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Pretty soon they’ll be making US pay THEM to translate their texts April 23, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Random musings.

I love the title of this post. It is the first thing that popped into my mind as a translation of something someone on one of my German forums wrote this morning (Vielleicht sollen wir bald noch Geld mitbringen, wenn wir was übersetzen wollen 🙂 ), and I was struck by the truth to it. The discussion was sparked by a inquiry by an agency in the UK offering EUR 0,075 per word for German and French <> English. That was the agency price, so you can only imagine what they were paying their translators – if translators were even involved at all. We all receive ridiculous offers every now and again. I myself was offered $0.02 for medical about a month ago. Needless to say I didn’t even bother replying.

But there is a kernel of truth to this flippant response. Agencies are trying to depress prices more and more to survive these economically troubled times. Where will the price dumping stop? If agencies are offering $0.01 to $0.02 there’s nowhere else to go… Will agencies soon start insisting we pay them for the privilege of translating for them? Think about it…

Hopefully things aren’t as dire as some of these discussions on listservs make it out to be. I still have plenty of work at my rates, and I know translators who have raised their rates and are still getting plenty of work. The bottom has not yet dropped out of the industry, but the bottom is dropping out for some agencies, who are becoming more and more desperate. Their quality will suffer as a result, which will (hopefully) cause them to lose clients. It will be interesting to see how things shake out by the time the economy gets better again.



1. Tom Ellett - April 23, 2009

Darwinist that I am, I’m hopeful that the recession will indeed lead to a long-overdue shakeout in the translation industry, with the bottom-feeders having nowhere else to go but under.

2. Corinne McKa - April 23, 2009

I think it really points to the fact that you absolutely cannot compete on price because someone else will always charge less. I also think it’s helpful to (diplomatically) explain to clients that the more they pay me, the more meticulously I can afford to work, which benefits them in the end. The industry is doing weird things; I had about 10 days with minimal work which hasn’t happened to me in years. As hard as it was, I just worked on personal projects and some non-paying things I had wanted to get to, and sure enough the onslaught of work came back at my regular rates. I agree with Tom, I have a hard time imagining that some of the big agencies aren’t going to go under…I can only imagine the quality of the work they’re buying at those rates.

3. Susanne Aldridge III - April 24, 2009

Well, just one comment from me: This was not an agency but a translation bureau, their domain was registered a couple of weeks ago and it sounded it is a young translator couple who is trying to establish themselves. EUR 0.075 is $0.098 and while it is certainly a price at the bottom of the range, I am not sure it is really that bad and I wouldn’t even consider it a bottom-feeder or a dumping price.
I consider it more the price range of someone who is very new in the business and who has to earn their chops

4. Judy Jenner - April 24, 2009

Your title is the line I have been using for years; it’s my favorite line. And yes, Corinne, agreed. I always say that too: you can’t compete on price because there will always be someone who will do it cheaper than you. Amen!

And good for you for not even replying. As freelance linguists, the only resource we have is our time, so we need to be sure to use it wisely. I used to feel compelled to answer these e-mails and do some gentle client education about the value of professional translations, etc. Then I realized that clearly whoever is offering these rates is not taking linguists seriously, so now I just hit the “delete” button.

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