Standard per-word rates in US?
Thread poster: wordsmith53
wordsmith53
Spanish to English
+ ...
Nov 3, 2009

For over a year a large organization had been paying me the same daily rate for editorial and technical translation work. I never questioned it because I calculated that I was getting between 14 and 16 cents (US currency) per word. This seemed reasonable to me, although I did not know what the current per-word range was. These were technical translations (power plants, sanitation, and the like) -- Spanish to English, Portuguese to English.

Now said organization's number-crunchers inform me that they had "miscalculated" my daily rate and are now cutting it by about 40%. I estimate that this would come to about 8 to 9 cents per word. This seems quite low. I would sincerely appreciate some info on average per-word rates charged by technical translators in the US. I need to make my case with this organization over the next week.

Thank you for any guidance and info.


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Shane Wall  Identity Verified
Vietnam
Local time: 02:46
Vietnamese to English
+ ...
No "Standard rates" in US Nov 3, 2009

Hi "wordsmith53" ... a most unfriendly monicker I must say,

There are no "short" answers to your question, and I don't believe the question is about 'rates' per se.

Without discussing whether your previous rate, you say for more than 1 year, is above or below "the going rate", the point is that up until this time they (presumably) have been happy with your work at that rate.

Now they want you to deliver the same (presumably acceptable standard) of work for 40% less!

I live and work in Vietnam & this happens to me a LOT! Yes, our countries and language combinations are different, but I believe the principle is still the same.

In my situation, I refuse these reductions on the grounds that they (the client) have enjoyed and profited from the quality of my work for a sustained period of time. If they do not wish to continue profiting from that quality, then by all means employ a cheaper option ... and I wish them the best in their efforts.

Of the 11 situations where this has happened to me over the past 10 years, I now count 9 of those as 'returned', regular, reliable clients. The downside is that it can take many months, or even years, for them to finally realize how good you are and seek to give you back the work ... at which point I promptly raise my rates!!!!

Sorry this isn't the exact answer you are looking for, but I hope it gives you some food for thought.

Cheers,
Shane

www.translingualexpress.com


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xxxBrunswick
French to English
Listen to Shane Nov 3, 2009

His advice is very good. Simply refuse, and let them try elsewhere at their lower rates.

And as an aside, when someone tells you they miscalculated YOUR rate, inform them that you are the one who sets your rates, not them.


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John Rawlins  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 21:46
Spanish to English
+ ...
Too available Nov 3, 2009

If you have been working for the same client most days for a year then you may have become too available. If you were always ready to start work on each new project and quick to finish, then they may worked out that you had become dependent. The next obvious step was for them to try a rate cut.

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Nicole Schnell  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 12:46
English to German
+ ...
Stay firm. Nov 3, 2009

And good luck to the agency trying to find a translator who is willing to get out of bed for 9 cents.

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KSL Berlin  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 20:46
Member (2003)
German to English
+ ...
Good, cheap translators Nov 3, 2009

Nicole Schnell wrote:
And good luck to the agency trying to find a translator who is willing to get out of bed for 9 cents.


I know a few, a very few worth working with, and they can hardly eat up the market, as their capacity is subject to the same physical limits we all share. So I don't give a hoot if the best DE>EN translator in the world lives next door to me and translates for two cents a word. I'll tell everyone how great he is, his capacity will be permanently blocked, and I'll go back to charging ten times as much so I can pay my electricity bill. At his rates he'll be living off the earnings of his psychiatrist wife (a fortuitous union, since anyone as good as he is truly nuts not to charge twenty times his rate).

Once in a while, an outsourcer friend will tell me about all the wonderful, cheap translation labor to be had in low-wage backwaters like the US. Eventually, however, the end customer pitches a fit, and we get a close look (= rescue request) at how much wonder six cents per word will buy you.

[Edited at 2009-11-03 22:22 GMT]


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ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 15:46
English to French
+ ...
Most definitely! Nov 3, 2009

Brunswick wrote:

And as an aside, when someone tells you they miscalculated YOUR rate, inform them that you are the one who sets your rates, not them.

Such rudeness to pretend that the client kindly offers YOU a rate!


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jane mg  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 21:46
Italian to English
+ ...
'low wage backwaters like the US' Nov 4, 2009

Kevin!
please clarify! is that a post-meltdown, dropping-dollar characterisation? first time I've ever heard it.


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wordsmith53
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you for insights Nov 4, 2009

I am grateful to all of you who commented on my question about US per-word rates. You gave me some valuable insights, some useful food for thought. These have helped me understand my situation in a different light. In the meantime, I reconnected with an old colleague who is a US-based translator and conference interpreter. This person bases her translation fees on the US State Department's fee list. Although the contents of this list appear to be confidential, suffice it to say that the rates are clearly much higher than what I am now being given.

Again, my sincere thanks.


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John Rawlins  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 21:46
Spanish to English
+ ...
being given Nov 4, 2009

wordsmith53 wrote:

...suffice it to say that the rates are clearly much higher than what I am now being given.

Again, my sincere thanks.


You will find another useful insight by considering your choice of the words 'being given'.


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Armorel Young  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:46
Member (2004)
German to English
Rates aren't uniform Nov 4, 2009

Being based in the UK myself, I have no idea what context the US State Department's fees list is used in, but I'm not sure that it is an appropriate scale to be comparing agency fees with. Different rates are charged in different contexts - for one thing, agency fees will usually be significantly lower than fees paid by direct clients, because agencies have to take their cut (and perform a proprotion of the work in liaising with clients etc.) and still appear competitive. In addition, specialised and experience translators command higher fees than "general" translators taking on everything that agencies throw at them. And, as in all sorts of other fields, there is a whole range of standards of service and quality, from "budget" to "premium" - so part of your job is to work out where you want to position yourself within that range, and then charge your fees (and provide the service) accordingly.

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