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translation rates are falling - why?
Thread poster: Telesforo Fernandez (X)

Telesforo Fernandez (X)
Local time: 10:39
English to Spanish
+ ...
Oct 28, 2001

Some 3 years ago , the translation rates were hovering around {...xx...) cents/ word. Today,the rates are around (...xx...) cents/word quoted even by the very good translators. Due to this factor, lots of translation job sites are not doing well. Some have even closed down , others are struggling. What is the reason for this fall of rates?

- Machine translations?

-Too many translators?

- On-line translation sites?

In fact, is it worth translating a t low rates?

Eevn on there seems to be an intense competition- too many translators for too few jobs. Let us discuss this issue.

[ This Message was edited by: on 2001-10-28 23:39 ]

[ This Message was edited by: on 2001-10-28 23:44 ]


Gilda Manara  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:09
German to Italian
+ ...
falling rates Oct 28, 2001

there is not so much to discuss - we can just cry! icon_smile.gif
I think that there can be many reasons for this.

First - the competition. There are today much more people as compared to some ten/twenty years ago who know other languages - and most of them think they can translate.

Mechanical translation - at the present level - is no serious competition, yet. It can be good for a few words, but never for a document, even simple. I tried sometimes to have an Internet page translated mechanically - I understood even less than in the original language.

I would think that a small part of responsibility is in places like ProZ, Aquarius and similar - please don\'t misunderstand me, I appreciate them very much, otherwise I wouldn\'t be here icon_smile.gif but the system of bidding for our services can only lead to a reduction of the fees we can charge; did you ever see this system for other jobs? Are there in Internet other places, where I could look for an electrician, a plumber, or a physician, asking who can make the best offer? But it is done for translators... I think this speaks for itself! icon_smile.gif



Telesforo Fernandez (X)
Local time: 10:39
English to Spanish
+ ...
You said it Oct 28, 2001

I am really saddened when you wrote this eye opening sentence :

\"Are there in Internet other places, where I could look for an electrician, a plumber, or a physician, asking who can make the best offer? But it is done for translators... I think this speaks for itself!

This looks like a method to exploit the translators. Let us have other opinions.


English to Spanish
+ ...
Personalized relationships. Oct 28, 2001

It\'s the age-old story. Everybody wants top quality, speed-of-light turnaround times, and bargain basement K-Mart rates. I, for one, refuse to get involve in price-wars. The idea, if you can do it, is to establish personalized relationships with a few local agencies and/or direct clients that respect the quality of your work and the ability to deliver when their clock is ticking. In turn, they should respond with fair rates and timely payment. It may not give way to mega-income, but should provide at least sustainment cash flow.

Bottom line is, welcome to globalization. And while I would like to be optimistic, the reality in the translation world points to increasingly lower rates and increasingly greater bidding competition, coupled with soon-to-be required use of TM (to lower our rates even further).

Here\'s a view on conference interpreting. Tough to break into. So somebody offers you 50% of \"official\" market rates. Take it or leave it. There\'s a slew of people in line just dying to grab that offer. Though most of them, and many of those with memberships in pompous organizations couldn\'t hold their ground in a high speed business/technical conference if their life depended on it.

So there you have it. It\'s a dog-eat-dog world. Or rather, as Woody Allen once said in reference to Hollywood, it\'s a dog-doesn\'t-return-dog\'s-phonecalls world.

Cheers to all...


Nina Engberg  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 22:09
English to Swedish
+ ...
People's ignorance Oct 28, 2001

Rick, I agree with you wholeheartedly. My husband spoke with an acquaintance of his recently (He\'s always networking for me icon_smile.gif),

and this guy\'s opinion was that translators aren\'t even needed. There are all those different softwares now.. Yeah, right... Maybe if all you want to do is get a gist of what the text is about!

I have also received offers to do translations for 4-5 cents per word.... I categorically pass on those ones. Aside from not being willing to work for \"slave rates\", the type of people that want to get it done for really cheap, are generally the ones that end up paying late, or not paying at all.

I have performed translations for free on occasion, and I still do. This one guy I help out, records all the writing on tombstones at cemeteries, and sometimes needs help translating when it\'s written in Swedish (in Michigan). He does this for free for the benefit of other genealogists, and since I am a genealogist also and I do get credit for my work, I love being able to help out!


[ This Message was edited by: on 2001-10-28 12:16 ]


Jerold Stamp  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:09
Member (2002)
Italian to English
+ ...
Multi-faceted question Oct 28, 2001


You bring up a good topic. There are a lot of factors involved. Since you bring up the subject and based on what I understand about general economic principles, I have the following questions taking into consideration the various factors.

1. For how long have rates been falling?

2. Are they related to the worldwide economic downturn that began around February of this year?

3. How have things gone since September 11th?

4. As Gilda suggests, has supply gone up? Has demand gone down?

5. Does the price trend reduction affect all translation sectors, (Financial, marketing, technological, scientific, legal, medical, literature, and tourism?

6. How have prices in the direct customers compare to those in the agency-translator market?

7. Have some language combinations been effected differently than others.

8. What role has the Internet played in the market?

I’ll make a rough guesstimate to some of my own questions above as a starting point for argument. Let me know what you think?

I would expect that, when stock markets started declining world wide at around February of this year, there would have been a slow down in financial translations. As economies slowed, marketing and general business translations may have slowed down as well. Perhaps legal translations slow down a bit after that well. Some market sectors are probably very inelastic to economic indices. Although all sectors probably slowed a bit, some probably have slowed much more than others. Perhaps technical work held up pretty well. Medical work should also be pretty steady but could be reduced with the slowdown in Tourism. I asked one colleague of mine who works does medical work and things are as bright as ever. Another, who does financial work, has confirmed that work has slowed down.

Since September 11th, worldwide tourism has reduced by at least 30%. This would have put a lot of people out of work and brought prices down for work like translation of certificates and bureaucratic translations relative to travel. I think a lot of businesses held their breath for a while and wanted to see hold things might unfold. Of course, the stock markets dropped and the present economic conditions are not so bright so business suffers and companies tend to invest less. Companies invest less invest in declining markets than they do in rising markets.

I did inquire with some large agencies informally, it seems that there has been a slow down in English language combinations since Sept 11.

I imagine that, as Gilda suggests, the supply of translators had risen in the past years. Not knowing much about pricing, agencies probably have been able to offer these new translators lower priced jobs. Again, as the economies slowed down, there was also a reduction in demand and I think at present there may be a glut.

It would be interesting to see the trend in prices to direct customers and that between customers and agencies. Being more skillful and advertising and marketing, perhaps agencies have been able to corner the market. They offer a different variety of services, (Multilanguage project management for example) and maybe are able to impress customers that they offer better quality, claiming that work is revised and proofed etc. I’m not at all saying that agencies do better work, in fact, apart from procuring a customer, many agencies, in fact actually add no value whatsoever in the translation service chain. If you consider their marketing skills and the fact that, professional organizations frown on advertising for their members, I would suspect that an imbalance exists here.

I wonder too what agencies do with ours CVs. With a wide assortment of CV’s do they then pick the best one for a given job, show it to the final customer leading him to believe that this “expert” will do the job, (leaving out identifying information), and then bid it out to the cheapest translators. (I suspect so).

I was wondering about what effect the TM has had. Many agencies now hold valuable electronic customer specific electronic glossaries endearing them their clients. Translators are probably then in a weaker position when facing the direct customer than the agencies are.

To conclude on the agencies, have they been able to gain market share at the expense of freelancers?

Anxious for replies,

Best wishes



Werner George Patels, M.A., C.Tran.(ATIO) (X)
Local time: 00:09
German to English
+ ...
I would not worry too much, Jerry et al. Oct 28, 2001

Here\'s my personal take on recession, etc.

If company ABC experiences problems in its domestic market, it may try to look to other markets overseas, ie, there will be an increased demand for translations (at least, that\'s what happened during the last recession in the 1990s - please note: this is based solely on my own personal experience and that of some colleagues I know).

There are, of course, several reasons why rates may be falling: translators offering their services from developing countries (1 cent per word!), people who just want to do some translation work on the side or part-time to supplement their regular income (or pension, etc.), .... and the general fear of some people (especially \"beginners\") who think that they will never get a foot in the door unless they literally dump their services on to the market.

In my own experience, it is impossible to have the same standard rate for all occasions. Apart from foreign-exchange conversions, you will also have to consider the local circumstances of your client\'s market. For example, the general rates in the UK are somewhat lower than in Canada; so if you still wish to work for UK-based clients (for whatever reason), you will have to adjust your rates to that market (provided you don\'t hurt yourself in the process).

Again, Jerry, and I told you that under the heading of \"time management\" as well, no one knows you better than yourself. You will know best how low or how high you can set your rates without running out of food or pricing yourself out of the market.

I have my own personal threshold - both in terms of the minimum and maximum rates I am willing to charge. For that reason, for instance, it has become impossible for me to work for any Spanish agencies because their rates are so low that you would have a hard time making ends meet even if you lived in Spain. By the same token, I would never accept work from Italy, Belgium or any Central/Eastern European countries - they simply cannot afford translators based in North America - it is sad, but a fact.

It comes down to personal choices, I guess.

One final piece of advice: when bidding on a job, don\'t pay any attention to the rates offered by other translators; let your track record do the talking (and offer your usual rate). If you don\'t get the job and lose it to some underbidding @##$#$%@@*& ( icon_wink.gif ), it will be the outsourcer\'s loss, not yours.


Hans-Henning Judek  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:09
German to English
+ ...
Internationalization Oct 28, 2001

I think that the Internet, more price transparency and increasing internationalization are the main reasons for decreasing prizes. Maybe my situation here in Japan is very specific, though.

When I started 20 years ago here, there were not many translators for E-G on the market. Accordingly the translators had the choice. I was constantly under pressure to just fill the many orders. Customers even lied to me about volume (\"just 50 pages\" - turned out to be 300 in 4 days!), just to get me to agree and accept a job.

This changed dramatically with the advent of the Internet and the fact that many Japanese companies established their own subsidiaries in Europe, instead of using importers. I had tremendous amounts of work from an electronic musical instrument maker, but the staff of the subsidiary in Germany did not like the inch thick manuals and started to write their own material, much more concise than the epic-length original Japanese stuff. That happened with other makers, too. Many subsidiaries like to keep the translation in their own country, do the translation with in-house staff or closely affiliated free-lancers, working on the same time frame.

Another effect was that the large companies asked their suppliers to establish local subsidiaries in Europe. One of my main customers, a printing company, was forced to do so. Of course, they now mainly use local translators.

For sure the \"bursting of the bubble economy\" with the result of decreasing revenues for production companies, relocation of production to China and general cost reduction pressure on companies had a strong influence.

Even small agencies started to establish subsidiaries in low-cost areas. One agency with only a staff of 6 established an office in Thailand and does all translations there, including German-English-German.

Another factor is the decreasing importance of personal relationthips. I knew all persons in charge at my customers\' offices personally, frequently went there, even worked sometimes in their office. This is history. I have not seen most of the coordinators even once, everything happens by e-mail, phone and fax. As a result, translators are now basically a faceless e-mail address with a price tag.

Then there is of course the problem of the exchange rate. The Yen is still strong, despite the bad economy here. This in turn makes it attractive to order abroad. If a translator earns 30 Euros in Germany and I the equivalent here, he can probably purchase three times as many groceries than I can. But with the \"principle of communicating pipes\" this creates a pressure to the low-price side.

The result? We will all end up in a bamboo hut at the beach of Bali with a broadband Internet connection - maybe not the worst of all effects icon_smile.gif)


Henry Dotterer
Local time: 00:09
you must consider translator productivity tools Oct 28, 2001

Some good points have been made regarding pricing, but in my opinion, the major pricing driver has been overlooked in this thread.

If you want to talk about pricing, you have to consider the increases in translator productivity brought on by CAT tools, online searches, electronic dictionaries, KudoZ, etc.

It is easier to translate 2000 words today than it was 10 or even 5 years ago, when chances are, you would not even receive the source document in electronic form.

Economics says that the increases in productivity should bring down per-word rates, even if per-hour rates rise (as inflation would dictate.)

The rest, I would say, is supply-and-demand. If you want to command higher rates, you have to specialize. Become an expert in a niche, or make your offering unique (ex: form a team to be faster.)



Vladimir Pochinov  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 07:09
Member (2002)
English to Russian
Falling Rates Oct 28, 2001

I have just read all your comments and decided to have my say regarding this topic. The fact is I live in Russia and do not expect to emigrate although several of my ex-colleagues moved to the U.S.A., Britain, Israel.

The problem with local customers (in cities like Ulyanovsk where I live) is lack of purchasing power. Local salaries are in the US$30.00-300.00 range except for a limited number of succesful business owners.

It explains why local translators (or rather people who know foreign languages) are willing to accept chicken feed for their time and effort.

Interestingly, there are still local customers (both individuals and corporations) who are prepared to pay premium prices to a first-rate translator.

Personally, I am targeting this customer base by declining lower-paying jobs outright and referring a customer to another person who would take the job and deliver with acceptable quality.

I believe none of you in Europe or U.S.A. would accept even the premium rates available to myself locally. However, these premium rates translate into a US$500.00-US$1,000.00 monthly income (compare to the average local salaries above).

The reason I am trying to telecommute via Internet is the opportunity to secure even higher rates. I understand that my current basic rate may seem a dumping one to you but I do have to penetrate this tight market and I am quite happy with the increased income I get.

Last but not least, there are translators and translators. When I looked for local fellow translators to partner with I came up with a huge problem. Resultingly, I only managed to set a team of 3 English-to-Russian translators I have confidence in.

Therefore, I am sure that first-rate translators are a rare breed worldwide and are in the position to secure the appropriate rates. I do hope to join the best of the breed one of these days.

Good luck.



Telesforo Fernandez (X)
Local time: 10:39
English to Spanish
+ ...
But who benefits? Oct 29, 2001

henry, You have point thre when you say :

\"If you want to talk about pricing, you have to consider the increases in translator productivity brought on by CAT tools, online searches, electronic dictionaries, KudoZ, etc. \"

But look who benefits. It is the agencies which stll would be charging around 14 to 16 cents per word. But the translator fees go on sliding down and on the top of it we create this auction of translators. This whole process of competitive bidding has worked against the translator. It would be better to check whether the job poster is an agency or direct customer. But even on it is not possible to get details of the bidder - not even his e- mail or even his physical address, most of the times.

This anonymity gives rise to further exploitation of the translator and an intense competition, resulting in the fall of the rates.


Evelyna Radoslavova  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:09
English to French
+ ...
Translation is generally underestimated Oct 29, 2001

First, there is the client: \"I have 300 pages at 5$/page, but let me give you the name of a very good site which will translate it for free and all you have to do is polish it.\"

Then, there is the \"future colleague\": \"Maybe I should try translation - after all, I am bilingual and it seems well paid.\" (actual quotes)

Then, there are the sites offering the opportunity for clients to choose their translator depending on how low s/he can go. (I am actually most appalled by Aquarius, where you can enter almost nothing but the rate.)

There is indeed the problem of entry level translators who believe that the only way they can get work is by dumping rates. There was actually quite an interesting initiative by a Quebec agency whereby young translators\' work would be reviewed, for a fee, by certified translators - thus helping the entry level translators get work, knowledge and experience, garanteeing the quality to the client and keeping prices above a certain threshold. However, I don\'t know what reaction it got and whether it is still going on.

As for CAT, the rate per word may be lower, but the end result is usually a higher rate per hour - and it helps avoid the boring repetitiveness of some technical translations and submit a cleaner, more consistent translation.

In my opinion, translators\' associations (including sites like ProZ), agencies and every single translator should take on the role of educators: teach their potential clients, their friends, the public at large that they should entrust their company\'s documents to the lowest bidder (without proof of his/her abilities) no more than they would entrust their company\'s finances to someone who took math in high school.

Actually ProZ is already doing a very good job there (KudoZ, forums, events, etc.) We could maybe set up an information page explaining what is involved in translation and what clients should look and ask for when they choose a translator.

Best regards,

[ This Message was edited by: on 2001-10-29 00:56 ]

[ This Message was edited by: on 2001-10-29 00:57 ]

[ This Message was edited by: on 2001-10-29 00:58 ]


Sven Petersson  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:09
English to Swedish
+ ...
Purgamentum init, exit purgamentum. Oct 29, 2001

Dear Teleforos,

The tendency of falling prices not only applicable to translation fees; it applies to practically everything!

The customer is always right. Most people want to buy rubbish at minimal prices. You cannot fight it. It’s a fact of life. You either produce for the masses, cheap rubbish, or for a quality minded minority, finest quality at premium prices.

Most source texts I am asked to translate are poor, poor in style and poor in content. The fees offered for translating such texts into Swedish are normally EUR .05 – EUR .08 per word. The customers accept poor quality output from the translator and pay slowly or never.

Serious customers deliver high quality source texts, are prepared to accept fees of EUR .11 – EUR .22 (for translation into Swedish) and pay without fail within 30 days.

It’s two different marketplaces. Which marketplace do you want to operate in?


Telesforo Fernandez (X)
Local time: 10:39
English to Spanish
+ ...
But how to know the quality of texts? Oct 29, 2001

Dear Sven,

Thanks for that illuminating explanation. Prices of many items are falling due to mass production or due to obsolescence. Translations are neither mass produced nor obsolete, unless you consider the machine translation as a kind of mass production, coupled with a large number of translators chasing jobs in the ever shrinking market.

Now, how to know the quality of translation text ( poor quality or high quality, as you mentioned). We do not get to know the quality of the text unless we get the copies, leave apart the quality of text. We do not come to know the quality of the job poster - we even do not know who he is - we do not have access to this address, not even his e- mail . We know nothing about the job poster and even cannot give such details to the translators on account of job poster privacy. You must have surely given sample translations to some unknown job poster - I mean on PROZ.COM bidding page-. At that moment you are in no position to know neither the job poster nor the quality of the translation and you still bid for it.

Aren\'t translators chasing mirages?


Chris Cheal
Local time: 06:09
Slovak to English
+ ...
Oct 29, 2001

Having read the contributions on this and other threads, I can\'t help but feel that there are a few translators out there who should consider brushing up on elementary economics. Market rates are set by the market not by the demands of providers. Every purchaser, in whatsoever area be it plumbing, rat catching or translating Sanskrit, makes a price-quality calculation. I am intrigued by the idea that translators deserve, for some unexplained reason, to be exempt from this. I am able to offer a quality service and undercut rival suppliers in the west not because I am a chiselling cowboy, but because, prices here (Slovakia) are roughly 4 times lower than in the west.

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