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Beating a dead horse (aka volume discounts) August 23, 2010

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices.

Most of you haven’t been reading my blog since the very beginning, so I wanted to mention a post I wrote back in May 2008 on volume discounts. The topic came up last week on the ATA’s Business Practices list. As expected, most of the seasoned translators were vehemently against the practice for all the reasons I mentioned in 2008. Interestingly enough, two translators spoke in favor of volume discounts, citing “economies of scale.” Sorry, folks, but I still can’t justify offering a volume discount due to economies of scale either. Even if I am being more than adequately compensated based on an hourly rate my little fingers are still typing all those words. If I am typing it I am charging for it.

I don’t know about you, but I have more than enough work to keep me busy at my normal rates. (In fact, that is one of the reasons it has been so quiet here at TranslationMusings lately.) I would not be a very good businessperson if I were to turn around and say “hey, wonderful client, I know you just offered me 22,000 words. Tell you what, I’ll do them for 2 cents less just because there is so much.” That’s insane. I’m going to type all those words out and my arms are going to be hurting or at least sore afterward, so I want to be compensated for it – and I would hope my client respects me enough to feel the same way. And that’s all I have to say about that.



1. Kevin Lossner - August 24, 2010

“Economies of scale” only apply for mass production and when you decide to use others like replaceable parts on a translation assembly line with bathroom breaks forbidden and other fine features that we’ve come to know and love from the Capitalist Exploitation Ethic.

Am I thrilled when a client shows up with 40,000 to 80,000 words in the Mother of All Welding Manual Translations? Not particularly. The challenges of consistency in very large projects even with the best application of modern tools for translation and QA is almost inevitably underestimated. I’m seeing that right now in a current project with 50,000 words of checked context matches locked up “safely” because they have already been reviewed multiple times. If I had a euro for every mistake I’ve found so far in that unpaid portion of the project I would be off to a very expensive restaurant with a group of friends right now.

I do the big stuff if the subject interests me and/or I simply like working with the client. But I’m happier seeing the same volume split up in smaller chunks that do not choke my capacity quite so hard. Although it’s true that the translation often goes faster once one “gets into the flow”, there are so many offsetting factors for this that I think in the end the big jobs are just as hard or harder. Certainly they are not deserving of discounts.

2. Riccardo - August 25, 2010

“So, exactly why should I give you a discount?” Asked the wary translator.

“We’ll be able to provide you with plenty of work, in fact, as much as you can take: you’ll be able to work for us full time.” Answered the enthusiastic project manager.

“In other words, I should work for you for less, and then I will be so busy that I will have to refuse higher paying jobs?” Said the puzzled translator.

“Exactly! You won’t need to market your services any longer!! You’ll be able to work for us only!!!” Replied the eager project manager.

“Wouldn’t it be like putting all my eggs in one basket: depend on you as my sole customer?” Asked the translator.

“There are other advantages: for example, we offer you our own CAT tool: you won’t need to buy Trados.” Pressed on the project manager.

“Is it free?” Asked the translator, suddenly interested.

“Well, not any longer, in fact it’s not even cheap, all things considered… but you’ll be able to use it in projects for your other customers!” Enthused the project manager.

“You mean, those former customers that will soon stop sending me work because I’ll be working for you nonstop? Tell me, are there many people that are joining this scheme of yours?” Asked the weary translator.

“Sure, there is a sucker born every minute! So… will you give the discount I asked? We’ll be able to give you plenty of work in exchange!”

3. Sara - August 25, 2010

I would like to see translators talk less about volume discounts (evidence that they view our service as a commodity) and more about added value beyond the number of words typed or hours worked (a professional services approach). Why not look at projects from a big-picture perspective? For a multilingual brochure or website project, if the copywriter is getting 30%, the designer 20%, and the comm agency 30%, why would the translator settle for a mere 5% of the total project budget? Especially for a website or brochure that will add value well beyond the actual cost of producing it? For a quarter-page ad in the Wall Street Journal Europe, why should the translator accept to adapt the copy at 20 cents a word for the 35 words in the ad when the overall budget is in the high five figures (including ad space) and the message will reach tens of thousands of readers? What about a technical manual that, when translated intelligently and with skill, will reduce tech support tickets and increase customer satisfaction and repeat purchases?

4. Tess Whitty - August 26, 2010

No volume discounts, only discounts for 100% and fuzzy matches in a CAT-tool!

5. Tom Ellett - August 26, 2010

I agree with Sara. The translation profession needs to move away from commodity-like pricing per word and adopt project pricing based on the value of the translation to the end client. That is how many prominent copywriters (and other freelance professionals) price their work.

6. Terena Bell - August 29, 2010

Hear, hear, Jill. As we tell our clients at In Every Language, “we still have to work with those words.”

7. Corinne McKay - August 31, 2010

To echo Sara and Tom’s comments, someone wiser than me (I think it was Judy Jenner!) said “I point out to my clients that Nike’s ad agency didn’t get paid for only 3 words for coming up with ‘Just Do It’.” I think that sums it up!

8. Janis - September 1, 2010

Tess nailed it on the head. If a large project contains significant repetitions or 100% matches, I am more willing to work at a lower per word rate.
When working with end clients,the level of repetition is rarely discussed, so these jobs still represent nuggets of gold in the morass of crappy, ass- backward source text I see all the time.
As to agencies: many are ruthless and keen on quick profit rather than a lasting relationship. Presegmented files and “100% match” segments are realistically acceptable when dealing with CAT- savvy customers, but “fuzzy matches” can often be harder to translate than 0% match. Like proofing texts side-by side…. grueling.
I make typing errors and thusly I agree if typing the entire text is required,this speaks against volume discounts. I tend to assemble segments in Deja Vu and use Dragon for dictation so the typing and ensuing RSD is no longer the problem that it used to be.
However: selecting, moving or deleting text is much more annoying whether the mouse or keyboard is used, as one must keep an eye on the screen,resulting in slower work and even more errors.
At the end of the month, freelancers suffer enough at the hands of greedy and/or crooked agencies to justify a united stand against volume or fuzzy discounts!

9. Kevin Lossner - September 5, 2010

Janis, I don’t think “greedy and/or crooked” is the right choice of words in many cases, though of course there are always the notable exceptions. I think “ignorant”, “self-deceived” and “misinformed” go more in the direction of describing the actual situation. For years, SDL & alia have propagated untruths regarding pricing of text similarities, thus promoting this idiotic, destructive commodity mentality which has settled so firmly in many minds.

I live in Germany, a country which, on the whole, is probably better rooted in democratic principles with greater commitment to the well-being of its people and people abroad than the country I grew up in. Yet I am shocked by how often people here tell me about “the Jews” and their greed and how they control all the major companies, banks, etc. in the US. Even with intelligent, reasonable people, stupid lies can be hard to dislodge once they become settled in their gray matter. I expect the evil which SDL has done will persist long past the company’s demise.

10. Guohua - September 23, 2010

I think that’s a personal decision made basing on translation service supply/demand and overall market conditions.

I also think volume discounts are more of a choice for agencies instead of translators.

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