Bulk discounts are a powerful way for companies to sell more of their products – often while still maintaining a fair margin. The concept is used in a variety of industries, from bikes to clothing, and from plants to light bulbs. Every now and then clients also pop up in the translation industry demanding that their vendors – translators in particular – apply a volume discount to their translations. However, if there is one concept that is not beneficial and shouldn’t be used in the translation industry, it is that of volume discounts. And here is why.
The smart phone, the electric car and the digital camera differ widely at first glance, but they still have something in common. The introduction of these products led to an increase in similar products and sparked a great discussion about their right to exist and the future of their respective industries and competitor products. They were, in one word, disruptive. Disruption seems to be everywhere nowadays and is sometimes explained as the only way to survive. That raises the question of whether translators should be disruptive as well.
Rates in the translation industry have been under pressure for a long time now. Not only are companies increasingly asking to reduce word rates and hourly rates in order to stay competitive, but at the same time translators seem to be increasing their self-esteem and forming a front to defend their professional image and their living. Translators are in a rat race for ever lower rates, to be compensated by something they can’t do (increase their productivity) or won’t do(embrace disruptive technologies). Where will this ‘race to the bottom’ end?
On a round-table discussion with project managers and owners from translation agencies last year I discussed the concept of offering different quality standards to clients. While the concept has been used for years already, a new approach was introduced to manage price pressure and satisfy varying demands from various types of customers. But will offering different quality levels to customers work for freelancers?
The publication of my State of the Industry on LinkedIn yielded a short debate on some aspects of our business. One of the comments was on the ever-present money issue, which I will comment on later. However, I also got interesting feedback on my profile as a “broad” translator––in contrast to a specialist. The feedback led to an interesting question: Is the future of translators in specialization?
When it comes to selling our services, most translators call themselve a freelance translator. And so they are: they are translating on a freelance basis, selling their services to clients and enjoying the freedom of choice that a freelancing job brings with it. But they are more: they are in business, acting as an entrepreneur. The real entrepreneurial translator therefore is looking for opportunities in his/her business, for improvements in the way s/he works and – in the end – for a little extra earnings (or for more than a little if that’s possible). Chances enough then, but at this point it turns out that not every freelancer is an entrepreneur.
As the Bible states the workman is worthy of his meat (Matthew 10:10). How should a translator define the prices for his (her) services?
Recently I heard about someone who was considering to start as a translator. The native Dutch teacher was very convinced about his linguistic qualities in German and believed he could offer his service to Dutch companies. And hey, why not? He was not entirely sure about the right price to ask but considered to charge € 0,35 per source word.
That his proposed word rate was about four times the word rate of native German professional translators was justified. He as a native Dutch had a PhD in some subject and I – stupid – did not have it.