Many of the things we buy today have a specific unit of measure relative to cost. Commodity traders deal with oil by the barrel, gold by the troy ounce, and corn by the bushel. Translation has historically been purchased by the word.
So how should a potential buyer of translation services evaluate cost?
Certainly, not by the word. If you focus too heavily on the cost per word you fall right into the Commodity trap. Commodity traders deal in raw materials that have no difference in real value. In other words, there is no real difference in a barrel of crude oil from Canada vs. a barrel from Saudi Arabia. The differences aren’t apparent until the refining process.
Translation certainly isn’t a commodity.
We do not have a field full of word wells behind our office that spout off words all day. Instead, we have a tight-knit group of highly qualified linguists that are tied together by technology. Trying to measure the true cost of translation by word is a mistake.
Basically, the per word unit of measure was meant to understand the volume of work so we could attach a rate to the service. A good linguist can manage somewhere between 1,750 and 2,500 words per day and a good editor can handle somewhere between 4,000 and 6,000 words per day. This equates to fees ranging from a low of about $65 to $95 per hour depending on the language and subject matter.
When you evaluate translation services you should add in all of the additional services offered by your vendor. If the vendor adds value and decreases the amount of time you spend on a project you should factor that into your decision. Here are some factors to consider that might carry an additional fee from your vendor:
- Rush fees
- Project management
- XML engineering (Yes, I have actually heard this used. Another translation provider charged an XML engineering fee just for working with XML, ridiculous)
- Certification and notarization of the translation
- Handling a client review process and changes
- Is translation memory export (TMX file) one of the deliverables
You should also consider the risk of choosing poorly. What happens if you miss your deadline? Will you delay a product release and lose revenue? Will there be issues if the translation is incorrect? Is there a risk and cost of recall of your product? Will you have to redo the entire translation washing away any savings you would have realized?
It may sound cliched, but be sure and compare apples to apples in your evaluation. Saving a few dollars on the front end may cost you many more dollars on the back end of your project.