They say that the amount of written stuff out there is increasing exponentially. In the translation business, a good chunk of that stuff seems to concern translation pricing.
Pricing translation services is difficult because there are so many potential language combinations, and even more different economics that go with them. With English and Spanish for example, you have to factor in all the various countries where translators working in that pair might live.
Pricing expectations also depend on one’s understanding of what a “translation service” is. For whatever reason, there seems to be a perception that the global marketplace offers potential for “cheap quality”, possibly because of certain simplistic assumptions.
If you zoom out and look at a bigger picture though, things become more uniform. Here’s a few reasons why.
THE COUNTRY PARADOX
On a simplistic level, living standards worldwide can differ markedly, and as a general rule native English speakers living in Australia, the UK or the US have higher costs to meet than native Spanish speakers living in Central and South America. These demographics logically place varying minimum thresholds on what translators in each location need to charge if they mean to stick around.
However, the key consideration is “sticking around”, and in my view it actually proves to be a price leveler where reliable, high-quality services are concerned, even in a global market. Translators and interpreters between two languages need to be mobile between the corresponding two cultures, and that ideally requires some kind of ongoing presence in each. So country of residence is a factor, but doesn’t account for the time and effort involved in keeping up to date.
What is more, quality services impose a “cost of expertise” (training, certification, specializations, continuing education, software proficiency, office equipment, etc) that can only be partly offset by life in a “cheap” country.
And I say “cheap” in quotes because such countries seldom have government safety nets like unemployment benefits, adequate retirement pensions or medical care. Any self-employed professional with plans beyond the immediate future has to build such costs into their pricing. It’s that “sticking around” thing again.
THE EDUCATED BUYER
Then come client expectations and market knowledge. As I constantly like to emphasise, most people will buy more cars (or even houses) in their lifetimes than translations. Accordingly, there can be a big disconnect between what entry-level clients think they are buying, and what seasoned professional translators are actually selling.
When it comes to truly experienced translation buyers, their focus is invariably on cost/benefit rather than cost alone. They have a good grasp of their needs, and of how competent translations can further their personal or business interests. So they look for a competitive price within a bracket of qualified service providers. That contrasts sharply with people who aren’t sure of what they need, or understand the ramifications of good vs poor choices, and instead look for something someone has branded as ‘translation’ within an arbitrary (and usually low) bracket of prices. So what do experienced buyers focus on then?
The first main differentiator is purpose, because it determines quality control, layout and other factors.
– Documents for publication or official use require more QA stages, certification, perhaps external review, and extras like DTP.
– Inbound material (i.e. for in-house use) requires less QA, and minimal or no DTP.
– Gisting can often be done satisfactorily with a draft translation in a plain text file.
The above purposes immediately establish useful service brackets for savvy clients to start shopping around in. When they do, they clearly look for competitive pricing. The qualifier “competitive” in turn implies comparison: what are you getting for your money? That’s where the competence and experience of the service provider come in.
THE QUALIFIED TRANSLATOR
The second main pricing factor is who does the work. If you need Inbound or Publication standard, then untrained bilinguals, automated translation, crowd sourcing, and budget agencies with web portals in developing countries are unlikely to help much.
The focus moves squarely onto finding translators who fulfill certain requisites, such as:
– Native speakers of target language
– proven quality performance
– dependable delivery and turnaround
– service and assistance
– ethics and reputation
– certification, training and qualifications
ALL (PRICING) ROADS LEAD TO ROME
If you take all the above into account, it narrows the field down quite a bit, even if you go looking worldwide. There is not a huge variation in prices for **quality** Sp > En translation services globally, because all the factors that go into developing and maintaining the necessary competence and expertise – whether sourced in Australia or say, Costa Rica – remain fundamentally the same.
And so, fluctuations aside, quality service doesn’t come consistently cheap. Not sustainably anyway, because some things, like the eternal city itself, are enduring, and lead everyone – buyers and sellers alike – to basically the same place.