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Rates going down: a global trend?
Thread poster: LoyalTrans

LoyalTrans
Local time: 14:54
English to Chinese
+ ...
Oct 17, 2007

I have been hanging around here for several months and from the posts I have read, I feel that a lot of the freelancers are not particularly satisfied with the rates the agency offers. And I have also seen some discussions on the plummeting of translation charges due to ever fierce competition. So is this a global trend?

I only have some knowledge of the translation market in China. Sadly, this downturn trend holds true. Several years ago, the market rate as I know is about 1.5 times higher. Taking inflation and a booming Chinese economy into consideration, this is just absurd.

There seems to be a vicious cycle there. Low prices squeezed good translators out, forcing them to find other types of jobs (yes they can if they are really good), and the vacancies are then filled with inexperienced/student translators who produce low quality deliveries. I did outsourcing several times, and was satisfied just for once. Although I am now far from an industry insider, neither making a living via freelancing nor running a translation business, I still see and hear a lot how the present Chinese translation market is full of low-quality translators and bad or even non-paying agencies. The prospect is rather pessimistic.

But there are still high-end clients who want accurate and reliable translations with quick turnaround, especially international law firms, banks, IT companies and various firms with a consulting nature. Their approach is to hire in-house translators. If they turn to the market, chances are that they can only hope to receive translations with highly uneven qualities. As a result, in nowadays China, if you are serious about being a full-time translator, you must focus on your specialties (legal, finance, IT, etc.) and work as an in-house translator.

Not sure what the situations in other countries are like. Is this something universal or just unique to China?


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Tim Drayton  Identity Verified
Cyprus
Local time: 09:54
Turkish to English
+ ...
It's about adding value Oct 17, 2007

It is really hard for any of us to get a global picture of where rates are going. Each of us only knows the situation for our own language pairs and areas of speciality. I actually get the feeling that, while rates were in a downward trend in the years leading up to the millenium and the first few years of the new century, we have reached the bottom and, if anything, rates are beginning to firm up. I think a lot depends on quality and expertise, which in the final analysis boils down to adding value for the client.
This is a point that seems to be lost on so many people who rant about low rates. If the client wants the cheapest possible translation and is prepared to compromise on quality, that's their prerogative and I don't see any point in complaining about this. If you want to earn higher rates, you have to find market segments where clients will pay extra for quality. Legal translation can offer such opportunities in situations where quality translation can provide a net gain to the client. Let us say that a company is pusuing an international commercial dispute through the courts. A lot of the documentation - maybe hundreds of pages - is in foreign languages, and requires to be translated if it is to be presented in evidence. Let us say, for the sake of argument, that the probability of winning the suit increases by 2% if these documents are translated to a very high standard. So, if the value of the suit is only USD 10,000, it would not be worth paying more than an extra 200 dollars for quality translation, and the work will go to the rock bottom of the market. On the other hand, if the suit is worth ten million dollars, then it is worth paying an extra 200 THOUSAND dollars for really good tranlsation, and suddenly the fees demanded by top notch professionals become chicken feed. We can only earn as much as the value we create for the client. Why do so few people seem to grasp this point?


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Marcelo Silveyra
United States
Local time: 23:54
Member (2007)
German to English
+ ...
Because that's only half of it Oct 17, 2007

Tim Drayton wrote:
Why do so few people seem to grasp this point?


While your point is definitely something to be taken into account, there are also the following factors:

- Professionals in a field expect a certain amount of money for their services. Just ask all the Mexican engineers who move elsewhere, or all the American engineering geniuses who have moved to Singapore.

- One thing is a direct client. But when an agency that charges .15USD per word pays the translator .03USD per word and the proofreader .01USD per word, well those remaining .11USD per word go well beyond overhead charges and reasonable profit margins, don't they? A lot of people are actually complaining about this, rather than about direct clients. And yes, that was just an example.

- Some clients who do have the money to pay for quality translation services don't actually know what they're worth!

And so on. However, you're right when implying that a lot of translators are hellbent on the "educating the client" issue when they should be listening to their clients' needs instead. If my client is getting sued because he /she is infringing a patent, he/she might not need the linguistic subtleties of a certain word as much as a quick translation to find out that it's a cease and desist letter that has to be complied with immediately. WHat often happens, however, is that many people want both at the same time, and that's when things tend to get ugly.


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xxxLatin_Hellas
United States
Local time: 08:54
Italian to English
+ ...
Volume increasing, rate range widening Oct 17, 2007

Along with the pace of globalization, I perceive that translation demand volume is also increasing. Many different translation customers have different demands, expectations and market knowledge when it comes to various combinations of quality, speed, and price.

In this context, then, I have experienced some price increases lately, though, as everyone else, I have also seen offers for lower rates. In short, volume is increasing, so is supply, and the rate range is widening, though perhaps skewed towards the downside on average.

So it all depends on what segment, or segments, of a very highly segmented market one does business in.


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 08:54
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Yes, it is a trend Oct 17, 2007

Robert Cai wrote:
And I have also seen some discussions on the plummeting of translation charges due to ever fierce competition. So is this a global trend?


Yes, let's face the reality.

There are more agencies now than 10 years ago (citation needed) and many of them are paying peanuts. Why? Let's speculate.

* More companies are waking up to the reality of globalisation. Therefore more companies are aware of their need for translation services. Therefore translation agencies spend less money convincing potential clients of the need for translation. Therefore it has become more profitable to run an agency. Therefore more agencies exist. Therefore there is more competition. Therefore prices drop even though the demand has increased. What do you think?

* More companies are waking up to the reality of globalisation. Therefore more companies need translation services. However, business has become more competitive, and there is greater focus on productivity. The easiest way (from an accounting point of view) to improve productivity is to cut spending on production. Therefore more companies try to spend less on production, which means paying less for goods and services. The price of goods depends on the price of raw materials, but the price of services don't. Therefore it is easier to squeeze service providers (such as translation agencies) than goods providers. What do you think?

* More companies are waking up to the reality of globalisation. Therefore more companies make translation part of their production process. These companies don't have expertise in translation, yet they implement much of it themselves (possibly using outsourced services). This then cause other problems, such as not realising the value of good translation versus poor translation, not realising what is required for translation to be good or adequate, etc. Therefore they choose translation agencies based on price and other business indicators such as first impressions.

Other factors may include:

* In much of business, mediocrity is acceptable. If something seems to work, and it is cheap, then it is considered good enough. Clients are unaware that the effect of a mediocre translation is far worse that the effect of mediocre other things.

* In much of business, it can be seen fairly quickly if any of the steps on the production process are inadequate and should be redone or done better. With translation, however, the effectiveness or adequacy isn't immediately visible during the production process, which means that translations "go through" even if they are bad.

Anyone without a graphic design degree can see when a graphic designer screws up, but no-one without a language practice background can see if a translator had stuffed it. And when the endproduct is less successful than expected, the real fault (poor translation) is often not identified because there are so many other factors which could have contributed to the failure.

So, what are the solutions? I mean, what are the solutions for translators? Don't say "client education" because the clients in this discussion are agencies, and they run on different business outcomes principles as their endclients.

I guess the solutions are:

* Work faster and work cleverer. Face it, agencies will pay you less and will expect more. The only way to stay profitable in such a situation (other than finding better paying agencies) is to do more work while keeping quality at a reasonable level. In other words, work faster and cleverer.

* Seek more direct clients. This unfortunately means doing a lot of which which agencies usually do, eg client discovery, client education, advanced payment chasing, client relations management (both formal and informal), etc... and those things cost time and money.

Any other ideas?

[Edited at 2007-10-17 08:34]


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Fan Gao
Australia
Local time: 17:54
Member (2006)
English to Chinese
+ ...
Forget China! Oct 17, 2007

Robert Cai wrote:

I still see and hear a lot how the present Chinese translation market is full of low-quality translators and bad or even non-paying agencies. The prospect is rather pessimistic.

As a result, in nowadays China, if you are serious about being a full-time translator, you must focus on your specialties (legal, finance, IT, etc.) and work as an in-house translator.

Not sure what the situations in other countries are like. Is this something universal or just unique to China?


Hi Robert,
I guess the situation is unique in every country and I really believe that every country has its fair share of bad translators and bad agencies...even bad direct clients.

Every freelance translator in this day and age has the entire globe at their fingertips and the entire global market at their disposal. Forget the Chinese market and focus your talents on the rest of the world. You have a great service to offer so offer it to the countries, companies, agencies and clients that are prepared to pay the rates you believe you're worth.

There is so much global attention on China and the amount of investment and companies setting up shop here is staggering. Whatever your speciality is, whether it's legal, finance, marketing, IT etc, every speciality is in demand and the majority of the demand is coming from overseas so that's where you have to focus your services.

There are some really good agencies in China and there are a lot of excellent translators who enjoy working in-house, but they just focus inwardly and don't see outside of China. Leave them to it, let them cover the Chinese market.

China is huge, but the rest of the world's much bigger:)


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xxxLatin_Hellas
United States
Local time: 08:54
Italian to English
+ ...
Nice expanded analysis, Samuel Oct 17, 2007

You expanded nicely on the role that globalization and supply & demand pressures play in price setting.

I agree that the best strategies are probably working cleverly and faster, while seeking those agencies with the most professional customers with the ability to pay and, at the same time, to seek more direct customers. The market is so big that there is not necessarily any conflict between these two strategic objectives.

Also, as Chinese Concept mentions, one has to look beyond national borders and, as with the same economic operators that we try to serve, view the world as one market.


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LoyalTrans
Local time: 14:54
English to Chinese
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
pure freelancers vs. moonlighters Oct 17, 2007

Chinese Concept wrote:

Hi Robert,

...

China is huge, but the rest of the world's much bigger:)



Thanks for your advice. And this is the reason why I am hanging around here and take the first step out.

I abandoned domestic Chinese market long ago for I know what I am worthy of. I just want to test the overseas market using my relatively abundant spare time and well-honed skills in certain specialties (legal, finance), while keeping my reasonably paid in-house job.

And this leads to yet another question: how many "freelancers" here are truly freelancers who make a living on it, and how many are people like me who just work on a moonlighting basis?


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Fan Gao
Australia
Local time: 17:54
Member (2006)
English to Chinese
+ ...
How is that possible? Oct 17, 2007

Robert Cai wrote:

And this leads to yet another question: how many "freelancers" here are truly freelancers who make a living on it, and how many are people like me who just work on a moonlighting basis?


Robert, I looked at your profile and I'm stunned that you can't make a living working freelance full-time. Plus the fact you live in China! Unless you have an exuberently high standard of living, but even then:) Your command of English is excellent so your written Chinese must be superb. You really need to rethink your marketing!

Ok, so it's easy for me to say because Chinese Concept is made up of 2 people with opposite language pairs, which works amazingly, but I know a lot of Chinese translators working alone and even in countries with much higher costs of living, who live a very comfortable life from what they make translating.

The agency employing you must be laughing!


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LoyalTrans
Local time: 14:54
English to Chinese
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
not the case Oct 17, 2007

Chinese Concept wrote:

Robert Cai wrote:

And this leads to yet another question: how many "freelancers" here are truly freelancers who make a living on it, and how many are people like me who just work on a moonlighting basis?


Robert, I looked at your profile and I'm stunned that you can't make a living working freelance full-time. Plus the fact you live in China! Unless you have an exuberently high standard of living, but even then:) Your command of English is excellent so your written Chinese must be superb. You really need to rethink your marketing!

Ok, so it's easy for me to say because Chinese Concept is made up of 2 people with opposite language pairs, which works amazingly, but I know a lot of Chinese translators working alone and even in countries with much higher costs of living, who live a very comfortable life from what they make translating.

The agency employing you must be laughing!



Well, I have never tried "pure" freelancing (except very temporarily) and am really not sure if I can make a living on that (or at lease a reasonable one). But I don't think there are many freelancers in China who just rely on their translation income. That is way too low!!

I am not working for any agency now, even on a part-time basis. Cannot help wondering why you think so?

I also noticed you live in Huangshan. What a nice choice!


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xxxNMR
France
Local time: 08:54
French to Dutch
+ ...
In addition Oct 17, 2007

Samuel Murray wrote:
I guess the solutions are:

* Work faster and work cleverer. Face it, agencies will pay you less and will expect more. The only way to stay profitable in such a situation (other than finding better paying agencies) is to do more work while keeping quality at a reasonable level. In other words, work faster and cleverer.

* Seek more direct clients. This unfortunately means doing a lot of which which agencies usually do, eg client discovery, client education, advanced payment chasing, client relations management (both formal and informal), etc... and those things cost time and money.

Any other ideas?

[Edited at 2007-10-17 08:34]

I agree with these conclusions, but in addition:

* Change the kind of work you're doing. I've the impression that there is less work in "classical" translation of internal and external material of all kinds in nice Word files, and that there are more and more internal and external websites. Even for consumer brochures, which have to be consulted on internet. This does not only change the kind of the work (technical and marketing mixed up) but also the style (which should be more "direct", even 'simplified").

* In relation to the foregoing point, change your methods. Be prepared to have more and more requests for working online in the client's database or CMS and for having "strange" requests such as .po files (Pootle) or maintaining a website. (=this can be very gratifying, you and your client don't need a webmaster anymore).

* Have a large price range. Translating a tourism website of 10,000 words doesn't take the same time as a highly technical text or scientific article of the same volume. Charge more for difficult work and Powerpoint files. Always keep an eye on your hourly rate, which reflects your real "costs".

* Be realistic. There are at least two translation markets.


[Bijgewerkt op 2007-10-17 09:36]


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Fan Gao
Australia
Local time: 17:54
Member (2006)
English to Chinese
+ ...
That's why... Oct 17, 2007

Robert Cai wrote:

...while keeping my reasonably paid in-house job.



You talked about your "reasonably paid in-house job" so I assumed you were working for a translation agency. Are you working in-house doing something else?

But I don't think there are many freelancers in China who just rely on their translation income. That is way too low!!


I just don't understand why so many Chinese people with an excellent command of English just look for work within China. Have they not heard of the Internet???

Yes, Huangshan was a great choice! Not so great for shopping for a westerner like me...particularly supermarkets...but a beautiful place to live for scenery and fresh air and hiking etc. Sometimes I wished I lived in Shanghai or Beijing, but then I go to those places and I can't wait to get the hell out of them...reminds me too much of living in London:)

Mark


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lingomania
Local time: 16:54
Italian to English
In Italy Oct 17, 2007

In Italy, it works this way: if a translator or interpreter drops his / her fees too much, he / she is seen as a "flimsy" operator. I always keep my fees rather up there and people seem to appreciate this, but I DO back this up with good results and professional work.

Rob


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Ramon Somoza  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 08:54
Member (2002)
Dutch to Spanish
+ ...
*Everybody* complains about low rates... Oct 17, 2007

I don't know about the "usual" rates in China, I've only worked for one single Chinese agency and they paid my (high) prices without bargaining. I must state that they were real pros, very helpful, also very demanding, very organized, and they paid immediately. So even in China you can get good prices from good companies.

I live in Spain, and here the usual rates are so low that I have effectively locked myself out of most of the Spanish market, as my prices DOUBLE what the agencies usually pay here. I only get occasional jobs, when they are either in a rush or they have a very demanding client who is willing to pay for quality.

However, 99% or my work is abroad, either in the U.S. or in the European Union. And I make a very good living, in one of the most expensive cities in Europe.

So, as very well suggested by Chinese Concept, look abroad. It's a big big world.... 8>))

[Editado a las 2007-10-17 19:31]


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xxxwonita
China
Local time: 03:54
We are ready to pay more Oct 17, 2007

lingomania wrote:

In Italy, it works this way: if a translator or interpreter drops his / her fees too much, he / she is seen as a "flimsy" operator. I always keep my fees rather up there and people seem to appreciate this, but I DO back this up with good results and professional work.

Rob


2 weeks ago I did a small interpreting job for the local court. The court called me after receiving my invoice, because I did not charge as much as the court was ready to pay. The woman on the phone informed me that I could charge up to 55 Euro per hour and I could send them another invoice if I liked. But I guess this is German way.


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