The Translation Race to the Bottom

I recently received a request from a research firm in our industry to fill out a survey listing information like our annual sales, price for various items like translation per word (by language), and page production (commonly known as DTP in our world), and project management fees.

I have filled out this survey many times over the years and this year it finally dawned on me. The results of this survey are only accelerating the race to the bottom. The data extracted from the survey is compiled into a few different reports. The participants, language service providers like Argo, receive a four-page report that ranks the largest companies by annual sales, sales by employee, revenue growth (year over year), etc. While this is certainly interesting information, it isn’t the whole story.

The rest of the data acquired in the study is used for reports like pricing extracts that are provided to potential buyers of translation services. This is irresponsible. The prices are provided without any real explanation of the components that go into the price. They even go as far as listing freelance linguist prices per word. That is like trying to figure out what a single apple costs by understanding what the farmer is paid by the bushel.

Translation services are difficult to compare. Merely looking at price tables and coming up with some sort of range of what you believe is the right amount to pay will lead you to the bottom of our industry.

A better way to evaluate your prospective translation vendor would be to evaluate them within the context of your projects. Find the four best vendors that meet your needs in terms of all the aspects important to you like: areas of expertise (do they work in your industry?), turnaround time on quote requests and projects, technology solutions offered, and if you like working with their people. You can get to this information by issuing a Request for Proposal or Request for Information.

Once you are happy with your prospective choices, I would give all the prospects a sample project for a quotation so you can begin to evaluate the price and response time. Be sure and understand everything that comes included with the cost.

At this point, you should have a good understanding of how to compare the vendors side-by-side. As you can see there are many factors that go into understanding the true cost of translation. I believe the most important notion is that of risk vs. reward. It is difficult to get extraordinary service and quality at the lowest cost. What is the risk of providing your clients with a poor translation?

We have decided not to participate in the race to the bottom.


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