You know how we all complain that translation isn’t worth the paper you probably don’t print your draft on anymore? And how we all blame the customer for not wanting to pay reasonable rates? How agencies actually send us e-mails explaining that they need to drop their rates because their customers are in a financial bind? I just received an e-mail from an agency in Belgium seeking my business as an outsourcing agency. This is what they write:

You will find our 2012 SPECIAL PRICE LIST FOR AGENCIES enclosed as an attachment.


I checked the price list and shivered. Word prices range from 0.08 to 0.15, with the exception of German to Italian, which costs 0.90/word. The price list is also inconsistent in its use of decimals and it does not state to which type of texts the prices apply. I would not work with this agency based on these observations alone. At the bottom of the price list there is the following note:

Technical rates : + 10%
Proof-reading : Euro 25, -per hour
Minimum fee: 300 words of Euro 35

God only knows what technical rates are and why they’re 10% higher and I don’t even dare ask myself what the proofreading task entails. This information does not arouse my curiosity and incite me to ask for more.

So if these people are charging me these rates, what are they paying the translators? And why are these translators working for such appalling rates? Have they no self-respect? Or do they get a kick out of making a quick buck by running a text through an obscure machine translation tool or a mixture of translation memories they’ve built up over the years? Translation is supposed to be a skilled trade, remember guys? Or is it really me who’s got it all wrong, and does the fact that I’ve translated the odd text on diabetes qualify me to diagnose and treat people? Ponder on that for a while instead of on the plumber, the car mechanic, and the baker …

So instead of blaming customers who generally have no clue how we work and what we do for the falling rates and the demise of translation, blame yourself for not standing up for yourself, for not applying the same inflationary correction applied by your cable TV provider, the utilities, public transportation, and everyone else that does business. Translation is a business guys, not a commodity and certainly not something that should be for free.

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