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Who pays for free translation?
Thread poster: Gül Kaya

Gül Kaya  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 03:37
Turkish to English
+ ...
Oct 9, 2013

A news item has been going round social media about a translation company offering 100 UK companies upto 1000 words of free translation to "boost exports." This is a worrying but oh so predictable development and is, I fear, a sign of things to come. In a world where the word "free" has almost magical and mythical pulling power, it doesn't take a magician to divine who will be paying for this offer. I might be wrong. I hope so.

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Shai Navé  Identity Verified
Israel
Local time: 05:37
Member
English to Hebrew
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You get what you pay for Oct 9, 2013

If it is enough for your and your target audience needs is a different story.
There are already "translators" who offer free tests of that or similar scopes. There are already a lot going on in terms of translation sample abuse, and abuse in general, so this is just another manifestation of that and not a new trend.

The bottom line is that this unscrupulous activity is enabled only because there is someone who is volunteerly willing to get taken advantage of, no other reason. Most of those who do, cannot be considered professionals and more likely to: (1) Learn from their mistakes and kick themselves for being that naive; (2) Continue to be exploited and abused which will eventually drive them out of business (they are in it just for the quick penny anyway). The clients at large who use these services will eventually get what they paid for - for some it will be enough, but others will get burned - so in a way this new "imitative" works to educate some future clients of professional translators for free.

The company offering this service is clearly a broker in the most rudimentary sense of the word. No respect or understating of the profession and work, and they will soon learn that when you offer a commercial service for free many serious potential customers won't give you the light of day, while quite a lot of bottom feeders will. Those bottom feeders will never be willing to really pay in the future for the same service they got for free, and even the few who will become an anchor on the business because their sole focus is low price. They will also likely to jump ship the minute someone else comes up with the new "clever" way to profit out of manipulating, abusing and scamming others.

I completely agree with what you said about the term Free and how it is interpreted today in the world in which everyone wants to get paid for their work but get the services or products of others for free. This is one, the main even, reason why professionals should stop calling themselves freelancers. The "free" part in freelancer means that the professional is not bound to any specific client (as in Patron) and can freely pick and choose his or her opportunities, but in today's world it seems that people tend to interpret (no pun intended) as someone who should provide services for free.

[Edited at 2013-10-09 10:54 GMT]


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Marie-Helene Dubois  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 04:37
Member (2011)
Spanish to English
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It's marketing Oct 9, 2013

I don't think there's anything shady per se about offering a free gift to potential clients to create a need (and therefore business) that they possibly didn't think they had.


This is called a loss leader and supermarkets (and other businesses) do it all the time. They sell a product they make a loss on to attract clients who will buy other items they make a gain on. Of course I'm not comparing translation agencies to supermarkets. My point is that it is a commonly-used marketing strategy.

Perhaps the agency will pay for these 1000 words, perhaps they have terms attached that the first 1000 words are free if the client purchases X words or perhaps they will try to convince freelance translators to "gift" them these 1000 words with the promise of priority for assignments from these clients (to which the freelancer is, naturally, welcome to say "no").


You just don't know unless you read the agency's terms so I don't know why the assumption is that they are acting unscrupulously or that they have a lack of understanding of the profession.

I think we have to be careful not to get too wrapped up in an "us and them" mentality. Most freelance translators rely on agencies to do the bit of the work they don't do and vice versa. It's a symbiotic relationship.
If an agency asks you for a service you don't want to provide, say "no". It really is as simple as that.

I personally think it's quite a clever marketing strategy because once a company has opened a new market, they can't exactly stop providing information in that market's language.
Equally, the fact that we're even talking about it means it's effective.


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Shai Navé  Identity Verified
Israel
Local time: 05:37
Member
English to Hebrew
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It's not Oct 9, 2013

Translation is not about exchanging words for money nor trading in words by the bulk.
Regardless of any other consideration, this sends all the wrong messages about the profession - mainly that it is a commodity traded by the weight (number of words).

This kind of marketing might make sense for some services, but translation is not such a service. Each translation is a custom made project, the translator does not "manufacture" a certain amount of word at the beginning of each month and now must move them before they expire.

The mere fact that they offer a free sample by the number of words (what if the document is longer? they provide just half a translation?) as selling a pound of potatoes shows that they don't know their business and borrow ideas and concepts from the world of widgets.
Also, even of they succeed, I still suspect that they will attract mostly the wrong type of clients who come just because it's free.
But each to their own.


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Tim Friese  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 21:37
Member (2013)
Arabic to English
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Free samples are a legitimate business practice Oct 9, 2013

Shai Nave wrote:

The mere fact that they offer a free sample by the number of words (what if the document is longer? they provide just half a translation?) as selling a pound of potatoes shows that they don't know their business and borrow ideas and concepts from the world of widgets.
Also, even of they succeed, I still suspect that they will attract mostly the wrong type of clients who come just because it's free.
But each to their own.


To look at this from a different perspective, I imagine they want to offer a sample for the reasons that Marie-Helene mentioned, but they want to make it a small sample. They need to measure size in one way or another and like it or not a word count is one of the better ways we have to do that. (I certainly like it more than a page count!)

If you're against free translations to begin with, surely you think that offering small free translations is better than offering big free translations, right?


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Gül Kaya  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 03:37
Turkish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
I think we're missing the point Oct 9, 2013

OK if we're talking about legitimate marketing practices, why stop there? Why not a BOGOF (Buy one get one free), or (supermarkets' favourite) buy 3 for the price of 2? Does anyone really think this is acceptable for this profession. Are we to compare ourselves to Tesco or Asda or the local greengrocer? If that's the general consensus then I sure am in the wrong profession. I think we can undertake our work without resorting to such tactics. If we value what we do and take pride in it then I don't think we should fall for such tricks.

[Edited at 2013-10-09 15:45 GMT]


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Shai Navé  Identity Verified
Israel
Local time: 05:37
Member
English to Hebrew
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No Oct 9, 2013

I'm not supportive of any free sample, regardless of size. Translation samples, in general, are useless.

If they, and others, think that offering a free translation sample is a way to generate quality business, good luck to them.
I just hope that professional translators, as opposed to the hordes of opportunistic amateurs that are flooding the market, won't fall, yet again, into this kind of trap set by the many brokers/resellers of translation services that any resemblance between them and a true professional agency is superficial at best.

[Edited at 2013-10-09 15:21 GMT]


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Yasutomo Kanazawa  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:37
English to Japanese
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Second Shai's comments Oct 9, 2013

I'm also not supportive of any free samples, small or large.

My take is that if an agency is trying to win a client and if a client requests free translation samples, why do agencies have to impose that to translators? It's not our (freelancer's) client, but the agency's client. Yes, maybe this client may become our client in the long run, but there is almost no possibility of this client being a direct client of ours. If the agency is really desperate in acquiring this client, they should submit the free translation sample, but they should not impose that to us. They should be paying the translators out of their pockets if they really need this client. It's like saying "Well, we didn't get paid, so we're not paying you".

This scenario is so common these days, that it seems agencies don't have a fine line between themselves and translators, considering themselves to be one of us. Agencies should be taking their own responsibilities, and not to mention it, it's their client, not ours. They have a contract with that particular client, and we have a contract with this particular agency, not the agency's direct client. I strongly feel that agencies are missing this important point these days.


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 04:37
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
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1000 words aint much Oct 9, 2013

Gül Kaya wrote:
A news item has been going round social media about a translation company offering 100 UK companies upto 1000 words of free translation to "boost exports."


Well, a 1000 words aint a whole lot. What can you do with 1000 words? You can print a single pamflet, or get a single web page, or write a single letter.

I do agree that it can be a smart proposition, however. There are companies who would never have thought about using translation to boost their business, and this free opportunity might show them the potential advantage of having it done on a paid basis. If a company eventually gets financial benefit from having had one pamflet translated into another language, they might be more keen to pay for translation services in future because they'll realise that it isn't just a break-even expense.


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Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 04:37
English to Polish
+ ...
On free samples Oct 9, 2013

Guys, there's a difference that needs to be made:

1. Whether it's reasonable to give free samples,
2. Whether it's reasonable to require them,
3. Whether they 'should' be the norm in case of a yes to #2.

I believe free samples are good marketing for me, but at the same time I don't like the idea that clients should be entitled to them as a matter of hard and fast rules. I can sympathise with the idea that a client should get a taste before paying, but that taste can come from something I show the client, it doesn't have to be a client-mandated and client-specific test procedure.

Bottom line, in any case, is that it sorta comes down to being in a buyer's market where the going rules (let alone practices) are skewed in the buyer's favour. In a more production-limited scenario perhaps the rules would be skewed in favour of professionals rather. But perhaps not a phat chance. The pre-industrial world was largely feudal with professionals being generously supported by those in command of resources. What's that if not a buyer's market.


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 04:37
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
This is not a sample, but a service Oct 9, 2013

Shai Nave wrote:
I'm not supportive of any free sample, regardless of size. Translation samples, in general, are useless.


Translation tests can be useless, but if the "sample" is a fully fledged translation service, then its value isn't *nothing*. To the contrary, its value is the size of the translation. If I offer a 1000 words for free, then that sample isn't worthless -- it is worth as much as 1000 words is normally worth.

On the other hand, what the client does with the 1000 words is what makes the difference. A 1000 words may be worth landing another business deal worth thousands of your currency. A 1000 words spread over an e-mail conversation with an irate client might be worth the amount of business that that communication saves, which would otherwise have been lost. To the translator, a 1000 words is worth 1000 x his per-word rate, but to a smart client a 1000 words may be worth a lot more.

Yasutomo Kanazawa wrote:
I'm also not supportive of any free samples, small or large. ... My take is that if an agency is trying to win a client and if a client requests free translation samples, why do agencies have to impose that to translators?


Yes, but this thread is not about that type of "sample" (which is basically a type of test translation).


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Shai Navé  Identity Verified
Israel
Local time: 05:37
Member
English to Hebrew
+ ...
Free custom made services are not a good idea, this is why noone else do this Oct 9, 2013

First, the fact that we are talking here supermarkets and other widgets and don't compare the service that we offer to that of a lawyer, accountant, web designer, or any other highly specialized skilled customized service only goes to show how many translators perceive the profession that they suppose to represent. It is no wonder then that the "industry" is so prosperous on the account of the profession and those practicing it.
Samuel Murray wrote:
There are companies who would never have thought about using translation to boost their business, and this free opportunity might show them the potential advantage of having it done on a paid basis.

Expansion into new markets is not a decision made on a whim. It is not like buying that new kind of cheese at the supermarket that you didn't even know existed until you were offered a free sample at the entrance. Those who never thought about having materials translated are more likely to take up that agency on their offer just because it is free and "why not give it a try". I really don't think that most of them will become good quality clients, not least by the fact that if their attempt to expand into a new market was triggered (or at least tipped towards) by a free service offer, they will probably continue to go about it the wrong way.
Also, although I'm repeating myself, highly customized skilled services are (almost) never offered for free by professionals. Why? Because it doesn't make sense. Do lawyers, accountants, web designers or any other type of custom work that is tailored (mind you, the "tailoring" part also takes time and work) to the client's needs is offered for free, at least by successful businesses and professional practitioners?
I don't mean free ebooks, free design samples (in case of a graphic designer), and the like that are prepared once and then spread to the public at large as a way of promotion one's visibility; I mean customized work that was prepared specifically according to a specific client specification.
If you want to showcase your translation talent, translate something that is in the public domain, preferably something that is relevant to the target audience, and use it, but offering 100,000 words worth of customized translation work is not the same thing, and regardless of the success of that attempt, the damage that it does to the profile of the profession is done even if the attempt fails commercially. Not to mention that these 100 companies are not necessarily from the same industry, so that agency, yet again, presents the profession as a commodity - we do all languages and all subject fields, and other similar statements of generalists, and we have enough of them as it is.

I hardly think that offering free translation work, or customized work in general, is the secret to commercial success. If it were, probably more people would have picked up on that and became more successful, but this is just me.

[Edited at 2013-10-09 18:12 GMT]


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Steven Segaert  Identity Verified
Estonia
Local time: 05:37
Member (2012)
English to Dutch
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I really don't see the problem Oct 10, 2013

If the company wants to "hand out free samples", why not? As long as they don't expect me to create them for free, it remains just another marketing technique. It doesn't say anything about what I do. I much rather see an agency get creative like this than to see them competing on the lowest price. The more work they create, the more I can do myself.

There is a big difference between what an agency does in terms of business and marketing, and what I do as the actual translator. And even supermarkets who give away products have to pay their supplier.

I don't understand why there should be an automatic thought-jump from "agency offering free things / discounts" to "translator having to work cheaper / for free".


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Yasutomo Kanazawa  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:37
English to Japanese
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The fact is Oct 10, 2013

Steven Segaert wrote:

There is a big difference between what an agency does in terms of business and marketing, and what I do as the actual translator. And even supermarkets who give away products have to pay their supplier.

I don't understand why there should be an automatic thought-jump from "agency offering free things / discounts" to "translator having to work cheaper / for free".


that like I wrote earlier, agencies offer free samples to their clients by imposing translators to submit samples for free, which means they do not pay their suppliers.


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 03:37
Member (2008)
Italian to English
This is the wrong attitude to translation Oct 10, 2013

From the way in which translation is being discussed here, it could easily seem that translation is a merchandise that is delivered by the kilo, and can be offered at a discount, "buy one, get one free", as a loss leader, etc.

It seems to me that the advertiser making the "free translations" offer does not actually know what translation is.


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