I am trying to imagine a client who is looking for a price for a certain type of translation, for example a new and thus relatively inexperienced legal secretary at a patent law firm. Many are part time in these times of shrinking budgets.
The first thing that she would probably do would be to run a Google search with a few words describing the type of translation that her boss needs. She would then see on page 1 about 10 advertisements of translation agencies, some on top of the page and some on the right, followed by links to Google listings of translation services, including my humble website and this silly blog, depending on the formulation of the query, as well as links to European Patent Office website, or Japanese Patent Office website, etc.
Do potential customers who look for information on translation prices click on advertisements? When I am looking for information about prices of products or services, I sometime do click on advertisements, but I prefer non-advertised sites displayed below advertisements, especially when it comes to services, because I know that about 80% of the content of a typical advertisement is ….. how do I put it delicately …. not really true (or simply a bunch of lies).
So let’s say that this imaginary potential customer is weary of advertisements and clicks on what Google considers relevant listings for translation services. Most of these translation services listed by Google in order of relevance according to the key words in the query will be translation agencies. A few of them will be websites of individual translators specializing in patent translations.
I would imagine that a smart paralegal would try to quickly read the descriptions of services on a few listed websites and then leave a request for a price quote on at least 3 websites. This should be a fairly quick process because every such website has a link to a free quote request. It is likely that the prices quoted from different sources will be somewhat different – for example prices quoted by translation agencies are likely to be at least somewhat higher than prices quoted by individual translators.
So, is this potential client at this point going to simply go for the lowest quote, or will she chose something in the middle, or will she choose a higher price to be on the safe side? I don’t know. But the chances are that most people would probably either select a lower price, or something in the middle.
Well established, experienced translators can usually command higher prices. But the thing is, a client comparing several price quotes from several translation agencies will have no idea how much of the money spent on the translation will go to the agency and how much will go to the actual translator. It is quite possible that a large percentage of a price in the middle or towards the top will reflect mostly the profit of the agency rather than what the translator will be paid. This would then mean that a “cheap” translator would have to be doing the actual work – perhaps a beginner, or perhaps somebody living in a low-cost country, although the cost of the translation could be quite high.
Responding to my last post about the sometime difficult position of translators, one commenter who apparently lives in Paris said the following about the miserable compensation level for preparing English summaries of foreign patents:
“WIPO sends these summaries to the translation agency in large batches, hundreds at a time. The batches are divided according to language pair, but not according to subject matter, so the translator receives a batch of, say 30-50 summaries, each one related to a different technical field. Thus, the terminology research restarts anew with each and every paragraph translated. Needless to say, no context — i.e., no specification, claims or drawings — is provided for clarification, so the translator is pretty much flailing around in the dark. The going rate for this misery (at least the last time I was offered one of these jobs to turn down) is TEN DOLLARS per 100-200 word abstract, so the translator can ill afford to do much more than accept the first dictionary entry”.
Another commenter, who apparently lives in Japan, sort of disagreed and said this:
“Actually, the process by which WIPO English abstracts are translated depends on the agency. One in Japan pays about 40 dollars per abstract, provides the spec/claims/drawings, and assigns the abstracts according to specific fields which the translator initially selects.”
So, let’s assume that both commenters know what they are talking about and both are right, which I think is likely. It is obviously unfair that one translator should make only ten dollars, and another 40 dollars for the same type of work. But that is not really the issue. Nobody said that this world was supposed to be fair, right?
The issue is, what kind of translator will be willing to do this job for a fraction of what an experienced translator would be willing to accept? Well, most likely somebody who is not very good. And yet, these two translation agencies mentioned by the commenters on my blog might very well be charging the same price, especially if both agencies initially got the job by submitting a tender offer, and the customer would then have no idea – based on the price – that one translator is very cheap, while the other one is not.
The customer would probably eventually catch on, but it might take a while.
Translation prices are sort of like real estate prices. There is no such thing as a correct and fair real estate price. Whatever a buyer is ready and able to spend to purchase a certain house in a given moment and a given location is the correct price.
But at least when you buy a house, you get to see it first, and you can even have it inspected before buying it to see whether the roof is leaking, and then you can look at comparable listings of houses in the neighborhood.
Tying to compare several price quotes for the same translation from several translation services is more difficult than comparing real estate prices.
Or even more difficult than trying to determine the price of a used car. With used cars, one can at least look under the hood, check the mileage and the price online in the famous “Kelly Blue Book of Used Car Prices”.
But as I tried to explain in this post, the “comps” for translation prices can be quite misleading, you can’t really under the hood of translations, and there is no “Blue Book of Translation Prices” either.