which are mainly dependent on economic geography. I have worked for Argentinian editorial companies, and, believe me, you do not want to know what they pay. Similar situations can be seen all over South America, and we should have good reasons to expect the same from most of the so called Third World countries. The equation goes: weaker economy = lower rates.

Now: add to that the impact of global agencies. Such companies, especially but not exclusively those based in the United States, outsource their projects to translators based in countries whose exchange rate against the US or European currencies makes rates that would seem borderline inhuman for Europe quite profitable, or at least a decent earning.

These agencies are liable to completely sink the English-Spanish market in a few years. I worked for one of them for three years, and their rates for the aforementioned pair are of 0,024 USD per word. Or, to mention another of my working pairs: 0,04 USD for German into English. through those rates, they do not even need to have good translators: they can afford multiple underpaid editors + proofreaders + an army of PMs based in offices at Buenos Aires, San Pablo, or Mexico City, so eventually they come up with something somewhat decent, in a very short time, and still make a killing.

It goes on: with big names, websites and NYC headquarters, big clients will have a tendency to prefer them, and they will tend to accept rates that they adjust according to the turnover speed, complexity and language pair, believing that some highly trained specialist is being very well payed to solve a difficult task, while the reality is that the company adamantly keeps a steady rate for all their translators that is never in question, and assigns projects basing on immediate availability a long way ahead of expertise or even the condition of native speaker of either language.

For the same reason, they will have very good resources to get to potential freelance staff members before anyone makes them wiser. Their ideal profile is someone very well trained in a foreign language, who lives in a coutry with a very weak currency and little prospect of better employment.

And the bottom line is: their system, barring the occasional flop with technical literature, works! So the question should be: how long will it take before the European market catches up with them?

Of course, they do have their weaknesses: the main of which is their credibility. Many clients are savvy enough o avoid any outsourcer who will not absolutely guarantee that their services will be performed by native speakers of the target language, holding credentials of their command of the source language and with some expertise in the field.

Another one is quality: Whenever they are facing a complicated project and the deadline is not tight enough to enable the company to scratch errors to hastiness, the virtual mesh of hands manipulating the same text will backfire, unless a good translator was behind it in the first place.

The final and decisive one SHOULD be their awful rates: I myself left them as soon as I learned about ProZ, and so will a few more who found their way into agencies with more reasonalbe business practices, but it seems to be a fight of uncertain outcome: will the translators and clients be wise enough to leave these 2.0 multinationals out of business, or will the constant flow of well educated un-or underemployed middle class youngsters keep them afloat until no one can compete?

Sorry for taking up so much space fellows. i had been pondering this for a while. I look forward to your impressions.



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Alicia Casal  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:36
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
I am ARGENTINE (hate Argentinean) May 24, 2008

My partner and I work for the U.S.A. and for Europe, and our rates are high enough.

For Europe: No less than 0.07 euros/source word (flat rate).

Besides, in Argentina, on top of everything, we are undergoing inflation.
So our rates in Pesos went up.

And our rates in pesos for our local customers are pretty similar to those we charge to clients abroad.

It's important for us all to be in touch and to talk about these issues.

Have a nice Sunday!


[Edited at 2008-05-24 23:20]

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It's a time for them to competer for good translators May 24, 2008

What I mean by this is that ProZ should classify job and post by the rate agency/outsourcers want.
Or agency/outsourcers should post their budget clearly at first place.

Because ProZ membership increasing in noticeable rate, competition amongst us translators are increasing.
Because there is no test on experiences and varification on credentials are asked, membership status is not a guarantee of quality works. So for applying the posted jobs, novice and experienced compete in equal footages.
For reputable agencies, this may not be a problem (I assume), as they know what to look.

I sure don't like the situation in which we are put in price war. I say this because of the obvious increase in number of jobs demanding less and less fee for our works, and taking advantage of our competitions.

By agency/outsourcers clearly stating their budget, we have more freedom to maintain our desired income.
We are put in competitions against each other for cheaper rate.
Don't you think you fellow translators, that it is a time for them to competer for good translators?

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Stephanie Sirot  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:36
English to French
+ ...
There will always be people working for less May 25, 2008

The situation is somewhat the same in North America, and especially in the US. In Canada, agencies still offer decent rates overall.

It is true that rates are going down, the problem is that in our global market, you will always find people willing to work for low to very low rates. That makes it harder to negotiate with agencies, not to mention an increasingly competitive market.

I guess if translators simply refused to work for free, the situation would definitely be better. But that's not the case.

Agencies are also responsible in the matter, by putting their own profit above anything else and often forgetting that without translators, they simply wouldn't exist.


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Barbara Cochran, MFA  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:36
Spanish to English
+ ...
Appalling May 25, 2008

I was appalled a couple of nights ago when I went to the proz job board and saw a posting offering 3-4 cents per word. I made more than 3 cents a word, way back in 1980, for a book translation I did for Macmillan! This is 2008, with a 2008 cost of living and 2008 business expenses. I'd say they've gone up quite a bit since 1980!

I find it equally appalling that as of a couple of nights ago, 110 translators had actually bid on that posting (haven't checked tonight to see what the number has gone up to since then, but I'll bet it has). Does this have to do with ignorance or desperation, or a bit of both?

I have to earn a living and keep my business going, and I simply can't do that in the United States making 3 or 4 cents per word.

Just a few years ago, I had someone offer me, "all of our Spanish to English work," if I would work for 2 cents per word. Surprisngly, it was an agency in the United States. I told him I was a literary and social sciences translator when what he had were technical translations. I thought that was a nice way to get rid of him. But do you know that the next day, his project manager called me and acted like I had agreed to all of that!

I guess I wasn't as desperate as they were! I hope they NEVER found anyone that would accept such rates!

[Edited at 2008-05-25 03:02]

[Edited at 2008-05-25 03:06]

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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 03:36
English to Spanish
+ ...
I wonder May 25, 2008

I wonder how some of these agencies can make it, I really do. If they are continually trying to push down rates while taking a very big chance on quality, eventually their clients must get wise to the fact that they are receiving trash for their money. Either that, or the agencies are buying trash for pennies then trying to turn it in into quality before it gets to the client, which takes time and money... meaning the deadline they are working under (tight) and their own money; lots of it, for someone good to fix it who does not charge pennies.

So either way, I cannot see them making out on a long-term basis. Of course in our forums here it has been virtually impossible to get feedback from agencies on any issues at all; they refuse to participate. I am sure they must have many issues regarding treanslators as well. But unlike us on this side, they play their cards close to their chest.

It is not a good situation when things are so one-sided.

Our greatest strength lies in those who are really good charging what they are worth and not taking less even though temporarily it may hurt.

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Ivana Friis Wilson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:36
Member (2008)
English to Danish
+ ...
Theese agnecies DO get what they aske for ;) May 25, 2008

I was recently offered a job at a third of my minimum rate by an agency - I stated my minimum rate in my reply and didn't hear from them for another 5 days. When they contacted me agagn, they had had their document translated by another translator (they didn't say if this was at their offered rate, I assume it was) and now they were offering the proofreading to to me, also at a ridiculous rate and they had attached the translated document for me. The translation was absolutely amazing. I am not sure if it was machine translation or just really bad work, but I couldn't understand even the simplest of sentences. I told them they needed a retranslation or a heavy editing job and stated my mimnimum rates again. I never heard from them again.

Agencies WILL get what they pay for.

If we all stick together and simply refuse any work at low rates, it should work, the agencies would have to pay us properly and in turn the client should pay the agnecies properly. Unfotunately we all get hungry at some point This is the problem, as freelancers we are not organised enough (are any of you members of a union?) to go on strike and demand out right to be paid properly.

If you look at the amount of agencies on a worldwide basis (just look at the Blueboard as a directory, look at the number of agencies per country), it's no wonder agencies try to get freelancers via proz at low rates - there are simply too many agencies out there, the competition is too high.

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Local time: 11:36
English to Arabic
It is not any better May 25, 2008

Hi all. It is not any better in Third World Countries. I live in Egypt and am suffering the same dilemma. The market here swarms with non professionals. It seems that every Tom, Dick and Harry has become a translator. Many clients don't look for quality but rather low price and fast turnarournd. Perhaps high unemployment rate is the cause or maybe that the non qualified have controlled the market, so the qualified have to compete by decreasing their prices. I must assure you that sometimes the client does not know that the translation provided was simply machine translation that could'nt be even edited except if the translation is to be presented to a reputable body ( multinational company for instance). It is really frustrating.

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Claire Culliford  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:36
Spanish to English
+ ...
A bit of old-fashioned politeness May 25, 2008

Laure, I was really interested to read your email trail with the agency offering the very low rate. I have just posted a new thread in which, although I don't mention it, I could have done a similar thing, as I was quite shocked at the kind of emails I was getting back from the agency. Whatever happened to politeness in electronic communication? To my mind, it doesn't matter what a translator or an agency or a client wants to say (even if it's critical); there are ways of saying things and ways of saying things. I wouldn't dream of writing some of the things that the agency wrote to you (even if I was thinking them) and was outraged this week when an agency thought it was OK to speak to me in a similar fashion. I think it's a real shame that the pressures of the modern world (and we're all busy - agencies don't have the monopoly on stress!) mean that basic politeness seems to be becoming a thing of the past.

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Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:36
Flemish to English
+ ...
Do your own marketing. May 25, 2008

Don't rely only on sites for translators to find work.
Their bidding system made translation into a henhouse :
In certain language combinations (English-Spanish, FrenchEnglish, ..) there are too many suppliers bidding for the same demand.
If you put in a little marketing effort yourself, this can work miracles in finding direct customers, who pay a decent rate on time. Start looking around in your "département" and market yourself to companies in your niche-sector situated there.

[Edited at 2008-05-25 07:01]

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Nesrin  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:36
English to Arabic
+ ...
Can anything be done about this? Not much May 25, 2008

With the rising food and fuel prices (not just in the UK I guess), and everyone else - from my plumber to my accountant - raising their prices to reflect the inflation rates, I've been asking myself if I can afford to raise my rates accordingly. And the answer was a clear "NO".
Why? Because I as a translator, unlike plumbers and accountants, am in the unfortunate position of competing on a GLOBAL level, and there's no going back on that.
As I said time and time again on Proz forums, there's no need to be outraged and shocked at low rates. The fact is that a translator in Egypt (e.g.) can make a very good living with rates as low as $0.03 per word *, and you can't blame them for that. (And I'm not talking about low-rate translators in Egypt referred to by Rania in her message above - these charge as little as $0.015 per word!!).
This is not fair, I know it isn't, especially for translators like me who work from or into at least one non-European language. But the solution is certainly not to waste your time complaining and protesting against something that's nobody's fault. The only solution I see is to try hard to be the best in your specialisation, offer services that others can't offer, and so on.
Don't waste your energy fighting windmills.

* Doing 2,000 words a day, 20 days a month would give him/her an income of $1,200 (or over 6,000 Egyptian pounds) - an income most well-educated Egyptians can only dream of.

[Edited at 2008-05-25 09:06]

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Local time: 11:36
English to Arabic
How many could make this May 25, 2008

Hi Nesrin. The question is how many translators could find such rate for freelance or full time jobs? It is really beyond our imagination!

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Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:36
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
Its our fault May 25, 2008

Those of us who do quality translation but charge less than standard rates out of varying reasons.

Their are newcomers that think they have to charge less because otherwise they will not get jobs soon enough. Later they find it impossible to raise rates.

Others might offer discounts to agencies from low-wage countries, which is of course nonsense.

Others feel they have too little work and start to work for less instead of inproving their marketing.

And some do not seem to be able to convert their rates properly e.g. from line-rates to word-rates. And who believe the talk of PMs that for Trados translations they have to give a discount. Nonsense.


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