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Bulk discounts – yea or nay? May 30, 2008

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Marketing ideas, Translation Sites.

There’s an interesting discussion on the ATA German Language Division listserv at the moment about bulk discounts (a.k.a. volume discounts). The general consensus is not to offer them. I wanted to summarize the main points why translators should not consider offering bulk discounts.

  • It is not beneficial to work more at a lower rate – in fact, it’s worse, because you would have to decline assignments from your regular clients who pay your standard rates.
  • These regular clients will then go elsewhere when you are not available, and you would lose a good client.
  • Most professionals – and even most non-skilled workers – who work over 8 hours a day get paid time and a half overtime – and double time on weekends. Freelance translators unfortunately do not have this luxury. And offering volume discounts ensures that the opposite is true – you are paid LESS for working MORE.
  • Many jobs that require volume discounts also have extremely tight deadlines, which would make it a rush job for which you should be paid more – not less.
  • You don’t know if the client will really come through with the kind of volume he is promising (one savvy member suggested drafting up a contract to “contractually commit to a legally enforceable minimum (annual) volume” and if the client doesn’t hold up its end of the bargain you can consider the contract null and void).
  • If such a contract were signed, you might be legally considered an employee.
  • Why spend time working for a client who doesn’t respect you enough to pay a competitive rate?
  • Prices keep rising (gas, food, housing, etc.) and agencies keep trying to depress prices. Volume discounts are just another way to lower the price. Globalization may be rampant, but the fact remains that U.S.-based translators cannot afford to work at extremely low rates and still make a living. If you continue to offer quality translations the clients who choose to outsource will eventually come back. If they don’t, there is still plenty of work to go around. With globalization the need for translation is increasing exponentially and there aren’t enough skilled translators to handle the load as it is.
  • Agencies that ask for volume discounts are most likely trying to get a bargain and negotiate the best price. Most agencies will be willing to pay your rate once you tell them you do not offer volume discounts.
  • The supply and demand in the industry means you can safely turn down volume discounts and still have plenty of work from other clients. I get contacted by one to two new clients a week who found my profile on the Internet or ATA database or heard about me from colleagues or clients.

If anyone else wants to add something to the list I would love to hear it.

BTW, if you work in German you should definitely join the ATA and subscribe to the GLD listserv. The GLD list has 297 members despite the division itself having over five times as many members (currently close to 1200 members). Those members don’t know what they are missing. I find the listserv to be one of the most valuable tools out there. It is a virtual water cooler for home-based workers (and even some in-house translators). We help each other with terminology and discuss business practices and anything else you can possibly think of (even German stores and food). Most of the things I will bring up here I have learned from the GLD list or PT, which is a Germany-based listserv for translators with 1331 members as of 3/30/08 (the lingua franca is of course German).



1. Amanda - May 30, 2008

Nice blog, Jill! Still working on the edit, heh heh…

We liked Die Fälscher very much and spent most of the way home talking about it.

2. yndigo - May 30, 2008


I found your blog through Corrine McKay’s. It looks — and reads — great! I run an agency and have worked for other large agencies for several years.

I may be shooting myself in the foot but I think your bullet point 5 is the most compelling because promised volume rarely comes through in the volume-discount situations. Please know though that talk of these bargains often starts with the agency’s client, not the agency. The agency is asked if they can offer a volume discount for an ongoing volume of work. It often doesn’t materialize and subsequent re-negotiation of the rate became difficult.

This type of scenario may work if times are slow for a translator and the volume becomes truly regular enough that it’s worth putting other clients on hold for a while because the long-term steady pay is more attractive. But over my 12 years in the business, this is pretty rare.

I also concur with your point that signing a rate contract is not legally kosher.

Anyway, thanks for contributing to the conversation and (cue shameless plug) if you have a moment, check out our own blog at http://www.yndigotranslations.com/blog.

Glenn Cain

3. jillsommer - May 30, 2008

Thanks for the comment! Actually, the same person who suggested drawing a contract stipulating a certain average volume also pointed out that the contract could be construed as a contractual employee-employer relationship. I didn’t mean to imply that the two bullet points were mutually exclusive.

4. Ryan Ginstrom - May 30, 2008

Thanks for another great post.

I would be willing to offer a bulk discount if the document has a lot of repetition, and the more volume I do the faster I’ll work.

I would never consider offering a bulk discount for things like white papers, journal publications, or essays, because these end just as difficultly as they start. But for a left-handed sprocket manual followed by a right-handed sprocket manual, I’d probably be willing to offer a bit of a discount. Of course, agencies that are aware of translation-memory software would probably do some calculations on “internal repetitions” and try to quantify the size of the discount.

5. Corinne McKay - June 2, 2008

Right on, Jill! Back when I started freelancing, volume projects were a godsend and I gladly offered a substantial discount when I was offered a big job. These days, I wouldn’t say that I dread volume projects, but anything over about 10K words calls for some strategizing. I normally don’t offer a discount since I’m generally busier than I want to be anyway, but the stickier issue is how to handle work from my regular clients during the volume project. I don’t want to tell someone that it’s going to take a month to translate 25K words, but at the same time I don’t want to tell my regular clients that I’m completely unavailable for two weeks. Thanks for your great points and congratulations on this fabulous new addition to the translation blog world!

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