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As a reverse auction site, is ProZ.com genuinely serving translators? (Staff: 'no auctions')
Thread poster: Brian KEEGAN
Brian KEEGAN
Local time: 17:45
French to English
+ ...
Oct 28, 2004

On Proz, the client states and specifies a need, invites bids, and then almost invariably chooses the lowest price. This is a classic online reverse auction scheme. It is interesting to note that online reverse auctions in the construction industry are the subject of much heated debate in the U.S., where the general sentiment is that this new phenomenon is damaging to the industry as a whole.

See:http://southcentral.construction.com/opinions/

Brief extract: "The American Subcontractors Association's Alexandria, Va., issued a [...] negative statement by labeling on-line reverse auctions as another form of bid shopping.

"This method of bidding is unhealthy for the construction industry," said ASA President Rick Wanner. "Many reverse auctions are conducted in a fashion that is better suited for commodities. Treating construction services like commodities makes as much sense as asking your dentist to compete on price through a conference call with his or her competition."

End of brief extract...

Now, would this not mean, shock horror, that the same could apply to the translation industry? After all, would most of you not agree that Proz has the effect of depressing prices in our profession rather than buoying them. Now, I know that this will probably bring the usual responses along the lines of "Gee, if the price is not right for you then just don't accept the job!", etc., but honestly, is this good enough?

Take the situation of the tomato farmer dealing with the major retail chain. The retail chain wants to buy tomatos, but wants to get them for the lowest possible price. Along comes tomatos.com, who say "hey tomato farmers, sign up with us, pay us a premium membership fee, and we'll put you in contact with retail chains who'll buy your tomatoes."

So the tomato farmers do just that, except they find that instead of them being able to sell at reasonable prices the tomatoes they slaved over to grow, they are having to slash their prices to satisfy the retailers until it is no longer profitable to grow tomatoes at all. Then what? Well probably nothing really, because tomato farmers are surely better organized and informed than us poor translators, and they would have surely said to tomatos.com "listen guys, this is not on... you are depressing our market..." Or no?
Any ideas anyone?

[Subject edited by staff or moderator 2004-10-28 18:46]


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xxxMichaelRS
Local time: 17:45
Tomatoes are a commodity Oct 28, 2004

Tomatoes are a commodity, but services vary drastically as to quality.

In my initial years, I worked for a big German translation company with branch offices all over the place. I had more work than I could handle - at fairly low prices. When I look back on my first years, I cringe at what I probably wrote, but they ate it out. Crank it out with big companies who never check it. So then I moved on as I got better to smaller companies that actually gave their clients a good translation. And paid more.

It's a more diverse market than for tomatoes, although I suppose there are also quality differences in tomatoes. I can't believe some of the "translations" I see out there, but a whole lot of customers don't seem to know or care - it's a differentiated market, because some clients want a translation that is orderly.


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Henry Dotterer
Local time: 11:45
SITE FOUNDER
No auctions here Oct 28, 2004

This post has come up a few times in the past. If you examine ProZ.com a little more carefully, you find that not only are there no "reverse auctions", there are no auctions at all. When a member quotes, the rate entered, if there is one--it is optional after all--is not shown to others. This makes ProZ.com equivalent to "real world" directories like the phone book.

If you disagree, please ask yourself: "How could ProZ.com be made *less* of an auction site?" Apart from closing it down, I don't think there is a way.

As for your statement that the outsourcer "invariably" chooses the lowest price, that is simply wrong. The outsourcer *rarely* chooses the lowest price.


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Premier Focus  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 11:45
German to English
+ ...
Price is not the only deciding factor Oct 28, 2004

Brian KEEGAN wrote:

On Proz, the client states and specifies a need, invites bids, and then almost invariably chooses the lowest price.


Good afternoon Brian!
I understand that you are trying to bring a point across, but would like to come back to "invariably choosing the lowest price". We are a translation agency and do choose our translators from ProZ from time to time. I can tell you with 100% certainty that price is not the only thing that matters. Once you have been in the business as an agency for a while you understand that you have to be very picky and sometimes have to pay more in order to get the quality you are looking for. That is not to say that we have not worked with translators that charge low rates - we have and sometimes we were also very happy with their work. However, we are looking for qualifications first, experience after that and price last. There might be agencies that have a different approach and I have a hunch that those are the agencies that do not stay in business for long. Quality is what counts and for quality you still have to pay a decent price.

Best regards,

Kerstin Krämer
www.PremierFocus.com


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Aleksandr Okunev
Local time: 18:45
English to Russian
There is another way Oct 28, 2004

Henry wrote: If you disagree, please ask yourself: "How could ProZ.com be made *less* of an auction site?" Apart from closing it down, I don't think there is a way.


I've been tempted to open my big mouth since I wasted some time on reading a dozen threads complaining about low rates. Without retelling you the history of the issue I'd say: Henry, it is high time for Proz to become a hub for a large translators' webring.

You see, there are new translation sites popping up, good, or bad , but the fact is they are fragmenting the market and the result is disorder and decline of it. Not only am I unable to maintain my profile on a dozen of sites, I have no intention to, no matter how nice they are.

Agencies complain that a good translator is hard to find, again, because the pals are spread between the sites half of which I have not even heard of, which are at best divided, if not warring.

So, why not extend hands to each other? I am certain everyone would benefit: sites, agencies and translators too.


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Nina Snoj
Slovenia
Member (2004)
Spanish to Slovenian
+ ...
I couldn't agree more Oct 28, 2004

[quote]Aleksandr Okunev wrote:


You see, there are new translation sites popping up, good, or bad , but the fact is they are fragmenting the market and the result is disorder and decline of it. Not only am I unable to maintain my profile on a dozen of sites, I have no intention to, no matter how nice they are. [quote]


I couldn't agree more. I have been visiting about a dozen of sites and only decided to go Platinum here in Proz.
However, that doesn't mean that those sites don't publish jobs that match my language combination or that most of the translators don't struggle to maintain their (our) profiles in every possible place where a potential client might search for a language specialist. Of course you can have all job leads sent to your mailbox and then spend another 30 min per day eliminating them.
I really wish that all those sites could merge with (in) Proz,I think it's a win-win situation, but I doubt that administrators and owners of other sites are all willing to do so. Afterall, those sites contain years of their work... Excuse me all for going too far, but perhaps the best solution would be a market research, which doesn't seem easy when taking into account that the translation activity operates on a global scale, but the translators/interpreters/agencies could fairly decide, in benefit of all of us, which features and services are essential, which transl. website is the most user-friendly,etc.. and that could be some kind of a start.
You know who my vote will go for...

Have a nice evening,

Nina


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Brian KEEGAN
Local time: 17:45
French to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
disagreeing with Henry... Oct 29, 2004

I beg to disagree with Henry. Although quoting and asking for rates may well be optional, we all know that practically all outsourcers ask for rates or else impose them themselves. In the latter case, the rates are invariably ridiculously low. As for the assertion that there are no online reverse auctions on Proz, well, sorry, but there are. Proz IS an online reverse auction site for translation outsourcers: in online reverse auctions, the outsourcer invites potential suppliers to quote for supplying a commodity, and the lowest priced bid is chosen (as opposed to classical auctions where the vendor invites bids and the highest bid wins - hence commodity prices are buoyed). In online reverse auction set-ups, the bidders don't need to physically see the price their colleagues are proposing; they will have a pretty good idea anyway, assuming they are not complete novices. And this is exactly what happens on Proz: we are seeing the "commoditization" of translation. In other sectors, online reverse auctions are causing economic mayhem. They are undermining the ability of professionals to earn a decent living from their skills by facilitating dumping practices. Again, this is exactly what is happening on Proz. Now, I realize that Proz is not the only source of translation work around, and I also realize that many clients value other factors such as quality above price, but surely it is unreasonable to assert that for these reasons alone there is no need to change the way that Proz operates. I suggest that Proz should close down its job bidding facility, and that for outsourcers, Proz should become a translator directory and nothing more. Otherwise, where are we going? What future does Proz offer translators as a body of professionals?

Tayfun: you are right in saying that you cannot bid below your minimum rate, but what does that change? For one thing, there is no restriction on changing minimum rates on Proz. You can change them as often as you like. And secondly, even when your minimum rate is reasonable, as most Proz members' minimum rates are, there will always be someone else with a much lower minimum rate who has no scruples about engaging in dumping, for whatever reason. And this is directly facilitated by Proz! So who is Proz serving? Translation professionals? Somehow, I don't think so...


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Ralf Lemster  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 17:45
English to German
+ ...
Restriction to changing minimum rates Oct 29, 2004

Brian,
For one thing, there is no restriction on changing minimum rates on Proz. You can change them as often as you like.

May I suggest to take a look at the Rates FAQ:
5. Can I change rates once I have entered them?

After an initial one week period, rates can be modified only once every three months. Therefore, it is important that you put careful consideration into the selection of your rates. During the initial first week, you can edit your rates as often as you like.


Best regards,
Ralf


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xxxMarc P  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:45
German to English
+ ...
As a reverse auction site, is ProZ.com genuinely serving translators? Oct 29, 2004

Firstly, all credit to Henry that we are having this discussion here in the first place. We could agree to meet in the foyer of General Motors' headquarters for a discussion of whether the latest Chevy is underpriced, and invite the press along to make sure that the discussion become as public as possible, but I think it would be a short one.

Brian: "And this is exactly what happens on Proz: we are seeing the "commoditization" of translation"

Yes, we are seeing the commoditization of translation, but it isn't happening on ProZ. ProZ is merely reflecting it. It had been happening for some time before ProZ was founded. The trend probably became more acute with the advent of the Internet, which gave potential customers immediate access to a large number of translators and also revealed discrepancies between rates in different parts of the world, but I would say that it began before then; the Internet has simply accelerated it.

You talk about "dumping". I understand "dumping" to mean selling at a loss in order to win market share. In the present global climate, I'm not even sure that this is still considered unacceptable, as it once was. But even if it is, differentials in the cost of living mean that "cheap" translators aren't necessarily working for "dumping" prices as defined above.

"So who is ProZ.com serving? Translation professionals?" Well, ProZ is a business, and like any business, ProZ is serving its customers. I'm sure Henry genuinely wishes and seeks to serve the translation profession, but "the translation profession" is a fairly vague concept. For the purposes of ProZ, the translation profession is very inclusive: ProZ has chosen not to impose quality controls or define qualifications for membership.

"...we all know that practically all outsourcers ask for rates or else impose them themselves"
This is simply not true. It might appear that way from within ProZ, but in other parts of the translation market, there is a greater appreciation that translators are professionals and that their own rates, although subject to market forces, are the starting point for any negotiations, rather than the wishful thinking that some customers nowadays euphemistically call their "budget". The whole discussion of prices is in any case as much translators' own fault as anyone else's. Fixed rates are in themselves illogical, given the diversity of the work. Which brings me to this:

"I suggest that ProZ.com should close down its job bidding facility, and that for outsourcers, ProZ.com should become a translator directory and nothing more."
This would simply result in certain customers searching the directory for translators offering the lowest rates. And if translators were not allowed to publish rates explicitly in the directory, the hungriest among them would still find very creative ways of advertising their cheapness. There is no getting around the fact that some people are prepared to work for very little in order to have work at all, and some people are prepared to dispense completely with standards in the interests of the lowest price. These two groups gravitate towards each other, and when they find each other, a market exists. That market exists with or without ProZ; ProZ just happens to be a convenient venue for it, which in turn is simply a consequence of ProZ' highly deregulated character.

"Otherwise, where are we going? What future does ProZ.com offer translators as a body of professionals?" That's a very interesting question. Personally, I don't see anything wrong with a facility in which customers can invite offers for jobs. The modalities are secondary and are not the chief factor driving the prices. It is difficult, though, for a single venue to serve both the price-driven, "commodity" sector of the market, and the standards-driven sector. ProZ cannot target the latter simply by changing the modalities of jobs postings; the only way to for it do so is to intervene in the market in some way, for example by imposing controls upon (translator) membership, or at the very least, by a concerted campaign of client education. If it continues to take a hands-off approach to the market, the question is more likely to be "what future do translators as a body of professionals offer ProZ"? Which would be a shame.

Marc


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Aleksandr Okunev
Local time: 18:45
English to Russian
Exactly my point: You have a la-a-a-a-rge field to play Oct 29, 2004

MarcPrior wrote: There is no getting around the fact that some people are prepared to work for very little in order to have work at all, and some people are prepared to dispense completely with standards in the interests of the lowest price
Marc


Yes, you *can* get away with several unpaid or poorly done jobs on Proz and move elsewhere, change a name and come back in a year. Year after year, in fact. There is no trusted *comprehensive* translation Web resource, while good agencies and translators are far more numerous, the trend is set by the people you describe, Mark.

Of course, I can anticipate the problems resulting from making an attempt to go mega-global, but, as one of my clients (he's called 'property tycoon' by the BBC) told me "if you can deliver what people really need, wealth is generated in torrents". I do hope it would give some food for thought to everyone.


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Adam Podstawczynski  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:45
Polish to English
+ ...
advising the agencies, rating the translators Oct 29, 2004

Hi,

Very interesting thread indeed. My view:

1) I am a translator, and my job, interest, and goal is translation. During my work time, I should avoid anything that distracts me from translation. Engaging in price battles with other translators, and trying to sell myself, are distractors, just like struggling to solve that 100th software problem. From this perspective, proz.com auctions (or whatever you call it) are distractors. They take my time and energy.

2) However, I am a freelancer, and this makes me a businessman. I've found many customers through proz.com's "distractor", and I'm happy that these auctions exist, though I hate spending time bidding instead of translating -- a paradox.

3) Now, the lower prices I see I can get through auctions, the less happy I am with them, and the more I hate the time spent on bidding. Prices do get lower, we all know. However, below a certain point, it will get critical: both the translator, AND the customer will be frustrated with the translation (lower rate often = lower quality, because the translator just doesn't care; sorry if I offended any translators here).

4) There ARE many agencies which pay reasonably high rates. So, this is not a "general market tendency", it's a tendency among agencies earning on quantity, not quality. This means that there is also place for craftsmen among us, who can be well rewarded for what they do. The quality market is less visible, but it IS there. It's just the growing and more visible quantity market that makes us all frustrated here.

5) Conclusion: How about educating customers, and rewarding quality? First, let's deliver a short explanation to all job posters why it is not always desirable to choose the lowest bid. With good, strong examples and arguments. With complaints from dissatisfied customers. And the second, more controversial thing: How about introducing translator rating? No comments about rates allowed, just comments about quality and a rating from 1 to 5. No one will give a job to an EUR 0.02 translator who has 10x1 marks. And no self-respecting translator will bid that low; so, maybe this would stop the rate battles at a reasonable price level? I know there are dangers (malicious ratings, excellent ratings for an agency's own translator's, etc.); but it's like with agencies, or am I missing something? I've searched forums for "translator rating", but it seems it hasn't been discussed much, at least with these keywords...


[Edited at 2004-10-29 08:25]

[Edited at 2004-10-29 08:26]


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Giovanni Guarnieri MITI, MIL  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:45
English to Italian
Bidding system... Oct 29, 2004

MarcPrior wrote:


"I suggest that ProZ.com should close down its job bidding facility, and that for outsourcers, ProZ.com should become a translator directory and nothing more."

This would simply result in certain customers searching the directory for translators offering the lowest rates. And if translators were not allowed to publish rates explicitly in the directory, the hungriest among them would still find very creative ways of advertising their cheapness. There is no getting around the fact that some people are prepared to work for very little in order to have work at all, and some people are prepared to dispense completely with standards in the interests of the lowest price. These two groups gravitate towards each other, and when they find each other, a market exists. That market exists with or without ProZ; ProZ just happens to be a convenient venue for it, which in turn is simply a consequence of ProZ' highly deregulated character.



Marc


Well, Mark, I've campaigned for the abolition of the bidding system here on ProZ for a long time. You see, we do the work, we dictate the rates. Can you imagine going to a plumber and say to him: I need to replace the boiler. I’m going to give you this X amount of money to do it. Bidding systems inevitably drive the rates down and should be scrapped.

Giovanni


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xxxMarc P  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:45
German to English
+ ...
As a reverse auction site, is ProZ.com genuinely serving translators? (Staff: 'no auctions') Oct 29, 2004

Giovanni,

MarcPrior wrote:

"I suggest that ProZ.com should close down its job bidding facility, and that for outsourcers, ProZ.com should become a translator directory and nothing more."


I didn't - that was Brian. I was quoting him.

The jobs section is, I imagine, one of the main attractions of ProZ. I suspect that the site management would be very reluctant to abolish it. I don't think that it need necessarily be abolished, either, but it would certainly be better if it weren't tainted as a bidding system. It would be preferable for customers not to indicate their "budget" in job descriptions, but even that is not the real flaw. As I see it, it's the reduction of the business negotiation process to a few mouse clicks that's the problem.

Providing good translation services entails contacting potential customers and discussing their requirements with them, not making a one-sided, take-it-or-leave-it offer that then appears on a web page as a "bid" and in the customer's in-box along with dozens of others. Translation services are too complicated to be dealt with this way, at least as far as the initial contact is concerned.

One of the main reasons for the malaise at the bucket-shop end of the market is that the bulk merchants have cut the lines of communication between customer and translator. As a result, instead of skilled professionals discussing and promoting the benefits of their services, unqualified middlemen reduce "customer requirements" to that odious buzzword, you guessed it, "budget".

Right, I'm off to my local Mercedes dealer with my "budget".

Marc


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Aardvark Sweden
Local time: 17:45
Swedish to English
Lack of understanding of market rules Oct 29, 2004

Giovanni Guarnieri MITI, MIL wrote:

I've campaigned for the abolition of the bidding system here on ProZ for a long time. You see, we do the work, we dictate the rates. Can you imagine going to a plumber and say to him: I need to replace the boiler. I’m going to give you this X amount of money to do it. Bidding systems inevitably drive the rates down and should be scrapped.

Giovanni


Being the representative of an agency, I think the basic problem is that you do not understand how the market works (which is fine, since you're a translator, not a market expert). You do not dictate the rates. The rule of "supply and demand" does. If there are a dozen plumbers in your town, it would be silly not to shop around and invite offers from several of them, wouldn't it? Well, that is exactly what the agencies do here at Proz.

To all those using the term "auction": If you had ever been to an auction you would know that it involves giving multiple bids in order to win over your opponents. At Proz you can only give one bid, which is the equivalent of an offer. Conclusion: it has nothing to do with "auctions".

Any serious buyer would contact several suppliers to receive offers (regardless of wheather it is about commodities or services). Without Proz this would be more complicated - many of you would never have been given one of our jobs, and I would have to contact freelancers through other channels. But I would do the exact same thing: ask for offers from several suppliers, and the supplier who offered the best quality at the best price would get the job.

Finally, about the low prices: They will continue to go down as long as there are more translators than there is work. Globalization will also result in lower prices as translators in low-cost countries offer increasing quality at a fraction of the cost in the West. But again, this simply the results of market rules, not the evilness of agencies. If you have ever bought anything from a low-budget store or over the Internet in order to get a better price, you really have no right to complain about these facts.

Good luck with your work!

- Johannes


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Mathew Robinson
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:45
English
Not all agencies are unreasonable Oct 29, 2004

You have to remember that agencies are also competing for jobs with the end users in a similar manner and therefore will always be looking for the best quality at the best price. As long as everyone in the chain acts reasonably during the initial quoting/bidding/negotiating process then a collectively viable equalibrium can be acheived on a job-by-job basis.

Any professional agency is acutely aware of the natural balance between price and quality, this is usually a lesson learnt most painfully in the early stages of establishment. On the other end of the scale, we have also received work from higher priced translators that was equally unacceptable in quality.

Getting back to the initial point of this thread, the Proz.com job postings have become a valuable point of first contact that has lead to many fruitful business relationships between this agency and translators.


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