Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Translation and the Economy

Lots of translators have mentioned being hit by the downturn in the economy. It makes sense -- if customers are going to cut corners somewhere, they'll often do it by skimping on quality translation (or editing or writing). As it is, many clients grumble about the supposedly high prices that a good translator charges, so this is a good excuse for them to find cheaper translators (often in far-away countries where the costs of living are much lower but where people may not be experienced with the source or target languages).

I rarely do work for agencies, but I am still listed in several agency databases from the early stages of my career, when I did take on such work. For this reason, I have received several emails in recent times from agencies. These messages subtly offer the following message: Times are bad, so lower your prices or you won't get work from us anymore. Agencies don't pay translators that well anyway, and it saddens me to think about all the ways agencies and direct clients are finding ways of not paying translators what they are worth.

Personally, I am not lowering my prices. My services are worth just as much, if not more, as they were a year ago. I hope my colleagues will consider keeping their prices the same, too, so that clients won't start taking us for granted. They get what they pay for and they should be willing to pay well for good translators, financial depression or not.


Kate Lambert said...

I mainly work for agencies and I haven't had any requests to lower my rates. In fact, I'm earning more now from Swedish agencies where my rate is in kronor because of the state of the pound.

However, I have been asked to do a lot more editing and revision work recently. It looks like some are switching to a "get someone cheap to translate it and pay the expensive people to revise it" model. I find this irritating as I'd always rather translate the whole thing myself, but at least I charge by the hour so if it does need a complete rewrite, I get paid for that.

(I've been reading you for a while, by the way, but haven't commented. Hello!)

Essentials said...

The phenomenon is present, indeed. The agencies and individuals are always commenting on "how expensive the translation is". Some people would not mind to have their work done for free, if possible! How upsetting.

I do not know what you mean when you say that countries with low costs of living would not have a good command of the source and target languages. Why would you make such an assumption? If the cost of living is lower, perhaps the cost of a translation might be lower than in "other" countries, but that does not mean the professionalism is also low.

I know people who have been asked to lower their rates (amazingly, I have not been asked yet). It is a situation where, as you say, if we do lower our prices people will take us for granted. Because of the economical situation, my advice is to keep the same rates - we, the translators, also need to live and we do have our own expences because of the very worldwide situation.

B.J. Epstein said...

Thanks for your comments!
I agree with Kate in that often I'd rather do the whole translation from scratch rather than do a clean-up job on a poorly and cheaply translated document.
And what I was referring to, Essentials, is that I get emails and see websites written in very poor English from companies, often in third-world countries, that purport to translate to and from English and also to work with dozens of disparate tongues. If they can't even write an ad in good English, why should I believe they can translate to English?
Best wishes,

Judy and Dagmar Jenner said...

Completely agree with you, B.J. We are not lowering our prices, either. Quite the contrary: we adjust our prices for inflation on January 1. If we didn't, we'd make less money now than we did last year.

We don't work for agencies, but unfortunately, they are trying to pass the buck to the translators instead of taking the hit on lower prices themselves. If they want to act as an agency, they need to assume the business risk of their clients potentially paying less, and the freelancer shouldn't be stuck with the responsibilty of lowering his/her prices. That's why the agency makes money -- their job is negotiating the rates. They shouldn't let their customers dictate the price, either.

We are with you, and certainly also hope that most of us keep our prices were they are. After all, our fixed costs haven't changed at all. In order to be recognized as the professional service that we are, we also think it's paramount to have higher-level prices. No one expects an attorney to work for peanuts, and we hope that some day this will be true for our profession as well. Great post!

B.J. Epstein said...

Thanks, Judy and Dagmar. We translators need to stick together in times like these!
Best wishes,