May 312010

listen to tranfree 70 or download the mp3 for later if you prefer.
You can also download this as a PDF

Editorial – Giving away our translation work?

The Times newspaper has decided that enough is enough and is ending free access to its content on the web.

According to this BBC news story

“Times Editor James Harding said it was time to stop “giving away” journalism in the two newspapers.”

I see parallels here with the translation world, with…

  • pressure on translation rates
  • abusive translation memory practices
  • the “valueless” perception the world has of translation

These are results of globalisation – a process in which translators usually stay in the background like ghost-writers. Let’s remember there would be no globalisation without translation.

James Harding went on further to say…

“Our feeling is that it is time to stop giving away our journalism. That’s because we feel that we are undermining the value of our journalism, undermining the value of the Times and undermining the perception that journalism and news has a value.”

Does this overtone of undermining sound familiar? Isn’t that what we do when we agree to a low rate or disastrous terms for a translation job?

“Localizing” that quote for “the translators’ market”, I came up with this…

My feeling is that it is time to stop giving away our translation work. That’s because we feel that we are undermining the value of our translation, undermining the value of the profession and undermining the perception that translation and documentation has a value.

Well, it’s food for thought anyway. Be careful how much you are giving away in terms of discounts, lowered rates and ever quicker turnaround.

It looks to me as if the Times are moving towards a web-only publication, as printed circulation dwindles and people spend more time online. It will take a few years for people to get used to the idea. This makes me ponder the question “How can we take steps to ensure that our work is valued?” This fits in very well with the article I had planned for this edition, which is all about resisting rates erosion.

tranfree in Chinese

Thanks to Wenjer Leuschel, we now have the last couple of tranfree editions in Chinese. I have had one or two technical hurdles to get this published in HTML but it works beautifully in PDF.

Site Revamp

One other thing I almost forgot to mention is that I have given the web site a new look. This is the first revamp for a long time. It’s a much cleaner look. I’ve still got lots of sub-pages to go, but the main ones are done. Feel free to check it out and let me know if you like it.

I hope you enjoy and benefit from tranfree smile


Alex Eames

tranfree editor, Author –

How to Earn $80,000+ per Year as a Freelance Translator

Selling Your Professional Services on the Web

13 Ways to Resist Rates Erosion

Erosion is a gradual creeping process. In the UK we have had a steady erosion of civil liberty for quite a long time. frown Because it happens gradually, in small, digestible steps, “they get away with it”.  It’s the same with rates erosion. It happens in small steps and is only hindered when people see it for what it is and resist. But just because one person resists, another may not. Then we find ourselves being undermined – just like in the BBC article about the Times. So resisting rates erosion is something which needs to be done collectively if it is to be effective.

In general, the only good reasons I can think of for working for low rates are:

  • Working for a cause you believe in. In this case you might donate your work or work for a reduced rate. But don’t let them push you around – fit it in around your paid work.
  • Long-standing direct clients who you can see are experiencing hardship.
  • Gaining experience at the start of your career to get you out of the “we only work with people who have experience and references” catch-22

Pretty much any other reason just allows someone else to collect the profits on your work. So don’t do it!

“But I am constantly bombarded with stories about low rates

and translators without work on the internet.

How can I resist and stay strong?”

Well firstly, you need to be a little bit careful about taking everything people write on internet forums too literally. Some people exaggerate, some people lie and others are sociopathic. Talk is cheap in cyberspace. Try to filter what you read and only accept advice from people who have a record of giving good advice.

Here are a few pointers to help.

1. Can you live on it?

Do not accept work for a rate which is lower than you can comfortably make a living at. (Unless this is a charity or pro bono project). It is better to write off a working day and decide to relax and enjoy being FREE, than to work for a ludicrously low rate.

2. No fuzzy discounts.

Do not accept any reduction for fuzzy matches or for the use of any translation technology that you had to pay for yourself. You should reap the reward from your investment. Don’t give it away! I would make exceptions for the following reasonable scenarios…

  • the client provided you with an expensive productivity-enhancing tool.
  • a long-term ongoing project with 100% matches (like a product manual that is updated annually).
  • where the client provides you with a significant translation memory which contains plenty of 100% matches.

…but observe the golden rule. Anything I work on, I get paid for. wink

3. Build up your client base…

…so you have too many clients. Then dump the ones who are fussy and resistant to decent rates (usually the same people). This is an ongoing business development process. As you get busier, you can afford to dump the clients you prefer not to work for (for whatever reason).

4. Go after some direct clients…

…instead of always working for agencies. A healthy freelance business has a mix of both in the client portfolio. Clearly there is a lot more income potential in working for direct clients, but their expectations are different too.

5. Charge direct clients more.

With direct clients, make sure that you charge significantly more than your agency rates. Otherwise you are guilty of spoiling the market for agencies and, in-turn, other translators. Yes, you might find you are partly responsible for spoiling the market because you lack the confidence to ask for more.

6. Know the “going rate”

Be aware of approximately what other translators working in your language combination charge for the sort of work you are quoting for. If you don’t know, find out. Ask people, read surveys, or ask for quotes from other translators. It needn’t be difficult to get the information you need.

7. Don’t expect to get every project you quote for.

If you get everything you quote for, you’re charging far too little. If you are charging what the market will bear, you should get somewhere between 30-60% of the work you quote for.

8. Don’t feel like a failure when you don’t get a project you quoted for.

If they chose someone cheap, they probably got what they deserved and you avoided working for a client with poor judgment. That means you WON! You don’t want a portfolio chock-full of cheapskate clients do you? I don’t.

9. Don’t be afraid to talk about rates.

It is neither unethical nor likely to result in anti-trust action – despite what some people in the US would have you believe. But be sure you don’t breach client confidentiality. Some people say it is unprofessional to talk about rates.

That’s easily disproved. What do you say when a potential client phones and asks you how much for 2000 words into your target language? Do you say…

  • “Oh, I’m sorry, I can’t tell you that, it’s unprofessional”, or
  • “$150 / thousand words ($0.15 / word) of source language.”

So it’s OK to talk about rates with a complete stranger, who might have a job for you. So why would it be unprofessional to compare notes with others in your profession? Simple answer – It’s NOT! If it were, why do so many professional translators’ associations around the world produce rates surveys? Is it because they’re unprofessional?

10. Stop listening to lies…

…propagated by people who really don’t know what they’re talking about. Talk is cheap. There are people out there who hang out on internet forums for the sole purpose of annoying, disturbing, disrupting and making others feel uncomfortable. They are the terrorists of the online community. If it weren’t for them, there would be no need for moderators. They are the only reason that we embrace the self-imposed censorship that is moderation.

11. Develop an abundance mentality.

“There’s plenty of work out there – I’ve just got to find it.” Leave the low-paying jobs to those just starting out and those trying to scratch a living in developing countries. Spend your time more productively…

  • Seeking out new clients.
  • Learning about marketing and experimenting with new ways.
  • Learning new skills to make you more productive.
  • Learning new specialisations to give you an edge.

12. Be a mentor to “younger” translators…

…and encourage them to set their rates at acceptable levels. It takes a certain leap of faith to do something like this, but believe me, what goes around comes around. If you help people, you will benefit from it.

13. Educate clients and potential clients about translation.

  • What it is.
  • How long it takes.
  • How involved it is.
  • How difficult it is.

Make them understand how dangerous it is to treat it lightly. Get hold of and distribute the excellent booklet “Translation – Getting it Right” (US version or UK version)

So that’s the 13 ways to resist rates erosion that I thought of. Not all of them will apply to all people. I’m sure there are plenty more. If you’ve got one to add, or you’d like to discuss or comment on this article, feel free to add a comment below.

Alex Eames is the founder of,
editor of tranfree and author of the eBooks…

How to Earn $80,000+ Per Year as a
Freelance Translator


Selling Your Professional Services on the Web

  One Response to “13 Ways to Resist Translation Rates Erosion – tranfree 70.”

  1. Humor works best sometimes.
    Here are some new tees “I’m a translator. My cleaning lady earns more than I do” to protest the low rates with some dark humor and raise awareness for the issue!:

    I’ve written a few articles on translation & subtitling:

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