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Is less than 1 cent per word for translation a fair price?
Thread poster: Santosh Rai

Santosh Rai  Identity Verified
Nepal
Local time: 21:50
Member
English to Nepali
+ ...
Feb 28

Hi everyone,

I have been working on an ongoing translation work from English to Nepali. These are books. They have offered me less than $0.01/word and I need to do the formatting work as well. My question is, do you think it is fair? What would you suggest for me to ask for an increase?

Thanks a lot for your time and effort.


 

Michael Newton  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 12:05
Member (2003)
Japanese to English
+ ...
Fair price for translation Feb 28

No, this is not a fair price. I suspect the agency is in India.
You should be charging between USD 0.08 to USD 0.10 per word. Unfortunately there are very few agencies in India that would accept this. Also, unfortunately I suspect that there would be very few agencies outside India that would require Nepali translation. You would need to broaden your horizons. Good luck!


 

Dylan Jan Hartmann  Identity Verified
Australia
Member (2014)
Thai to English
+ ...

MODERATOR
Rates aren't as international as the post above suggests Feb 28

The only good way to work out what 'rate' is appropriate for you is by following this method:

1. What do you expect to earn per hour of work?

2. How many words can you translate in an hour?

3. Work out 1 ÷ 2 = rate that you should charge.



eg. If I want to earn $60/hour and I can translate 400 words an hour, my rate would be $0.15/word.

BUT if I was in a country with a low cost of living, I might be happy with $10/hour. In this situation, my rate would be $0.025/word (for the same amount of words translated).


 

Dylan Jan Hartmann  Identity Verified
Australia
Member (2014)
Thai to English
+ ...

MODERATOR
How to earn more? Feb 28

You asked, 'what would you suggest for me to ask for an increase?'

Specialise, market yourself, get any required certifications and qualifications, work for Western agencies etc. etc. etc.

The list goes on.

There is an incredible amount of professional development material out there for translators. You could start by searching some of the courses offered by ProZ.com!


 

Vladimir Pochinov  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 18:05
Member (2002)
English to Russian
$0.01 per word Feb 28

Santosh Rai wrote:

I have been working on an ongoing translation work from English to Nepali. These are books. They have offered me less than $0.01/word and I need to do the formatting work as well.


Do you mean to say you have already accepted their offer? Why? Moreover, why didn’t you ask your next question here before accepting it?


My question is, do you think it is fair?


No, it’s outrageous and ridiculous.


What would you suggest for me to ask for an increase?


It seems you have put yourself in a squeeze. You cannot just ask for $0.06-0.08-0.10 per word. If you do, they are likely to balk at the increased price.


 

Thayenga  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 18:05
Member (2009)
English to German
+ ...
Perspectives Feb 28

If your total monthly cost of living including sufficient food is USD 200.00, then 1 cent would be a decent income. If you need more to have a good living, then 1 cent, rather even less than 1 cent is a rip-off.

 

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 18:05
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
1c per word is on the low end of the scale, I'd say Feb 28

Santosh Rai wrote:
1. I have been working on an ongoing translation work from English to Nepali.
2. These are books.
3. They have offered me less than $0.01/word and I need to do the formatting work as well.


1. An ongoing client is more valuable than a once-off client or an irregular client, so it would not be a bad business decision to have a special (i.e. lower) rate for such a client, as long as the rate is not so low that it becomes unprofitable and the work load is so large that it prevents you from taking on other, better-paying jobs.

2. Book translation typically pays less (per word) than business translation.

However, it is very difficult to find out just how much book translation actually pays. Most questions of the sort on translator forums get answered by non-book translators (typically business-to-business translators) who speculate about how much they would be willing to work for it they were ever asked to translate a book.

The formatting is typically also simpler, so even if you are asked to do formatting, the formatting shouldn't take a disproportionate amount of the time spent on the job. Anyone in the world with regular access to a computer who knows what a word processor is would have certain expectations about the formatting of translations delivered in such a format, so it's natural for clients to expect some formatting to be included in the price.

3. To know whether 1c per word is fair for the translator, you must evaluate it against the translator's country's cost of living.

[One can also evaluate the client's country's cost of living, but that answers more the question of whether the rate is fair in global terms, and not specifically for the translator.]

Numbeo says: relative income in Nepal is 1/5 of that of the USA
Numbeo says: rent in Nepal is 1/5 of that of the USA
Numbeo says: groceries in Nepal is 2/3 of that of the USA
Expatisan says: food in Nepal is 1/2 of that of the USA
Expatisan says: housing in Nepal is 1/4 of that of the USA

Therefore I would assume that a rate of 1c per word in Nepal equates to a rate of 4c per word in the USA. This is extremely low for business translation, although I have had respectible USA clients offer me as little as 5c per word.


 

Michael Wetzel  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 18:05
German to English
Wrong question Feb 28

I think the question about fairness is very unproductive.

A much more productive question would be: Is it stupid for me to do this work for this client at less than USD 0.01 per word?

That will lead you to productive questions:
Will this client pay me more for the same work?
Are there other clients available to me who will pay me more for the same work?
If I demand more money and lose the client, what will the material result for me be?
Is this rate providing me with a standard of living that I am satisfied with?

You need to think practically and strategically and you need to be able and willing to experiment and take risks: Can you move up the "food chain" to charge more for the same service? Are you looking in the right places for clients? Are you getting as much as you can (rates, quantity, consistency of quantity, quality of working relationship) out of your current clients? Is your present situation comfortable?

There is a lot of information out there about what professional Western European translators working in major languages for publishing houses earn. Beyond that, I have no idea, but am skeptical that you will find much directly applicable information.


 

Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Finland
Local time: 19:05
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
Fair price, if you translate 5000 words an hour Feb 28

All depends on your typing speed.icon_smile.gif

 

Vladimir Pochinov  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 18:05
Member (2002)
English to Russian
Fairness of low prices Feb 28

Michael Wetzel wrote:

I think the question about fairness is very unproductive.

A much more productive question would be: Is it stupid for me to do this work for this client at [less than] USD 0.01 [or even US 0.03] per word?



Exactly my thinking about the whole situation (square brackets above added to clarify what I think about the price level in question).

Back in 2000, I started approaching my first potential international clients (thank you, Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee, and people behind ARPANET) offering US$0.06/word. The cost of living in Russia was very low at the time, and many Russian-based colleagues quoted US$0.02-0.03 per word. Despite this competition in the rat-race sector of the translation market, I managed to build my client base and kept increasing my rates from time to time ever since.

I don't think your country of residence is the primary factor affecting your rates. I am confident that your rates should depend on the perceived and actual value of your services. The "value" here refers to the quality of your translation product, your ability to always meet the agreed deadlines, your willingness to go the extra mile combined with the ability to solve your clients' problems instead of creating new ones.

From my experience as an outsourcer, at least 60-70% of the translators worldwide should start thinking hard about switching to another profession. By way of example, I placed a job at a brand-new translation marketplace several days ago. 80 people translated a short (250 words) test piece, on the condition that the winner will be paid for the test in addition to getting the primary job. I looked through all 80 translations. Only six of them were good enough (scoring 8-9 points on a 10-point scale), while two people submitted machine-translated masterpieces. Therefore, as things stand now, I am not very much afraid of the human competition. Perhaps, the AI will be the top dog in the long run... However, I am not too young; hopefully, the AI developers will take some time before ruining the translation industry in its existing formicon_smile.gif


 

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 18:05
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Vladimir's "value" Feb 28

Vladimir Pochinov wrote:
I am confident that your rates should depend on the perceived and actual value of your services. The "value" here refers to the quality of your translation product, your ability to always meet the agreed deadlines, your willingness to go the extra mile combined with the ability to solve your clients' problems instead of creating new ones.


I, on the other hand, don't think that the things you mention should be priced. These are things that distinguish your service from those of others, and it is what hopefully causes clients to prefer hiring you over others, but it is very difficult to put a price on such things, and I doubt if even clients do that. I simply can't imagine a client going "for job X we want less hassle, so let's pay for more it, but for job Y we're willing to accept more hassle, so let's offer to pay less for it".

Anyway, the "value" things you mention are relative only to the fees charged by other translators. If other translators offer the same "value" and charge the same fees, then by your definition the price is actually right.

And I'm not sure if all of the things you mention actually relate to "actual value". Even time saved by solving problems and not creating them is very difficult to quantify, and even if you could calculate the monetary value of time saved, I suspect you'd find that the effect on the quoted price would be negligible. If the client receives a salary for the job which includes liaising with the translator, then it is unlikely that the client's employer will save any money simply because the translator helps the client to save time.


 

Tina Vonhof
Canada
Local time: 10:05
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
A fair comparison Feb 28

That rate is indeed extremely low compared to what is average here in the West. But you live in a country with a different standard of living and you work in a relatively rare language combination. We cannot really compare what is a fair rate in your situation with what is considered fair here.

I think you need to address this question specifically to translation colleagues in your own, or surrounding countries. If that is not possible, compare yourself with what people in your country with similar professions and education are earning per hour or per day. Then you have a better basis to judge what would be a fair rate for you. Also consider the fact that book translation or other large projects are usually paid at a lower rate than shorter projects. Of course, when you work for western agencies you can charge whatever the rates are in your language combination.

Check out this list: https://search.proz.com/employers/rates (I'm not sure how recent this is).




[Edited at 2018-02-28 23:58 GMT]


 

Michael Wetzel  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 18:05
German to English
Pricing Mar 1

Samuel Murray wrote:

Vladimir Pochinov wrote:
I am confident that your rates should depend on the perceived and actual value of your services. The "value" here refers to the quality of your translation product, your ability to always meet the agreed deadlines, your willingness to go the extra mile combined with the ability to solve your clients' problems instead of creating new ones.


I, on the other hand, don't think that the things you mention should be priced. These are things that distinguish your service from those of others, and it is what hopefully causes clients to prefer hiring you over others, but it is very difficult to put a price on such things, and I doubt if even clients do that. I simply can't imagine a client going "for job X we want less hassle, so let's pay for more it, but for job Y we're willing to accept more hassle, so let's offer to pay less for it".

Anyway, the "value" things you mention are relative only to the fees charged by other translators. If other translators offer the same "value" and charge the same fees, then by your definition the price is actually right.


I think using the term "value" on its own clouds the issue (it fades too easily into the realm of fairness), but if we go with "perceived value" then that seems to clear things up again.
Isn't what distinguishes your service from others precisely what determines its price (or its "perceived value" = how much clients will pay for it)? If not, what does determine price?
And I agree that it is difficult or impossible to quantify the specific value of all the intangibles that go into creating "perceived value," but it is very easy to empirically discover their cumulative value. Just raise your prices when you are consistently too busy and you'll eventually arrive at the market value your current group of potential clients currently assigns to the services you are currently offering.
And available competition makes a huge difference: If an Indian agency organizes dozens of translations a week into Nepalese and has hundreds of Nepalese translators on its books, then the same translator is worth a lot less to that agency than to almost anyone else in the world (for whom Nepalese is an exotic language they are happy to find someone to take care of for them). Talking about fairness clouds the issue: That is asking about how you should feel, but I think you should really be asking what you should do.

The price of my translations is the maximum amount that I can consistently find enough clients willing to pay to keep me as busy as I want to be. Now, I don't really behave that mechanistically and I do think a sense of moderation is a very good idea in the long term, so I don't go the extra mile to squeeze the last dime out of the last group of potential clients, but this does fundamentally describe the process I used to arrive at my present rates.


 

MK2010  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 10:05
French to English
+ ...
More than that, no? Mar 3

Thayenga wrote:

If your total monthly cost of living including sufficient food is USD 200.00, then 1 cent would be a decent income. If you need more to have a good living, then 1 cent, rather even less than 1 cent is a rip-off.


At a rate of 500 words per hour, 40 hours a week, that would be 800 dollars a month, which in many developing countries would be considered a decent living. Is it a fair price? No. The OP should try for more next time, taking into consideration the advice in this thread.

That said, I never bought into the whole, "figure out how long it takes you to translate XXX words and how much money you need to make to have a decent life, and charge accordingly." Let's say I'm a beginning hair stylist and it takes me 3 hours to do a haircut. I can't expect clients to pay three times as much just because I'm slow.

One element that applies to any job or profession, and this is when factors such as area of expertise and country of residence or outsourcing come into play, is: how much will the market bear?


 

Haneder  Identity Verified
Austria
Local time: 18:05
German to French
+ ...
Extremly unfair Mar 4

I find when a whole profession issue the fact of something fair or not on a web based economy onto the price of groceries then one does not have to moan about cheap rates in their own country.
Does an agency in India offers me the tenfold of their wage because my life is more expensive in Austria than in India? No. They assume that WE are the one to decide whether it is fair or not. Why should then an agency from a rich corner of the world then assume someone on the same way of thinking that we are not entitled to earn what is within their means. Many years ago, I used to know an agency here on Proz asking from a low wage country bids on proz. When you had carried out the translation you find out that you had to send the invoice to their sister company on one of the most expensive country seen from the living standards. On the same way you should never assume that one has to be pleased to live at a cheap cost just because every one around is. But you are made as a beginner to accept that is its the way to proceed.

This is about finding YOUR market, the one you are happy getting up in the morning for. Maybe when you have to translate to make money for food, you are not asking whether it is fair or not. You just grab what you can and go on. If you find an offer at 0,01 per word and are offered for the same time 0,05 pro word, you never ask if it is fair or not. You drop the 0,01 job for the 0,05 job. If you are between starving and the 0,01 job, then reissue the profession as it is or just accept the job for what it is because it helps you to survive until you are fit for better. Business is not about fairness. Business is not about being a nice appreciated guy. This is a rough world. You will never earn more money through asking for ethic. Translation market is not a charity and there is mostly not a "fair trade label". This is about surviving on what the offer is and if you cannot survive on it maybe try for a thing on which you are better talented. But do not blame the society for the own decisions of your life.


 
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