Different rates for different qualities?
Thread poster: Valerij Tomarenko

Valerij Tomarenko  Identity Verified
German to Russian
+ ...
Mar 4, 2013

Hi all,

Recently, I was struck by offerings from various LSPs (both agencies and freelancers) that offered various rates for translation of different quality. This was the reason to post about different rates as a (viable?) business model on my blog: http://anmerkungen-des-uebersetzers.com/2013/03/03/go-forth-and-diversify/

Besides all the polemics (and a grain of salt) it is a question that I take quite seriously.

I also put up a VERY short survey with only four questions. It is absolutely anonymous! I would be grateful if you take part in the survey and share your opinions and ideas related to my posting. Thanks!



German-to-Russian and English-to-Russian translator from Hamburg, Germany


Local time: 20:13
English to Italian
+ ...
Horror Mar 4, 2013


it is really horrible!!!!!!!!!!!!
who will judge the translation?

kind regards



Gerard de Noord  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:13
Member (2003)
German to Dutch
+ ...
Translation is not a commodity Mar 4, 2013

I normally do not use the words translation and commodity in one post on this website, because they trigger moderators to suppress or edit my postings but in this case I think I am save.

Agencies can offer a range of qualities by just assigning a job to a translator at a certain rate and by skipping or simplifying QA procedures.

Translators don’t have those possibilities. In practice, I can only think of 4 scenarios for freelancers:
1. Normal translation, no QA
2. Normal translation, normal QA
3. Adaptation
4. Special assignments that require payment per minute.

Few clients will accept the first scenario and not many clients are willing to pay for adaptation. So most of the times we'll have to translate as well as we can and proofread our work before sending it to the client. Once in while a client asks me to read a long text and just tell if her sweetheart or customer is interested in further contact. Sometimes they only want to know if a product name would be offensive in the Netherlands. Those special assignments can be profitable, once you have established that you’re not being used as the last in the chain who’ll be prosecuted in case of error.



John Fossey  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:13
Member (2008)
French to English
Quality of payment practice? Mar 5, 2013

Sounds to me like a recipe for non-payment. "I only want to pay for a basic translation" followed by "it wasn't good enough quality so I won't pay you".


Phil Hand  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:13
Chinese to English
Makes sense, but is it workable? Mar 5, 2013

The idea of different levels of quality is not silly in itself.

I've said elsewhere that the kind of premium quality service that most people who chat here try to offer is really a bit of a luxury. Useful for contracts, but when you're just dealing with business correspondence, standard trade documents or a supplier's advertising blurb, you can easily make do with much less accuracy. So if someone offers that service, for a lower price, we can't blame customers for taking it.

The problem is that I don't think *I* can offer lower quality services. It's just not in me. My fingers rebel when I tell them to send a document before it's been properly checked and edited.

As Chris Durban comments on Valerij's blog, hourly rates is one potential way to do it.

But I think we should see this as just another facet of the industry that we don't have to get involved in. This is what LSPs are for; this is why I don't want to be an LSP. They can find and market cheapo translators if they wish. As long as there's a reasonable flow of work coming to me in my niche, there's no need for me to worry my pretty little head about it.

(In fact, one might even say that these graduated levels of service are doing us a favour by reminding customers that better translation does exist. Come the day when they need an important document translated, they might have a better idea of what the prices and the quality will be like.)


Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:13
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
How to vary quality and get away with it Mar 5, 2013

Valerij Tomarenko wrote:
[I posted a] post about different rates as a (viable?) business model on my blog: http://anmerkungen-des-uebersetzers.com/2013/03/03/go-forth-and-diversify/

When I started out as a translator I actually toyed with this idea to make translation more affordable for people for whom my usual translation rates would seem too high. I think as a beginner it is easy to imagine that you would be able to translate faster while translating at lesser quality.

My experience has been, however, that when I try to translate faster by reducing quality, the decrease in quality may be quite visible even if the increase in speed is minimal.

I suspect a beginner translator may be able to increase his speed two-fold by reducing his quality two-fold, but that is because his usual translation speed is still unoptimised.

To put it differently, by the time you become an established translator, those aspects of the translation process that can be reduced timewise have already been reduced as much as they can be reduced (e.g. the ability to create idiomatically pleasing sentences in your head, the ability to find and weigh the most suitable target phrase for a given source phrase in your head, etc). Other aspects of the process (such as reading the source text or typing the translation) can't really be reduced in terms of duration, regardless of whether you're a beginner or a veteran.

If you want to vary quality, you're going to have to do it by adjusting or remove some of the auxiliary services, such as proofreading, editing, quality checking, etc. I don't think a freelancer can do this, but a translation agency can offer products with fewer and with more quality controls, and charge more for translations that came with more controls.

If you do that, then you'd have to think of a way to sell the idea of an inferior product. Of course, the descriptions of the services need not be accurate reflections of the actual processes. For example, you can have a service called "low quality translation" and what that basically is is a translation without any proofreading or editing. The translation itself may still be very good (if the translator is normally good), or it may be terrible (if the translator is a beginner or is sloppy by nature), but the thing that reduces the cost is not the actual quality of the translation but the fact that the translation is not checked for quality. Essentially what the client is buying isn't a "low-quality" translation but a "high risk" translation. Perhaps you can sell such a line of services by categories of risk -- low risk translation (proofread and/or edited), high risk translation (self spell-checked only), extremely high risk translation (no checking whatsoever).

The problem is that the time that is saved by not doing any checking will be much less than the amount of money that the client would want to pay less for the increased risk. Having to pay a mere 30% less for an extremely risky translation doesn't quite seem worth the risk or the price.


Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:13
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Beginner versus established translators Mar 5, 2013

Gerard de Noord wrote:
Agencies can offer a range of qualities by just assigning a job to a translator at a certain rate and by skipping or simplifying QA procedures.

Yes, but I think that it also depends on how experienced the translator is. Perhaps you meant that the level of experience can be selected by the rate offered and accepted.

A problem with providing services of various qualities is that regular clients will come to have certain expectations of the service.

To illustrate: If I were to do a fast translation and perform absolutely no proofreading or even a spellcheck on my translation, I think a QA check and/or an editing phase is likely to find relatively few problems, but that is because I'm an established translator. The translation of a beginner translator who does the same thing will likely generate many more QA flags and result in far more extensive edits. Then imagine what both of these translations will look like *without* the QA.

Now, if the client's first few "cheap" non-QA'ed translations were done by an experienced translator, he might come to expect that level of quality, and would be very unhappy if one or two of his subsequent translations were done by a beginner translator whose non-QA'ed quality is much lower than that of the established translator.

[Edited at 2013-03-05 11:05 GMT]


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