The need for complaining (all the time)
Thread poster: Marcelo Silveyra

Marcelo Silveyra
United States
Local time: 21:19
Member (2007)
German to English
+ ...
Oct 25, 2007

During my admittedly short time at Proz, I've noticed that some people get upset when the good old "I can't believe they're paying 0.000001 cents per word now" topic comes up again - which it invariably does at least once a week.

At one point, there was a suggestion for a "Rants & Raves" forum where people could complain about rates, so that those who weren't interested could simply choose to toggle that particular section off. That, IMO, was a good solution.

However, asking people to stop complaining isn't. Why? Well, when you see a job posting that boils down to approx. .033USD per word and says "Incredible opportunity for a multitude of translators and editors," "no more looking for work - you could work on this alone," and "...each book has 300-400 pgs, and about 300 words per page...pay is per page as is common practice in the publishing world - $10 per page for translation, and $7 per page for editing," we have a problem. Now, you might disagree, but give me a sec and I'll explain.

For a seasoned freelance translator who has found their way through the translation market and knows just how much they can expect for quality work, this kind of posting is not a problem. You look at it, shrug, and brush it off. Maybe you even get upset, but deep down inside you know that you can simply ignore it (at least for now).

However, for someone who is either new to translating or new to the worldwide translation market, it might not be so easy. Once you see a bunch of these, they start becoming convincing, and it's easier to break.: "Hey, after all, they have a 3 year contract for computer books, so they know what they're talking about. And they're in a first-world country (no implied offense to any countries that "aren't"), so they can't be paying substandard rates. And hey, I can get regular work for 3 years! This is starting to sound like a good deal...I better check in right now before anyone else does!"

If anything, I speak from experience. As someone who had originally done translation work directly for a limited (I'd like to say "select," but that sounds too pretentious) number of businesses, individuals, and institutions, I decided to expand my business outside of that circle not too long ago. Having no idea of what the going rates were, and after a while of frustrating research that led nowhere, I took offers in the Spanish>English and English>Spanish pairs that I wouldn't even look at nowadays. They weren't quite as low as the .033USD per word rate, but they were pretty low. It took a few months of experimenting and finding my way around before I found out that my old rates for direct clients were actually pretty standard for quality work. It wasn't a matter of charging less than other colleagues so that I could get more work - I would have never done that in the first place. It was just that I didn't know better! And I did do my research at the time, it's not like I just sat around waiting for stuff to happen. Seeing offers for .03USD per word flying around everywhere (especially when they come from big agencies that I'm not about to name) doesn't help things.

What's the point of all this? Well, simply that complaining in forums (I say forums, not fora - might be an age thing) is a way of raising awareness and helping out newcomers, either to the profession or to the worldwide market.

Now, before they come up, I'll answer two comments that always appear in rants about rates and so:

Q. Whine, whine, whine. Stop complaining and tell us what to do about it.

A. They are doing something about it. It might not be very significant when looking at the big picture, but it's something. Moreover, since the thread title is usually something like "What's up with these .01USD per word rates?," you can simply avoid reading it in the first place. C'mon, you KNOW exactly what the thread is going to be about with a title like that.

Q. So what's wrong with those rates? Somebody offers them, and somebody takes them. It's supply and demand.

A. Sure, if you believe that pure capitalism works like a charm, then that's fine. I don't. But staying within the comment's own parameters, if it's fine to offer lousy rates, it's fine to complain about them too.

PS. I was going to name this topic "The need for *female-dogging*," but figured that the name would probably get me in trouble. (You figure it out.)


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John Cutler  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 06:19
Spanish to English
+ ...
Another way of looking at things Oct 25, 2007

Hi Marcelo, I really enjoyed your post. It made me think that I wanted to add my 2 cents to the rates debate. I totally agree with you that it's a question of supply and demand.

I was thinking the other day about the rates issue. I received an email telling me about a huge project from Catalan to English, which offered .03 cents a word. I considered writing back with a sarcastic reply, but then just erased it and got back to work.

It did cause me to think about the levels of rates, however. Perhaps .03 cents is a great deal for a novice translator. Imagine you’ve just finished studying translation or interpretation at University, you have nothing else under your belt other than theoretical experience and a few translations that your uncle asked you to do for his family business. If you’re offered an opportunity for some steady work and the chance to fill up pages on your CV/resume, you’ll obviously say yes to such a “great” opportunity. In my opinion, it’s a win-win-win situation. The client gets a cheap price, the agency gets their cut and the newbie translator gains experience in the real world of translating. What sense is there in thinking that all translators should get the same rates? Obviously, not all translators are created equal. Some are better than others, some are worse and that - plus level of experience - is what’s going to determine rates in the end.

So what’s wrong with this picture? The same .03 cents irritates a seasoned/experienced translator, but I don’t see why it should. If you’re a good translator with lots of experience you’re always going to have work, which means you’re going to be in a position to negotiate higher rates. I can’t understand how anyone who’s been a translator for any length of time still has to struggle to find clients. Your work should be of such a calibre that it leads to more work. Many clients do know the importance of a good translation and are willing to pay for it, so there’s really no need to go on and on about how low rates are.

If you’re a beginner you deserve a low rate and I would think that any seasoned translator would be offended to think that some wet-behind-the-ears wanabee automatically deserves the same rate they charge. That doesn’t happen in any business. It’s the same anywhere: you start at the bottom and work your way up. I personally believe that if every translator was offered some sort of standard rate the seasoned translators would then be the ones complaining about how they've been working hard for years and suddenly some newcomer is earning as much as they are. It’s not how things generally work in the business world.


[Editado a las 2007-10-25 12:25]

[Editado a las 2007-10-25 12:26]


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Marcelo Silveyra
United States
Local time: 21:19
Member (2007)
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Good point John! Oct 25, 2007

Can't argue with you on that one. It's basically my fault for not including another key element of the quoted job in my first post: "Experienced only."

Great post, by the way.


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 06:19
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
I agree, but... Oct 25, 2007

Marcelo Silveyra wrote:
Moreover, since the thread title is usually something like "What's up with these .01USD per word rates?," you can simply avoid reading it in the first place.


Quite right, but there are those who hijack non-whine threads at the slightest hint of their pet topic...


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Francesca Pesce  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:19
Member (2006)
English to Italian
+ ...
I totally agree with Marcelo Oct 25, 2007

Very good post Marcelo. I totally agree with you.

Keeping the attention high on absurd rates is a way of informing and not taking the system for granted.

Nothing probably changes or will change, but at least it helps people understand what current correct rates are like.


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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 03:19
English to Portuguese
+ ...
The "buquitús" (in PT) Oct 25, 2007

It should sound the same in SP, IT, and a few other languages. In English it would read like "bookeetoos". It means "Book 2" pronounced with heavy Brazilian "eksen-tchee" (= accent). It's a term I coined for fledgling translator wannabes. As it resembles the name of a (Brazilian or African) tribe, my countryfellows liked it.

The story goes like this:

Mr. Bigshot's company needs their product catalogs, spec sheets and instruction manuals translated into English, as they intend to export. He asks their advertising agency (+ 15-30%) for an estimate . The ad agency asks a translation agency (+ 20-50%) for their estimate. The translation agency picks someone from their "A-team", as the end-client's brand is known as a premium product.

In this meantime, the company's receptionist learns about it, and mentions that her stepcousin's half-brother's neighbor is studying English: "He's good! He is already studying the English Book 2!"

Then Mr. Bigshot gets the ad agency's twice-bloated estimate, and wonders how people make any profit from exporting. His secretary reminds him of the receptionist's "whatever".

The receptionist says, "Aw, that boy can sure do it! And it won't be so expensive. He told me all he wants is to buy a new Ipod."

This explains why we sometimes see hair-rising translations around.

Ah, and I almost forgot to mention, those who don't have a receptionist with such connections with "buquitus" may use Proz to find them. There are "buquitus" everywhere!


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Elena Robles Sanjuan  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:19
English to Spanish
I need to complain (even if it´s just to myself) Oct 25, 2007

John Cutler wrote:

I can’t understand how anyone who’s been a translator for any length of time still has to struggle to find clients. Your work should be of such a calibre that it leads to more work. Many clients do know the importance of a good translation and are willing to pay for it, so there’s really no need to go on and on about how low rates are.


[Editado a las 2007-10-25 12:25]

[Editado a las 2007-10-25 12:26]


Hi John,

I wish your equation was really so: you do a very good job, you get more clients. Unfortunately, it isn´t that easy.
I am not going to say that I consider myself a brilliant translator, but I do know that my clients are very happy with my work. Yet, I still go through periods of complete and utter despair: I do everything I am supposed to (marketing, contacts, etc.), but my language pair is probably the most translated. There are loads of us out there!
I have been "reinventing" myself for years, trying to find the area not many translators will specialise in.
Another thing is, many direct clients will appreciate that good quality has to be paid. But, what about the end clients?. I have sometimes worked in projects where there were up to five intermediaries. Do you think I will be the lucky party in the whole chain?.

And of course, the issue of the rates counts too. My best client is the one with the worst rates.
Why do I accept that situation?. Well, because theirs are the best projects I can get hold of and because I truly believe that one client can lead to another, even if it happens far too slowly for my liking.
Anyway, enough of moaning.

Good luck to all !


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Andrea Riffo  Identity Verified
Chile
Local time: 02:19
English to Spanish
Bingo! Oct 25, 2007

Marcelo Silveyra wrote:


However, for someone who is either new to translating or new to the worldwide translation market, it might not be so easy. Once you see a bunch of these, they start becoming convincing, and it's easier to break.: "Hey, after all, they have a 3 year contract for computer books, so they know what they're talking about. And they're in a first-world country (no implied offense to any countries that "aren't"), so they can't be paying substandard rates. And hey, I can get regular work for 3 years! This is starting to sound like a good deal...I better check in right now before anyone else does!"

(...)

Having no idea of what the going rates were, and after a while of frustrating research that led nowhere, I took offers in the Spanish>English and English>Spanish pairs that I wouldn't even look at nowadays.




You hit the nail on the head, Marcelo. Complaining about low rates is not only a way to vent one's own frustration: it is a way to let people know that the rates in question are substandard.


Andrea


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Andrea Riffo  Identity Verified
Chile
Local time: 02:19
English to Spanish
... Oct 25, 2007

John Cutler wrote:

If you’re a beginner you deserve a low rate and I would think that any seasoned translator would be offended to think that some wet-behind-the-ears wanabee automatically deserves the same rate they charge. That doesn’t happen in any business. It’s the same anywhere: you start at the bottom and work your way up. I personally believe that if every translator was offered some sort of standard rate the seasoned translators would then be the ones complaining about how they've been working hard for years and suddenly some newcomer is earning as much as they are. It’s not how things generally work in the business world.




John, did you really mean to use "deserve", or was it just an unfortunate choice of words?

In my opinion, a less experienced person or a beginner can expect or be willing to accept lower rates, but no one has the right to tell them that they DESERVE such and such. Especially not LOW rates (as opposed to "lowER [tan someone else's]")


Andrea


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MariusV  Identity Verified
Lithuania
Local time: 07:19
English to Lithuanian
+ ...
a little bit offtopic, but Oct 25, 2007

Marcelo Silveyra wrote:

"...each book has 300-400 pgs, and about 300 words per page...pay is per page as is common practice in the publishing world - $10 per page for translation, and $7 per page for editing,"


Dear Marcelo,

Have you noticed one interesting thing ? Those agencies that offer 0.03 rates also add a line or two about "huge potential possibilities of cooperation with tons of workflow, etc." and in this way they hook up people (esp. the ones who are new or unexperienced). And as a rule, "now you have to translate 3 pages for 0.03 rate, and wait till our huge projects" and these huge projects never come (let alone if you get paid for those 3 pages for 0.03). I think it is a very simple but a very effective trick to push the rates down - esp. for those who are new and still "fishing" the clients...And people think "OK, I will work for 0.03 instead of having no work at all and YES, a possibility to translate 3 books 100 kilos of words each for this client - OK will do that" (and people already count money they MIGHT receive)...

And I think that "dumping" on the rates is the main mistake beginners make. I went trhough that too. What we actually need is a good self marketing and some patience. The first thing is finding the right "market segment" to sell our services (those clients for whom quality goes first, not lowest rates) and some patience (a good client database with permanent and good work flow takes at least a year to build up)...

Well, those monkey nut proposals are somewhat irritating and well, one simply can ignore these and not even bother replying that "sorry, this is 3 times smaller my minimum rate"...I think it is not something like "complaining", but it is a simple expression kind of irritation about the "naivety" and the approach of those people who offer monkey nuts and believe that they will find monkeys for these nuts...I think it is a simple normal reaction I myself simply disregard such proposals, but when they become "too intensive" (like a dozen of emails per day) - I really become irritated.







[Edited at 2007-10-26 01:06]


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Veronika Hansova  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 06:19
Member (2006)
English to Czech
+ ...
On the other side of the market Oct 26, 2007

I have been going through those complaining notes for quite a time and I have not yet noticed mentioning one (IMO the most) important aspect: Gross Domestic product, or perhaps more specifically the regular income and prices in the country of origin of the low-rate translators.

Imagine yourself living in a country where USD 10.00 per day is a fortune. What would you do as a translator? Would you double your prizes just to satisfy your colleagues from the other part of the world? And thus subsequently lose your clients in your country simply because you are way too expensive for them?
Well, yes, you can apply high rates to foreign customers and low rates to domestic ones. But why? If you can live with USD 0.03 or lower per word and your direct environment believes you are making a lot of money, why would you do double/tripple/quadruple it?

I must admit I don't have a single problem with it. I take it as the difference between rates/prices offered in capital cities/downtowns... and those offered for similar products in the countryside/suburbs.

We are building a house with my husband. Sure, we could hire a building company from the downtown but since we found a good one in the suburbs that offers exactly the same quality and services as the one in the downtown BUT with lower price, why shouldn't we hire them then? We take the risk - but it is the same for both the companies. Both of them could build a crooked wall.
And on the other hand, for other jobs we hired a specialized company from the downtown simply because they offer special services that those in the suburbs do not. And we are willing to pay much more for it.

Do you know what I am saying?


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Elena Robles Sanjuan  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:19
English to Spanish
Right, but... Oct 26, 2007

Veronika Hansova wrote:

Sure, we could hire a building company from the downtown but since we found a good one in the suburbs that offers exactly the same quality and services as the one in the downtown BUT with lower price, why shouldn't we hire them then? We take the risk - but it is the same for both the companies. Both of them could build a crooked wall.
And on the other hand, for other jobs we hired a specialized company from the downtown simply because they offer special services that those in the suburbs do not. And we are willing to pay much more for it.

Do you know what I am saying?



Hi Veronika,

I understand what you´re saying and I can see that factor of good quality at different prices in Spain. But, how would you solve the problem of agencies consistently going for lower rates, regardless of the quality?. Yes, you might reply "don´t work with them, then", but do you know how many good agencies I have lost contact with when they found out that my rates were higher than what they offered?.
And, believe you me, I am not expensive in the slightest.
Could this be globalisation?. I don´t know, but what I do know is that if it is, it´s not going to benefit us.
While agencies maintain this attitude (and it´s spreading), people like me trying to make new clients who pay decent rates don´t stand a chance.


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Veronika Hansova  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 06:19
Member (2006)
English to Czech
+ ...
... Oct 26, 2007

Elena Robles Sanjuan wrote:

...but do you know how many good agencies I have lost contact with when they found out that my rates were higher than what they offered?


As long as the end customer was happy with the translation made for low rates you cannot do anything about it. But as soon as the agency receives too many complaints about the quality of cheap translations, they will certainly turn to you again.


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Aleph _Trans
Argentina
Local time: 02:19
English to Spanish
+ ...
Just thinking out loud… Oct 26, 2007

Hello everyone!

1. One may charge what one pleases and offer whatever quality one wants, it is up to the client to accept a given ratio fee:quality

2. One may educate newcomers into the profession and let them know that there is a “market tendency/fee” and that the most logical approach should be: charge that minimum market rate. If you are NOT a newcomer but a seasoned pro, feel free to go well above that rate since you have the tools and arguments to justify that above- average fee (years of experience, expertise, sphere of knowledge, degrees, etc.) but please… do not tell the newbies to go into the market charging less to gain experience (it is a double edged sword)

3. Will it be fine for those who charge well above average here if a well prepared, expert translator charged 50-60% less for the SAME quality translations they offered and cut, not some, but over 60% of their income? Will they just shrug their shoulders and let it go?

4. If I am an agency, or direct client, and translator A and B offer a fully comparable job in terms of quality and compliance with my specs, but Translator A charges 50% less than B, what do you think I will do?

JL


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