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Should translators set a minimum rates?
Thread poster: Caroline Grenache

Caroline Grenache  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:22
English to French
+ ...
Nov 26, 2010

Dear colleagues,
This morning, I saw yet another posting offering $0.03/word for a translation, after seeing one not so long ago offering $0.014 to $0.016 per word. Seriously, is this for real? Who can afford to work or even live on these rates? In this particular case, an average translator with a daily output of around 2000 words would end up making about the same salary as a teenager working part-time at McDonald's with no particular qualifications.
Personally, I am appalled with some of the rates I am seeing and I don't see how any self-respecting professional translator can accept them.
I firmly believe that we should not undersell ourselves or our work and I hope these types of postings don't get too many replies... I would be curious to read your thoughts on the subject.
Thank you!


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Martina Pokupec  Identity Verified
Croatia
Local time: 05:22
English to Croatian
+ ...
as a beginner... Nov 26, 2010

As a beginner in this field, I am quite baffled when it comes to setting rates for jobs. I am grateful for having the opportunity here to see average rates, and I began rating my translation within these averages.

However, I've also seen ridiculously low rates proposed for jobs, and what is worse, I was rejected for one of them (to which I applied only to gain experience). I've decided not to apply for those anymore

I do agree that we shouldn't work for peanuts, and there should be some sort of consensus among translators about what is too low (and what is too high) But I also think that serious companies respect translators' work and are aware of "value for money" principle..


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 05:22
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
In favour of a free market Nov 26, 2010

Minimum rates would make translation unatractive to entrepreneurs, the same way minimum wages artificially increase prices in our society and do not promote employment at all.

I am completely against setting minimum rates. Each translator should be free to manage his/her business the way he/she prefers, and we must all learn to be mature people and be firm about our rates and professional goals.

Edited to add this: We should have the rates we deserve. It would not be fair if a careless, unexperienced translator was allowed to charge as much as an experienced, careful professional. Rate freedom protects and promotes good quality and helps good translators, weeding out (by mere financial restriction) bad translators. Added to a solid marketing of our capabilities, good service, and a mature attitude towards negotiation with customers, freedom of rates is very healthy for our industry.

[Edited at 2010-11-26 15:08 GMT]


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 05:22
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Perspective Nov 26, 2010

Caroline Grenache wrote:
This morning, I saw yet another posting offering $0.03/word for a translation... In this particular case, an average translator with a daily output of around 2000 words would end up making...


Let's see... 2000 words at USD 0.03 would be USD 60 per day. In my old country (South Africa), that would be ZAR 350 per day, or ZAR 7000 per month. That's about as much as my starting salary was when I worked full-time as a translator at one of South Africa's largest media companies (10 years ago). I was able to afford a mortgage on a large 2-bedroom house and live confortably. And now you would call me a "no self-respecting translator"... that's weird!


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 05:22
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
No relation at all Nov 26, 2010

Samuel Murray wrote:
Let's see... 2000 words at USD 0.03 would be USD 60 per day. In my old country (South Africa), that would be ZAR 350 per day, or ZAR 7000 per month. That's about as much as my starting salary was when I worked full-time as a translator at one of South Africa's largest media companies (10 years ago). I was able to afford a mortgage on a large 2-bedroom house and live confortably. And now you would call me a "no self-respecting translator"... that's weird!

Sorry Samuel, but the income of a freelance professional bears very little relation with the salary of an employee. As an employee yo don't have to buy or rent office space, equipment, consumables, utilities, social security, sales taxes, company taxes, licenses, software, and a long list of other things you have to pay if you are a freelance.

Now, let me ask you this. Now that you are a freelancer, would you be able to make a reasonable living with an income (before all taxes and expenses) of ZAR 7000 (or its curent purchase power)?


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Caroline Grenache  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:22
English to French
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Perspective, yes Nov 26, 2010

No, Samuel, I would not call you a "no self-respected translator", I can assure you of that.

10 years ago, that salary might have been OK, although I'm not even sure. I think you will agree with me that today, even in South Africa, $60 a day doesn't cut it -- it gives you an hourly wage of $7.50 if you work a full 8-hour day. For me, this represents a student minimum wage, no matter what anybody else says.

What worries me is the trend towards extremely low prices for translation. I am all in favor a free market but let's admit it, if the prices go as low as $0.03 a word, the market in general will likely follow that pricing trend.

I agree also with Tomas with regards to freedom of rates -- I guess I just did not pick the right title for this discussion.


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 21:22
English to Spanish
+ ...
Value Nov 26, 2010

I am sure that those who pay such low rates as you are mentioning often get value for their money... negative value in many cases, because as we are well aware, a poorly done translation is worth the same as no translation at all. In this profession you must be good and charge good rates, because it makes no sense to produce a second-class product and sell it cheaply. For that the client can use machine translation.

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Giles Watson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 05:22
Italian to English
No worries Nov 26, 2010

Caroline Grenache wrote:

What worries me is the trend towards extremely low prices for translation. I am all in favor a free market but let's admit it, if the prices go as low as $0.03 a word, the market in general will likely follow that pricing trend.



The trend only affects the bottom end of the market. At the other end, there is a dearth of good specialised translators in many areas. If you have sufficient visibility in your chosen sector for potential clients to seek you out, and can deliver publication-ready product, very often you will be able to charge pretty much what you like.


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Caroline Grenache  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:22
English to French
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
value/profit Nov 26, 2010

I agree with you Henry,

The interesting thing however is that these jobs are very often posted by translators or translation agencies outscourcing the work. They probably charge their clients a rate they feel is acceptable and expect fellow translators to work for close to nothing.


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 05:22
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Exactly Nov 26, 2010

Caroline Grenache wrote:
The interesting thing however is that these jobs are very often posted by translators or translation agencies outscourcing the work. They probably charge their clients a rate they feel is acceptable and expect fellow translators to work for close to nothing.

That's why those who value their work as translators must offer these people their rates, and not what the outsourcer expects. These companies are bound to choose the worst translators, which will make the result a mess, which in turn will put the company in a tricky situation in the middle run. They will soon learn that it is best to offer their end customers a reasonable rate... and if they don't learn that, they are bound to disappear.


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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 05:22
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
Set your own minimum rate, but make your average or target rate visible. Nov 26, 2010

As long as the only rates that are visible are the rock-bottom rates, outsourcers can say look, others are getting work done without paying more.

People begin to think those are the rates for the job.
If we all stand together and ask for rates we can live on, we should be able to resist the pressure to work for peanuts.

I work for agencies, and ask for something like 110 EURO for 1000 words.

I know Scandinavian languages are expensive, but so is the cost of living up here.
And in fact 1000 Danish words become something like 1200 words when translated into English, so there may not be quite so many Scandinavian words in the source text.

I don´t always get that rate either, but I practically always have enough work to do. I simply do not have time to take on low-paid jobs that mean I have to turn down better-paid jobs later.

Best of luck!


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Laurent KRAULAND  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 05:22
French to German
+ ...
Psychological perspective Nov 26, 2010

Warning: not to be understood as being authoritative.

What I ask myself is whether some "clients" (let's take this more neutral term, as I don't speak of agencies only) are still in touch with reality or not.

How does the simple fact that some translators accept "low rates" - according to Western European standards - lead many clients (again in Western Europe) to think that they could get a bargain at the same, low rates from all translators, all the time?

I am asking this question because this thread was started quite at the same time I saw a specialised translation offered at the "US best standard rate" (i. e. some USD 0.04 per word)... and was to be completed using InDesign CS5.

This software is currently available for 199 EUR ex VAT (or about USD 263 - some 6,575 words... not exactly a bottom-of-the-market price).

[Modifié le 2010-11-26 20:25 GMT]


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 05:22
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Relation not important Nov 26, 2010

Tomás Cano Binder, CT wrote:
Samuel Murray wrote:
Let's see... 2000 words at USD 0.03 would be USD 60 per day. In my old country (South Africa), that would be ZAR 350 per day, or ZAR 7000 per month. That's about as much as my starting salary was when I worked full-time as a translator...

As an employee yo don't have to buy or rent office space, equipment, consumables, utilities, social security, sales taxes, company taxes, licenses, software, and a long list of other things you have to pay if you are a freelance.


A freelancer doesn't need to buy or rent office space, equipment, consumables, utilities, licenses and software either. Not if you don't really want to.


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 05:22
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
??? Nov 27, 2010

Samuel Murray wrote:
Tomás Cano Binder, CT wrote:
Samuel Murray wrote:
Let's see... 2000 words at USD 0.03 would be USD 60 per day. In my old country (South Africa), that would be ZAR 350 per day, or ZAR 7000 per month. That's about as much as my starting salary was when I worked full-time as a translator...

As an employee yo don't have to buy or rent office space, equipment, consumables, utilities, social security, sales taxes, company taxes, licenses, software, and a long list of other things you have to pay if you are a freelance.

A freelancer doesn't need to buy or rent office space, equipment, consumables, utilities, licenses and software either. Not if you don't really want to.

Maybe an office is something not all freelancers have, but all (at least all people I know) have:
- Telephone and Internet connection (utilities)
- A website (can we include ISPs as "utilities"?)
- Electricity (utilities)
- One or several computers with their peripherals (equipment)
- A desk and office chair (equipment)
- A printer that requires ink or toner cartridges (consumables)
- Some backup system which stores stuff outside of the computer (DVDs, tapes, removables, or the fee for an online backup system)
- In a majority of cases, purchased software, be it OS, office apps, and/or CAT tools (software)
- Fees of professional associations and translator portals used as publicity (do you accept this as "licenses"?)

All these things are paid by your employer if you are an in-house translator. If you are a freelancer, you need to make a lot more money than an employee to enjoy the same money in the hand as the money you get as an employee.

Samuel, do you walk to your customers to dictate them your translations? That is the only way you would not need equipment and utilities.

[Edited at 2010-11-27 06:40 GMT]


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Simone Linke  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 05:22
Member (2009)
English to German
+ ...
Wrong examples Nov 27, 2010

Tomás Cano Binder, CT wrote:

Maybe an office is something not all freelancers have, but all (at least all people I know) have:
- Telephone and Internet connection (utilities)
- A website (can we include ISPs as "utilities"?)
- Electricity (utilities)
- One or several computers with their peripherals (equipment)
- A desk and office chair (equipment)
- A printer that requires ink or toner cartridges (consumables)
- Some backup system which stores stuff outside of the computer (DVDs, tapes, removables, or the fee for an online backup system)
- In a majority of cases, purchased software, be it OS, office apps, and/or CAT tools (software)
- Fees of professional associations and translator portals used as publicity (do you accept this as "licenses"?)

All these things are paid by your employer if you are an in-house translator. If you are a freelancer, you need to make a lot more money than an employee to enjoy the same money in the hand as the money you get as an employee.



While there's some truth to the argument, you're using the wrong examples. All of the things you mentioned (except for the fees because you don't really need them as a normal employee) are things I owned anyway when I was a regular employee. Don't you think people also need electricity at home when they work as regular employees? Wouldn't you agree that most people these days have a computer anyway? I'd have been pretty happy had my employer paid for all of this.

Regarding the argument: the costs that really DO arise are those for insurances and health care / pension plans etc. because normally your employer would pay for some of this. That's where you have to earn more than a regular employee.

But other than that my expenses now and during my time as an employee are about identical.


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