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Suggestion: Eliminate Pricing Discussion From Job Posts
Thread poster: ntext
ntext  Identity Verified
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Jan 26, 2004

One of the most common translator complaints in these forums pertains to outsourcers who offer low rates in the ProZ Jobs Area. Seeing what they consider unacceptable fees appears to annoy and insult quite a few ProZ users. Some translators (on and off this site) even blame ProZ for declining market rates.

Inspired by this and this thread, among others, I’ve given the issue some thought and would like to present my opinions here for discussion.

What’s wrong with minimum rates

It has been suggested that ProZ should mandate minimum rates. This would mean that outsourcers can’t offer (and, possibly, that translators can’t charge) less than a certain amount per word. It’s not an exotic idea — there are translation portals which have exactly such rules in place.

However, I think this would be a step in the wrong direction.

It has been mentioned before that setting minimum rates interferes with the free market principle and the autonomy of outsourcers and translators. But site-wide minimum rates are problematic even when we disregard this aspect or don’t like the idea of a free market.

ProZ, for better or worse, strives to be a portal for all translators — no matter what language pairs they work in, no matter where they (or their clients) are located, no matter what subjects and types of documents they work on, no matter how experienced or — let’s face it — how good they are. Setting appropriate minimum rates makes sense, if at all, only when you specify the language pair, the subject matter, the target industry, the geographic market, among other factors. Given the enormous breadth represented on ProZ, this would be a Herculean undertaking. For all practical purposes, I don’t think it would be possible.

What’s more: I consider the very fixation on per-word or per-line rates the bane of this industry. Yes, the length of a text should be a factor in determining the price of a translation — but only one factor! It is much too acceptable for an agency to ask a freelance translator, “How much do you charge per word?”, without any mention of the type of assignment this might concern, let alone a specific source document to go by. We don’t walk into a restaurant asking “How much do you charge per gram?”, do we? What we need is less of that anal-retentive bean-counting and how-much-can-you-give-me-off-for-37-percent-fuzzy-matches mentality — and more recognition of the time, effort and expertise that translators sell and the value they provide. Obsessing over minimum word rates that should apply for all translation jobs in the entire universe accomplishes the opposite of that.

So does this mean we should continue to live with job posts that mandate low rates? Not necessarily.

A better solution

I, among others, have come to the conclusion that ProZ should ban any and all pricing discussions from job posts. This solution would avoid clumsy price fixing and inflexibility. It would leave the free market principle intact and let buyers and sellers negotiate as they see fit. It would allow providers to decide how to price their services, and it would let outsourcers pick the least expensive translator if that’s what they want.

But it would also eliminate a number of problems that come with the status quo.

When rates hurt feelings

Personally, I don’t deem it wise to waste my emotional energy on getting upset about low rates in the Jobs Area. But the reality is that quite a number of translators do feel insulted by the rates specified in many ProZ job posts. In all areas of the site, ProZ prohibits posts that may be considered offensive — but nothing seems to cause as much offense as these rates.

Not everybody is bothered by vulgar language. But for the sake of those that are — and in order to ensure a professional atmosphere — site rules prohibit such language. By the same logic, wouldn’t it be reasonable to eliminate job posts that are considered offensive and unprofessional by so many site users?

The politics of (dis)information

The translation market, because of its globalization, low overhead costs, lack of regulation, and minimal price coordination among suppliers, is probably one of the most flexible and unfettered free markets around. In a free market, prices are determined by supply and demand — right?

Well, sort of. More precisely, we should say that prices are determined by the perception of supply and demand. If I mistakenly believe that the going rate for a gallon of milk is $10 rather than $3, I will be happy to buy one for $9. If enough other people start believing the same thing, the actual market price for milk will eventually go up. Information is the key here.

What does this have to do with ProZ, the Internet’s busiest translation portal? While the ProZ Jobs Area represents only a miniscule portion of the global translation market, I believe that its visibility is immeasurably greater than its market share. Thousands and thousands of translators — many of them with limited experience — look at the jobs posted on ProZ. And what they see there is how much translation supposedly pays.

Now, one might assume that the cumulative pricing information gathered from these job posts would give translators a good idea of typical market rates for their type of work. Unfortunately, that’s not necessarily the case. For one, direct clients, who tend to pay higher rates than agencies, rarely post on ProZ (be it because they don’t know about the site or because they don’t find it an attractive place to find translators). Secondly, ProZ Jobs is a magnet for agencies whose only concern is getting the most words for the buck. And most importantly, those agencies that are prepared to pay average or above-average rates don’t typically specify pricing in their posts. Only hardcore bottom-feeders have an incentive to mandate rates within this bidding system.

The result is that the cumulative pricing information publicized in the Jobs Area paints a false picture of the market, one that is heavily skewed toward low- and lowest-paying rates. I believe that in allowing outsourcers who represent the low end of the spectrum to dominate the pricing discussion in such a prominent place, ProZ inadvertently helps keeping and driving prices down for everybody — including those who wouldn’t dream of bidding for a ProZ job.

One might argue that the Jobs Area isn’t designed to provide accurate market information. But that’s besides the point because it’s bound to function this way, regardless of its actual purpose.

How to solve the problem? You guessed it — by keeping posters from specifying rates.

Transparency and negotiation

A while ago, ProZ job posters had the option to make the bidding process public so that translators could see their colleagues’ bids. Meanwhile, this option has been eliminated from the site — presumably, at least among other reasons, to keep the bidding process from degrading into a pure price war.

In the same spirit, I propose a system where outsourcers are not allowed to post the fee they’re willing to pay. I would even say that there should be no mention of pricing at all — including the quiet menace of such helpful hints as “please state your best rate,” “our budget is tight” or “our client is price-sensitive” (ouch!).

Instead, we need job posts that make it clear, concisely but precisely, what the assignment at hand entails — length, document type, subject matter and topic, purpose, target market, who the outsourcer is, deadline etc. This information should be mandatory anyway, not just for pricing reasons but also to ensure that the right translators apply for the right jobs, which ought to be in everybody’s interest. Outsourcers should also be more strongly encouraged to include excerpts from the source text and/or be given the option to upload their document.

Thus informed, translators who wish to offer their services will be able to make educated choices when quoting rates. Assuming that they’re not complete idiots, they will know that price will be a factor in winning bids.

In addition, it would be nice if bidders were able to select a message that says something like “please send source document for price quote.” Yes, we can say that even now, but it would make a big difference psychologically if this option were integrated into the site design. Translators shouldn’t feel compelled to quote a rate when it’s not clear what kind of a job they’re dealing with and how long it would take them to complete it.

We don’t need fixed minimum rates for the site. We need to set our own fees, we need a professional climate that is conducive to determining and negotiating prices in a reasoned way, and we need good information and clear communication to do so. I think that keeping bottom-feeding ProZ outsourcers from setting the tone could support us in this regard.

What do you all think?

[Edited at 2004-01-26 21:20]


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xxxMarc P  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:29
German to English
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Kramer for President! Jan 26, 2004



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Pablo Grosschmid  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 21:29
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totally in agreement Jan 26, 2004

sensible suggestions
why not make a survey on them?


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Rosa Maria Duenas Rios  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:29
I could'nt agree more... Jan 26, 2004

...with Kramer and with Marc Prior!

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gianfranco  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 18:29
Member (2001)
English to Italian
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I have only one problem with your analysis... Jan 26, 2004

Splendid analysis.
My favourite bit is the following:

Norbert Gunther Kramer wrote:

...snip...

I consider the very fixation on per-word or per-line rates the bane of this industry. Yes, the length of a text should be a factor in determining the price of a translation — but only one factor! It is much too acceptable for an agency to ask a freelance translator, “How much do you charge per word?”, without any mention of the type of assignment this might concern, let alone a specific source document to go by. We don’t walk into a restaurant asking “How much do you charge per gram?”, do we? What we need is less of that anal-retentive bean-counting and how-much-can-you-give-me-off-for-37-percent-fuzzy-matches mentality — and more recognition of the time, effort and expertise that translators sell and the value they provide. Obsessing over minimum word rates that should apply for all translation jobs in the entire universe accomplishes the opposite of that.

...snip...


The only problem with all you say (and with which I agree entirely), is that declaring a rate upfront, from both parties, is often the fastest method to come to a commercial agreement or to discard the offer.

I entirely agree that the Jobs Area should encourage and guide the outsourcers to provide all the information that you have listed, but the rate offered has to be put somewhere, anyway.

It is only a detail amongst many others, but an important one, and without it closing a deal would be just more time consuming, and time is money...

I would regret to have lenghty exchanges with a potential customer and discover, only after 1-2 hours of work (analyzing, quoting, writing, etc...) that they are prepared to offer only 40-50% of my standard rate for that kind of job!

At this point, I would pull back, but my time is gone!!

Gianfranco


[Edited at 2004-01-26 21:27]


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ntext  Identity Verified
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TOPIC STARTER
Translators can submit quotes at any point Jan 26, 2004

I would regret to have lenghty exchanges with a potential customer and discover, only after 1-2 hours of work (analyzing, quoting, writing, etc...) that they are prepared to offer only 40-50% of my standard rate for that kind of job!


The operative phrase here is for that kind of job. This assumes that the ad makes it clear what kind of job we’re talking about. I’ve seen plenty of job posts though that are beyond vague — hence my urging for more specificity and, wherever possible, allowing translators immediate access to the source document. If the job specs are clear it shouldn’t take 2 hours to come up with a quote.

I certainly didn’t mean to suggest that translators shouldn’t be allowed to state their rate upfront — only that it should be an accepted option to hold off on quoting until we’ve seen the text, at least in those cases where the ad is nebulous.


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xxx00000000
English to French
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Strongly disagree Jan 26, 2004

The only job offers of any value to me are the ones where the agency says what it is willing to pay. I never compete for lowest rates because my rates are far from the lowest. If your suggestion were to be accepted I wouldn't even look at the Job Posts anymore.

I am among those who have mocked the incredible rates mentioned by some agencies, but I take it for granted that the agencies that ask for "your lowest rates" don't pay much more.

I don't feel a bit threatened by those willing to work for peanuts for reasons of their own and I still want the opportunity to read about offers with decent rates stated.

Best regards,
Esther


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ntext  Identity Verified
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The worst of both worlds Jan 26, 2004

I am among those who have mocked the incredible rates mentioned by some agencies, but I take it for granted that the agencies that ask for "your lowest rates" don't pay much more.


I agree.

I still want the opportunity to read about offers with decent rates stated.


Which offers would that be?

According to your profile, your absolute minimum rate is USD 0.13 per word. Speaking for German>English and English>German, I don’t recall that I have ever read an ad offering this much (and let’s not even talk about your “target rate” of USD 0.20). As I mentioned, the agencies that are willing to pay decent rates are typically not the ones that state them in their ad. Maybe this is different in your language combinations.

I could even deal with a scenario where all outsourcers were required to state their fee, thereby circumventing the price bidding business entirely. But right now we have the worst of both worlds.

[Edited at 2004-01-26 23:34]


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xxx00000000
English to French
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Getting personal Jan 27, 2004

Norbert Gunther Kramer wrote:

I still want the opportunity to read about offers with decent rates stated.


Which offers would that be?

According to your profile, your absolute minimum rate is USD 0.13 per word. Speaking for German>English and English>German, I don’t recall that I have ever read an ad offering this much (and let’s not even talk about your “target rate” of USD 0.20). As I mentioned, the agencies that are willing to pay decent rates are typically not the ones that state them in their ad. Maybe this is different in your language combinations.


Without going into my personal case, I saw several offers at 0.12USD/word and others at 0.09-0.10 for very large volumes (20,000+).

I could even deal with a scenario where all outsourcers were required to state their fee, thereby circumventing the price bidding business entirely. But right now we have the worst of both worlds.

[Edited at 2004-01-26 23:34]


I really don't understand what your problem is. Some agencies are offering peanuts and some so-called "translators" are ready to work for peanuts. What has it got to do with you? Why not live and let live?


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ntext  Identity Verified
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Live and let live Jan 27, 2004

Esther Pfeffer wrote:

I really don't understand what your problem is. Some agencies are offering peanuts and some so-called "translators" are ready to work for peanuts. What has it got to do with you? Why not live and let live?


Esther, I certainly wasn’t criticizing other translators or disputing anybody’s right to do business as they see fit; as a matter of fact, I was defending this right.

Rather, I was suggesting new guidelines and a modified format for job posts, and I’ve explained my reasons at great length, including how I believe that this issue affects us all.


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xxxPaul Roige
Spain
Local time: 21:29
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Priceless information Jan 27, 2004

Norbert Gunther Kramer wrote:
“please state your best rate,” “our budget is tight” or “our client is price-sensitive”


This is the best possible information, Norbert. Getting such information saves a helluva time and energy. I already know I cannot compete against, say, Ulan Bator Throat Singing Ponny Translation Pairs Illimited @ 0.01 and a quarter per page. Damn, missed it!!! Yeah right.
Personally I wouldn't change the system as it is, it tells so much about the outsourcer!
Many outsourcers do it right though, most are translators themselves.
Regards
P

[Edited at 2004-01-27 07:34]


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Joanna Mimmack  Identity Verified
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job information Jan 27, 2004

My particular plea is that posting of jobs so aptly described as 'beyond vague' should be discouraged and fuller job information encouraged. We can then assess our bidding rates better.

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Henry Dotterer
Local time: 15:29
SITE FOUNDER
Why not fight fire with fire? Jan 27, 2004

First off, great post, Gunther (or should it be Norbert?) You put forward many well-reasoned points.

I don't think your suggestion is the best solution, though. When two parties negotiate, there is an appropriate time to bring up rates, for the simple reason that if there is no overlap, no further time should be wasted. Mandating that pricing *not* be broached, while allowing things like excerpt translation tests, would not be efficient, wise, or fair.

How about going in the opposite direction? If it is about information--and I accept that it is--would making profile rates public (like at other sites) level the playing field? Aggregated rates data already appears to outsourcers during the posting process, but the same data is not now available to everyone who reads the job board (or quotes).

Note that this measure, which has been suggested in the past, has been opposed by some who charge higher-than-average rates.


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mbc
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Good point, Joanna Jan 27, 2004

Joanna Mimmack wrote:

My particular plea is that posting of jobs so aptly described as 'beyond vague' should be discouraged and fuller job information encouraged. We can then assess our bidding rates better.


Personally, I like to see what agencies are willing (or not) willing to pay. And I would really like to get more detailed job descriptions. How can I offer a rate when I have no idea what the job is going to entail or when I might get paid?


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ntext  Identity Verified
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One size does not fit all, or: The elusive charm of target rates Jan 28, 2004

Henry, thanks for chiming in.

When two parties negotiate, there is an appropriate time to bring up rates, for the simple reason that if there is no overlap, no further time should be wasted.


I agree. The time to bring up rates is as soon as the job specs are on the table — which can be as soon as the job is posted, but only if the description is sufficiently specific.

Mandating that pricing *not* be broached, while allowing things like excerpt translation tests, would not be efficient, wise, or fair.


To be clear, I was not at all suggesting that all posts should include “translation tests,” just that it’s helpful to see representative excerpts quoted, and that it would be even better to have the entire document uploaded (assuming it’s available in electronic format and confidentiality isn’t an issue). No description of a document is as telling as the document itself.

As mentioned above, I could even imagine a ProZ Jobs system where all posters were required to state their pay for a given job in their ad. Yes, that’s the opposite of my original suggestion, but it would satisfy many of the same objections I have against the status quo. I doubt that the current system, where low-end outsourcers post their rates and the other outsourcers wait for quotes, de facto functions as a neutral marketplace. It has a built-in dynamic of driving market rates down in the long run — within ProZ and, due to the site’s prominence, perhaps even in general.

How about going in the opposite direction? If it is about information--and I accept that it is--would making profile rates public (like at other sites) level the playing field?


Public profile rates might level the playing field if they were meaningful and specific, rather than generic ranges or ballpark figures that are only differentiated by language pair. The current format of minimum and target rate is sort of like an abstract sculpture — it permits a variety of interpretations, and at the end of the day it says nothing in particular. (And let’s not forget that it doesn’t commit the translator to anything.) The point is not whether a certain word rate is high, low or average per se, but whether it’s high, low or average for a specific type of assignment.

To illustrate this point, let me share my own experience. I find that the number of words I can process per hour varies by up to 100 percent from job to job. Factors are: subject matter, terminology, degree of stylistic sophistication, how well the source text is written and edited, source document format, presence of layout features other than run-on text — to name the most important ones.

Consequently, when I have to quote a word rate for a job, I take all of these factors into consideration, along with the deadline and the volume. What this means is that my rate schedule is byzantine and requires years of dedicated study to penetrate. So when a client wants a price, what do I do? I simply apply my secret formula, and within a couple of minutes — bingo! — there’s your quote. I don’t initiate the client into the mysteries of my secret formula (cuz then it wouldn’t be secret anymore, right?), I just tell them how much the translation is.

The quandary begins when I’m supposed to say how much my rate is in general. If I could just state an hourly fee, things would be quite simple. But because of this unfortunate industry standard of word and line rates, I can either risk putting the client off by presenting a complicated and lengthy schedule with lots of ifs, ands or buts; or I can give a wide range of prices, which won’t say much and may lead to the client to assume that the bottom of this range constitutes the “best rate” and therefore, that’s what he should get, regardless of what the job entails. (My hypothetical minimum rate applies for jobs involving very large amounts of very basic text; in reality, I never work for this rate because nobody ever asks me to do this kind of job.)

What does this mean for your proposal, Henry? I doubt that there is a feasible standard format to integrate well-differentiated rate information into these translator profiles, simply because of the wide variety of job types, translator specialties, and individual policies. It’s easy to compare rates based on a specific job, but it’s not very appropriate to do so in a generic one-size-fits-all way. The fact that the latter happens all the time anyway is exactly where I have a problem.


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