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Just because there’s a “free trial” doesn’t mean you should abuse it July 2, 2010

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices.

Translators are a notoriously cheap bunch. Our job affords us the luxury of having low overhead for our businesses. All we really need is a computer, an e-mail address and Internet access, and we are in business. We don’t need to buy lots of suits or pay for gas to drive to work. We don’t have to spend money on lunches out or $4 lattes every day unless we choose to do so. Once a dictionary is purchased it usually doesn’t need to be repurchased for quite some time. Face it, we are truly lucky. This unfortunately leads us to feel that we can cheap out on all kinds of aspects of our job. Every year someone complains about the price of the ATA conference, when other professional conferences can run up to three times as much. Translators also have a reputation for cutting corners with software licenses, hotels during the conference, the cost of CEUs, meals, etc. [Don’t get me wrong; I’m not a saint either. I’ve done this as well.]

Corinne McKay told me last year that her very helpful book, How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator, had been scanned by some anonymous translator and put on some overseas website for download. It had been downloaded 3,000 times by the time she learned of it. I was absolutely aghast. When you download shareware or an e-book instead of buying it you aren’t sticking it to “The Man.” You are most likely stealing from someone just like you – someone who works from home in their comfy clothes and probably has a family to support.

I have just learned of yet another way a translator has tried to save $13-20 by signing up for a free trial service four times in three years (twice within two months). Shareware (also referred to as a “free trial” or “trial version”) is described by Wikipedia as “usually [being] offered either with certain features only available after the license is purchased, or as a full version but for a limited trial period of time. Once the trial period has passed the program may stop running until a license is purchased.”

Now, a free trial for a service like Payment Practices gives you free full access to the database; however, it should not be abused. That is just really tacky. Payment Practices is not like other payment lists, because there is a database that users can search. Other listservs run through Yahoogroups, which is conveniently delivered to your e-mail inbox but whose Archive search function is seriously lacking. It also doesn’t occasionally remove unfavorable reviews when an agency objects, unlike another Board out there a lot of translators use that shall remain nameless. The list owner, Ted, has invested a lot of time and money into developing the Payment Practices website and data engine. He doesn’t run the site for profit. He is a translator just like you or me – but he has a good vision and truly wants to help freelance translators avoid non-payment. Paying the $19.99 subscription fee (there’s a 25% discount for ATA members) to use the site and avoid potential non-paying clients is a no-brain move if you ask me.

To be a professional you need to invest in your business. It takes money to make money. $20 a year is not a lot in the grand scheme of things. I consider my $15 a year to be one of the best investments I make all year – especially if it saves me from one potential non-paying new customer. Abusing shareware, subscription fees and license fees is stealing, and stealing from anyone – be it software companies or other translators – is just plain wrong. And be happy you work in a job that allows you to live so cheaply.



1. Percy Balemans - July 2, 2010

Hear, hear! And I can’t help but thinking that this reputation for doing everything on the cheap and wanting everything for free only serves as a confirmation for those clients who think translators shouldn’t be paid proper rates. It makes us sound cheap, so our rates must be cheap as well… I’m not saying we should throw our money about, but if we want to be taken seriously as professional businesses, we should invest in our business and pay for whatever we need to run our business successfully. As someone once put it: how can we expect clients to invest in us if we don’t invest in ourselves?

The other day I spoke to a translator who kept ranting about low translation rates, but at the same time made it clear that they were unwilling to pay for conferences. If you want to be paid a proper rate, be prepared to pay other professionals proper rates as well, especially when they are colleagues working in the same business!

2. Laurent Krauland - July 2, 2010

I must say I am not surprised by this post – quite the contrary. Some colleagues asked me why I needed a professional YouSendIt subscription when the basic account is… free.

Some other colleagues do not even use free CAT software because they have “(my) own methods” and because “this thing will slow (me) down”.

I think the main problem – call it a twist of mind – is that many translators think that linguistic expertise is enough and that clients should be satisfied with that.

Cavaeat: this in turn does not mean that I support the “must haves” in our profession, like the so-called industry standard CAT tool… far from it!

3. Kevin Lossner - July 3, 2010

You nailed this one, Jill. Those who aren’t willing to make reasonable investments in their business deserve whatever comes… or doesn’t.

I can’t help but roll my eyes when I read or hear words from translator so caught up in their self-portrait as artists that they are incapable of recognizing even the most basic realities of the business in which they presumably engage. They worry about a client stealing from them by not paying a 50 dollar translation invoice, but the theft of intellectual property (software, for example) or disrespect to the efforts of others (such as your list subscription example) doesn’t seem to disturb them much. Time and again I hear how they “can’t afford” this or that. Well, perhaps there is a reason for that. What goes around comes around, and if they don’t take the business seriously and act like real, law-abiding professionals, they can’t expect to be taken seriously and attract the paying clientele that a serious translator would.

Nothing against art and artists. I have a few friends on the freaky fringes of that scene, who are into making strange sculptures or wall murals of green penises while keeping themselves in self-brewed cannabis beer, but they make serious investments in their odd profession and market better than most MBAs.

4. Susanne Aldridge III - July 3, 2010

Here is one thing that I believe falls into this category. I often hear DVX users say that they can do any Trados job just by using the trial version of Trados to pre-segment the files. That always struck me as odd because if this is part of a regular workflow, this is one of the tools that should also be purchased. Maybe I misunderstood this or there are other methods now, but I was always wondering what would happen if Trados put a time restriction on the trial or totally got rid of the trial version.
For software I am not always willing to the sometimes very steep price but my mantra is that if I make money from using it, I need to pay for it.

Laurent Krauland - July 3, 2010

@ Susanne: I assume these Trados trial versions are those of older Trados releases (up to 7.5 I think).

5. Alex Eames - July 3, 2010

I was fooling around in Google and stumbled across a PDF version of Doug Robinson’s “Becoming a Translator” the other day. I don’t know the guy personally, but as a fellow author I felt I ought to do something about it.

I tracked him down and sent him an email. He contacted his publishers and it’s gone. It was on a UK translation company’s site as well. Makes me ashamed to be a Brit, I tell you. 😦

I don’t dare think about how many illicit copies of my ebooks might be out there. I just thank everyone who has been honest enough to buy real copies over the years.

I’d suggest Ted puts in some sort of IP address tracking to prevent spurious trial subscriptions. OK it’s not foolproof, but it helps a bit.

I’m gutted for Corinne though. These people are scumbags and need to be dealt with. It’s one thing to pass on a copy to a friend (although people shouldn’t) but to make it available for download is just disgusting.

I’ve been considering DRM for my upcoming ebook update, but it seems to me like that is just punishing those who are honest (a bit like us all having to be treated like criminals at the airports because some nutjob terrorists like blowing things up). So I think there will be no DRM – serious crooks can get round it anyway – and why inconvenience the good guys?

Bottom line – sowing and reaping. Sow cheap, reap cheap. (And it rhymes too. 😉 )

Jill (@bonnjill) - July 3, 2010

Good for you, Alex (for telling him it was out there as a PDF). We need to watch each others’ backs.

6. Lionel - July 4, 2010

Hi Jill I must say I agree with most of your article, it is true it takes money to make money 🙂
But as far as TEnT are concerned it would not hurt if the translators community was a little more supportive of free software. Mostly because it is crucial for professionals to have some kind of control over the tools they use in their everyday work.
The fact that most TEnTs are today proprietary software and that there is very few motivation to develop free ones amaze me as a young translator.
It is already really a shame that SDL has a monopoly position on the market. A monopoly built on tools so poorly developped as Trados or SDLX, that don’t take into account such basic things as ergonomy, or actual user requirements (for example most translators only have 2 eyes…and these tools require 3!).
So I have no problem paying for services that are actually created to be help the translators, but it really pisses me of that I have to use tools only developped to keep me from doing exactly what I want when I translate.

That’s all folks !
Lionel, a young french translator.

7. inkamaria - July 5, 2010

it all comes down to ethics…

8. Linguist in Ireland - July 6, 2010

Well said Jill.
It always amazes me how many translators won’t invest in any software that would would help in their work. I’ve come across translators who didn’t know the difference between MS Word and MS Works, never mind Trados, Wordfast etc.

Many translators are not just great business people, so no wonder they often never have the money to buy suitable software. I suppose translators are so used to thinking in terms of pennies, that they don’t think of the pounds.

I mean, a freelance graphic designer would just bite the bullet and buy InDesign, Photoshop or whatever. Even if a translator has an issue with the tools, clients still ask for them. Leave the artistic diva tantrums out of it and try to satisfy your clients’ requirements, IMO.

9. Corinne McKay - July 7, 2010

Great post Jill! And I should also say that it was Kevin Lossner who alerted me to my book on the “sharing” site. Thanks, Kevin! I agree with you completely; I’m so frugal that we don’t even have a clothes dryer, and I happily pay for Payment Practices, Wordfast license, a new computer every 5-7 years, etc. Thanks for pointing out that other small entrepreneurs are not “The Man.” Not that it’s OK to steal from big corporations either, but it’s certainly not OK to cheat other freelancers out of $20 in the name of gaming the system.

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