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Great article on translator compensation in the United States
Thread poster: RobinB
RobinB  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 05:41
German to English
Jun 22, 2008

by Bernie Bierman, just appeared in the most recent Translation Journal.

Here's a great quote, talking about online translation platforms:

"If the offering prices were of the 1990's vintage, we would be damn fortunate! On the contrary, the price offerings are in most cases straight out of the 1970's and 1960's. Translation editors are offered compensation that is out of the 1950's!!

Read the full article at:

http://accurapid.com/journal/45compensation.htm

And why not tell the next agency that posts a job at less than 10 cents a word to go stuff it...


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Kathryn Litherland  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:41
Member (2007)
Spanish to English
+ ...
I think it's a little overdramatic Jun 22, 2008

I don't think an average gross of 60K is is bad at all, and if you want to make the case that it is 1950s/1960s/1970s levels of income, you'd have to put it in comparison with actual figures for those decades.

Yes, you do have to account for the fact that as a self-employed person, you have to take out the employer's portion of social security, which makes 60K equivalent to a 55K salaried job. Yes, there are business expenses as well, but in my experience the business expenses of being a translator are pretty much equivalent to what you would be paying for transportation/clothing/etc. costs of having a "regular job."

So, taking the number of 55K puts you above the average income of U.S. college grads (49K for 2006), and well above the average income of female college grads (35K), since the article mentions how it is a female-dominated industry. It's also above the average income for college grads other liberal arts/humanities fields.

"The average freelance translator earnings in 2007 U.S.A. are about on the plane of a mid-level government clerk or lower middle-management corporate employee." If you substitute "mid-level government white-collar employee" for clerk (which you must do to make it a truthful statement), is there any reason why the average translator should earn more than any other average college-degreed white collar worker ?

The paragraph about someone earning 55K being "fairly close to being a candidate for food stamps" is just wildly inaccurate (the poverty line for a family of 5 is around $25,000, and that's gross, not net).

There are a handful of urban areas in the US where a single-earner household making 55K and with several dependents would have a hard time, financially. But if your translation income is supporting a spouse and several kids, it seems like the answer is simple--don't live in Manhattan or Palo Alto!

I guess it kind of makes me upset--having gone through periods as a grad student when I was raising kids on 12K a year and getting food stamps--when people complain about how what is actually a very comfortable middle-class income somehow represents a life of hardtack and gruel.


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Paul Lambert  Identity Verified
Sweden
Local time: 05:41
Member (2006)
Swedish to English
+ ...
I'm with you Kathryn...and then some. Jun 22, 2008

As someone living outside the United States, I find it hard to relate to the complaints in that article. Consider the much higher level of taxation and social security fees over on this side of the Atlantic. Add to that the higher costs of living and smaller variety of goods to buy. Even then, the translating business has been a huge step upward in life for me economically.

I hardly recognise the world in which the author of that article lives.


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Laura Tridico  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:41
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
I found that article pretty annoying... Jun 23, 2008

I noticed it was published in the New York area, which may explain something. For much of the country, $60,000 is not bad. What's more, it's an average - that means that 1/2 of US translators make more. If you're busy and charge decent rates, you can absolutely gross $75,000-80,000/year.

Plus, I thought his discussion of women in the translation field was absolutely condescending. I guess I'm one of the women he mentions - my husband works as well, and I find translation to be a fantastic opportunity to combine taking care of my three kids with an interesting and challenging career.

I run a professional business and I'm quite happy that my income falls within the upper half of full-time translators. I don't appreciate my efforts being decried as second rate - like women working in dual-income families are just working for pocket money.


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Nicole Schnell  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 20:41
English to German
+ ...
Entertaining - yes. Great? No. Jun 23, 2008

"... whether it is an industry that constitutes a welcoming harbor and nurturing environment solely for "housewives" (desperate or proverbial), ..."

Yikes. No further comment.

According to information that is easily retrievable online, the author of the article offers rates at $ 0.12 / word (!!! Not many translators get out of bed for such rates). What is he whining about?

Kathryn and Paul made an excellent point.


[Edited at 2008-06-23 02:57]


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Eleftherios Kritikakis  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 22:41
Member (2003)
Greek to English
+ ...
Hmmm... Jun 23, 2008

Dear Kathryn,

Maybe you didn't read it well enough...

The writer claims that the overall ambition in this profession has lowered significantly. He’s correct. On the other hand, the business owners of the agencies have multiplied their revenues, that's why so many people jumped in the business without knowing a foreign language (the outsourcer list at proz contains more than 10,000 outsourcers… (!!!).

He also claims that the current trend makes us think “whether it is an industry that constitutes a welcoming harbor and nurturing environment solely for "housewives" (desperate or proverbial)”.
If you notice, your posting justifies that position. You give the impression that you only want to make a modest living, which falls directly into the category of "We are a little people, and like little people we think like little people" as the writer claims.

It is in the best interest of the agencies to side again with the translators (who are their only allies), to emphasize quality and to maintain a high level in the industry. If agencies continue to treat translations as "just another commodity", then the market will, of course, react accordingly… end-clients will buy their own TM and hire people, and most of agencies (regardless of size) will vanish, or will have to leave New York or Berlin (how can they afford it, if they’ re not making 200% profit?), and move to Albania and Arkansas.

Sounds too dramatic for you? Eight years ago I was warning professionals in Europe that the Euro will climb dramatically, and the cost of living will double or triple, and they thought I was “way too dramatic”. It happened. Unfortunately, many excellent professionals left the business and their positions were filled by herds of part-time amateurs and clueless housewives.

Dear Paul Lambert,

The writer lives in the US where the concept of "We are a little people, and like little people we think like little people" was much less known than it is in Europe (in Europe it's common thinking, I lived in Europe for 30 years). I'm not going to even refer to third world countries. I thought many times that it would be a good idea to hire them (so that I can make money), but my ethics are stronger than my marketing ideas... I don;t like abusing people for marketing. I don't like it when the client pays $1000 for a project and the agency gives $200 to the German translator and $30 to the Chinese translator for the same text. I know, it's just business, but personally I would never do it... everyone who knows me also know that I have a strong sense of ethics and fairness.

Dear Laura,

I do not think it's wise to attack a writer who is actually on our side (all of us). His remark about "housewives" (which I borrowed here), is not the best choice of words, but we all know what it implies... I do not know how many years you' ve been in the business, but this was a business in the past you know, not just a supplementary income, as you say (by the way, you too justify the writer's claim that a business has turned into a supplementary side-income). Would you ever have your translation business as the sole income source for your family? Probably not. The writer claims that in the past, that was normal. He's correct.



[Edited at 2008-06-23 02:59]


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Sonja Biermann  Identity Verified
Local time: 05:41
English to German
+ ...
Clueless housewives Jun 23, 2008

Women should stay at home and take care of the kids. That way there would be more than enough work for male translators and there would be no such problem. And by the way, think of all the foreigners in the business...

Have a nice day


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Oleg Rudavin  Identity Verified
Ukraine
Local time: 06:41
Member (2003)
English to Ukrainian
+ ...
Comment Jun 23, 2008

The author of the article does touch a few right strings:

- Many translators readily put up with decreasing rates
- Many translators are either oblivious of the fact that freelancing is pure bisuness, or too non-commercially-minded to take care of their own businesses properly
- There's little if any cooperation (except for professional, that is, in translation proper) between agencies and translators
- There's an increasing number of translation agencies that are exclusively profit-oriented, lacking understanding of the translation process. For them, one (and probably the easiest) way of boosting their income margin is to impose lower rates for translators. Obviously, it's easier (mostly referring to treat of competition, ha-ha!) than talking end clients into paying more.

In my view, our immediate efforts as a community in the next few years are to be focused on the business aspects of freelancing/entrepreneurship rather than translation as a profession activity. Languages and translation/interpretation can be learned at numerous colleges or in other ways while learning the freelancing business is almost always a trial-and-error process.

Cheers,
Oleg


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Jack Qin  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 12:41
English to Chinese
+ ...
Chinese translators are cheap labor Jun 23, 2008

Perhaps China is currently a developing country with relatively lower living cost. And another reason is that too many Chinese translators are crying for 'food'. Therefore the competition is fierce. For the purpose of attaining a share from the transaltion market, most of them are forcibly to cut their rates to cater to the translation agencies overseas.

Jack

Eleftherios Kritikakis wrote:

I don't like it when the client pays $1000 for a project and the agency gives $200 to the German translator and $30 to the Chinese translator for the same text. I know, it's just business, but personally I would never do it... everyone who knows me also know that I have a strong sense of ethics and fairness.



[Edited at 2008-06-23 02:59]


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Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 04:41
Flemish to English
+ ...
Women already stay at home. Jun 23, 2008

Sonja Biermann wrote:

Women should stay at home and take care of the kids. That way there would be more than enough work for male translators and there would be no such problem. And by the way, think of all the foreigners in the business...

Have a nice day


Some women become translator overnight to stay at home and take care of the kids. Their business hours are the hours of their kids. Translator: a housewife's profession.

[Edited at 2008-06-23 06:40]


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Damian Harrison
Germany
Local time: 05:41
German to English
The article is like another whinge thread at proz...(but on top of that its plain misogynistic) Jun 23, 2008

The author does indeed seem immensely fond of the old male breadwinner, the 40 hour week, retirement at 60 and the Sunday roast. How anyone can so blatantly ignore the deluge of books that have appeared over the last 15 years on globalization and the dismantlement of the Fordist economic model is simply beyond me...



[Edited at 2008-06-23 07:50]


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Paul Lambert  Identity Verified
Sweden
Local time: 05:41
Member (2006)
Swedish to English
+ ...
Good point, Damian Jun 23, 2008

We might not always like the rules, but we had better learn to play the game.

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Paul Lambert  Identity Verified
Sweden
Local time: 05:41
Member (2006)
Swedish to English
+ ...
Do we like our jobs or not? Jun 23, 2008

There seems to be so many voices in this business coming out which are desperate to convince us that we are not satisfied with our jobs.

I don't fault anyone for his grievances and there are many who have been in this job much longer than I have who have seen more sides of it than I have. So I can appreciate their position.

However, I can only speak from my own experience which so far has been that I am doing a job that I enjoy immensely and am making more money than I ever have before. Do I wish I earned more? Sure, who doesn't? However, I don't feel like I am being cheated or that I am a victim of market forces.

I sometimes get the feeling that I am being faulted for being happy!


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Andrew Steel  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 05:41
Spanish to English
Key issue: average GROSS earnings of $60,423 Jun 23, 2008

Kathryn Litherland wrote:

Yes, you do have to account for the fact that as a self-employed person, you have to take out the employer's portion of social security, which makes 60K equivalent to a 55K salaried job. Yes, there are business expenses as well, but in my experience the business expenses of being a translator are pretty much equivalent to what you would be paying for transportation/clothing/etc. costs of having a "regular job."

So, taking the number of 55K puts you above the average income of U.S. college grads (49K for 2006)



The average US translator (according to the survey) is not earning $55,000 net. You still need to take operating expenses out of that sum.

The key issue here is not male vs. female, or conventional nine-to-fiver vs. new-economy flexi-worker; it's the fact that average gross earnings in 2007 among ATA members stood at $60,423.

By the time you've taken out operating expenses, lots of which slip below many translators' radar (for those of you who read Spanish, I recommend taking a look at CalPro on the ASETRAD website, http://www.asetrad.org, for a list of typical operating expenses in Spain), the average US translator is going to find it difficult to support dependents.

Regardless of whether you're male or female, work 9 to 5 or 5 to 9, the fact that your net earnings from the profession are likely to make it difficult for you to support your loved ones unaided is something that we all need to think about if we plan to stay in the profession for the foreseeable future.

Andrew


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Oleg Rudavin  Identity Verified
Ukraine
Local time: 06:41
Member (2003)
English to Ukrainian
+ ...
To Paul Lambert: A few simple questions Jun 23, 2008

Paul Lambert wrote:I enjoy immensely

Do I like what I've been doing? - Yes!!!
...and am making more money than I ever have before

Am I satisfied with my earnings? - Yes
Do I wish I earned more? Sure, who doesn't?

Now, here's the key question: does the industry in its present state facilitate it? - NO!!!- because:
- For-maximum-profit agencies do everything to impose lower rates
- The seeming competition forces many translators to accept these rates
- Unstructured and impractical businesswise as we are, we don't know how to change the situation and make it more favorable for ourselves.

There's no cheating (pure business, eh?) and market forces are omnidirectional; there are positive trends just as negative ones gaining strength in the market.


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Great article on translator compensation in the United States

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