Posted by: patenttranslator | November 10, 2013

There is no such thing as “a temporary price reduction, for this job only”

Here is an e-mail I received a few days ago:


This is [let’s call her Abby] from [let’s call them Numero Uno Translations].

I got your information from the ATA site and I just wanted to send you an email because we are handling a very large Japanese to English antitrust automotive project in which we are looking for more translators. We have been working on the project for the last several years using hundreds of translators and we are currently prepping for an influx of new documents. These new documents expected to last through the next 6 months or more.

The person who sent me this e-mail did not know that, but I used to work for this company for about 5 years, including for a few months on the project mentioned in her e-mail.

One of the owners of this translation agency, who knew me because he was a defector from another agency that I used to work for (they often do that, once they learn how the business is run, why work for other people when you can have translators working for you? … Abby will probably do the same thing one day too … she looks like a smart girl in her LinkedIn profile), called me in person about two years ago to persuade me to lower my rate to them by 15% for a special Japanese project. The project involved mostly things like minutes from business meetings and e-mails exchanged between Japanese managers.

As I was going through a dry spell, I let him cajole me into “temporarily lowering my rate, for this project only”. And for several months, I was translating for this agency dozens of e-mails and minutes from meetings about every other week.

But then I noticed a strange thing: I was no longer receiving any other work from this agency, although I used to translate quite a few patents for them, mostly from Japanese, at my non-discounted rate. They were still sending me Japanese patents to give them a price quote, but then I would never get the job.

That was when I finally figured out what they were doing – they were just using me to prepare a quote, probably because they did not know how to prepare a price quote for a Japanese patent themselves, and then they sent the translation to a cheaper translator, probably somebody who was charging at least 15% less than me.

So I read them the riot act, moved their file to a bulging file cabinet where I keep files from companies that I no longer work for, and never worked for them again.

That was when I realized that there is no such a thing as “temporary lowering of your rate for this project only”. Once you agree to do a certain job for 850 dollars, why should the same customer pay you 1,000 dollars for the same job next time? Once you agree to do that, your work is obviously no longer worth 1,000 dollars, only 850 dollars.

A “temporary reduction of our rate, only for this job” is in fact always a permanent reduction for all future translations because your value has just been reduced by 15 percent.

Once a customer asks for such a favor, “temporarily”, “only this time”, and “only for this translation”, it’s time to dump the customer like a hot potato and start looking for a suitable replacement for the cheapskate. I did replace them, and I like the new replacement much better than “Numero Uno Translations”. They pay better, faster, and they seem to know what they are doing.

There are zillions of translators on this planet, and I am sure that Abby will eventually find her man or woman for this job. These particular translations were in fact not that difficult, although e-mails can be tricky.

But despite the zillions of translators hungry work out there, it is a small world, and the number of highly experienced translators such as this mad patent translator is quite limited, which must be why Abby’s message found its way into my e-mail.

I will not be very surprised if Abby calls or e-mails me in a few months again and asks me to work for her brand new translation agency called “Abby’s Number One Translations” or something like that.


  1. Negotiating 101: negotiations on price only operate in one direction, i.e. down.


  2. LOL, if they made a movie of my life, this would be the pitch!


  3. […] Here is an e-mail I received a few days ago: Hello, This is [let=s call her Abby] from [let=s call them Numero Uno Translations]. I got your information from the ATA site and I just wanted to send …  […]


  4. “There are zillions of translators on this planet, and I am sure that Abby will eventually find her man or woman for this job.”

    Everyone of us is sure that she will and soon. That’s how it works with the business.

    “And I will not be too surprised if Abby calls or e-mails me in a few months again and asks me to work for her brand new translation agency called ‘Abby’s Number One Translations’ or something like that.”

    Right, we know that it usually works this way when we are long enough in the business.

    However, my hybrid brother, she is doing something exactly like what we do for a living (a decent one, as it should be).


  5. “However, my hybrid brother, she is doing something exactly like what we do for a living (a decent one, as it should be).”

    I have nothing against her, or against what she is doing, and I may even agree to work for her as long as she does not ask me to lower my rate by 15 percent, only this time, and only for this job.


  6. Steve, have a look at this article’s text again – there appears to be something very wrong with the formatting. Lots of superfluous A and @ characters and apostrophes converted to equal signs.

    You’re right – the circles of language service are small, even for those whose primary concern is grinding up disposable “linguists” to add bulk to the sausage they produce and sell. Over the years I have grown accustomed to certain losers contacting me up every 6 to 12 months to ask if I want to do patents using their proprietary mutation of Star Transit or something equally absurd. Of course their nothings of compensation are a sad joke as well, but I don’t even go into that any more, not for years. I just write back with some polite comment like “Hello again. Same lack of interest as the last time you made your approach.” Some days I think it’s a shame that the red light district of our profession doesn’t keep quietly to itself as in better-regulated places like Amsterdam or Hamburg. Those who want it cheap and dirty would know where to find it or could ask the Common Sense Advisory for a map and a box of used condoms; the rest can take their chances with those who know their trade, are proud of it and perform it well.


  7. Hi Kevin:

    Thanks for telling me about the wrong characters, they are called “mojibake” in Japanese. It must have happened because I switched several times between WordPerfect and MS Word. The “mojibake” did not show in MS Word or in WordPress format, but they did show in WordPerfect. Hope it’s fixed now.

    Yes, I see on Honyaku (Japanese translation group) every now and then certain agencies looking for patent translators who would be required to use proprietary software, some sort of a mutation that would lower the actual rate paid to the translator to next to zero.

    And many people are disgusted with Trados at this point for similar reasons, see 2 comments posted on a post I wrote years ago today:

    1. (Author: Richard)

    Have been translating patents for 20 years. They don’t resemble each other sufficiently to use a CAT tool and I find, when I have tried Trados, that it does not recognise the similarity between numbered claims and the same passages without numbers in the description. All in all, it SLOWS ME DOWN.

    There would be little or no value in collecting TMs based on texts which don’t resemble each other.

    Translating a tagged text is a total pain. I don’t believe formatting should have anything to do with the translator – we are here to translate, not to spend hours inserting tags. This task multiplies the time required. Surely it could be done more easily by a secretary in post-production?

    2. (Author: Christopher)

    Unfortunately it is all dictated by profit for the agencies. Ten years ago you could deliver raw text and they would format it. Nowadays it has become a norm in the industry that translators are expected to offer heavy formatting as a free extra service as a favour to the agencies. And if Trados slows everyone down, well so what? There are plenty more translators. What I find really pitiful is that young people starting out as translators buy a CAT package as their first move, thinking this makes them ‘professional’: so they actually don’t have any experience of working without it. It’s monstrous, really. I often feel that I am more of a text technician than a translator, as I often spend three times as long formatting a text as I do translating it.


  8. Looks like you got the baked mojo or mojibake sorted out just fine, Steve. I suspected it had something to do with the word processor juggling you mentioned recently.
    Richard’s problem, I think, is a bad choice of tools or unfamiliarity with their best application; I find that there are considerable advantages to using a CAT tool in patent translation, particularly with regard to QA of the reference numbers. One can, of course, rely on an eagle eye as you do, but faced too often with situations like last night when I had 5 sentences left, one of them short and a total of 480 words, it’s easy for my fatigued eye to miss a number or two without some mindless electronic assistance. And when you have endless alternations of this device and that apparatus and they all look and sound more or less the same in the source text, these brain-dead tools can do the job when one’s half-dead brain overlooks some detail. That doesn’t, however, mean that I won’t have to drop some 250-word monster of a subordinate clause into a word processor and dissect it in five colors to make a bit of sense out of it.
    If for whatever reason a translator does decide to start using assistive technology to manage terms or some other aspect of a translation process, the last thing s/he needs is the distraction of doing so in multiple environments, where one’s attention is distracted from the real work by trying to remember some asinine difference between lousy CAT tools. To be expected to work in some agency’s preferred environment for the convenience of some bugger who could probably align the final result of your work in 15 minutes and allow you to work in the manner which best suits you is a clumsy joke that is lucky to earn a laugh from the wise word worker who doesn’t fall for that crap.


  9. Actually- I’m your counterexample. I’ve been able to negotiate “just this one time” price reductions if I think I will still be able to make good $ per hour (usually because of repetitions of big chunks of my previous translations). I put the one time only message all over my invoice, though. I keep getting my normal rate in subsequent jobs, probably because project managers get tired of my whining that I can’t discount at all and giving them the reasons in excruciating detail (the euphemism for this is “client education”). It’s less time consuming for them to just meekly accept my rate. This works only if it’s too hard for them to find someone else willing and able to do the job, and I do turn down jobs when they won’t accept the fee I think is fair even if the difference is small precisely for the reasons you mention. We do have to be careful about setting a precedent and an expectation of an automatic discounts. But it’s not impossible.

    I do routinely reject the promise of oodles of future work on the project as a reason for a discount- I tell them that there is no guarantee that I will be available when their oodles of work comes in or that they will ever get oodles of work (usually they want favors when courting a potential new client and giving a big discount themselves). One client cheerfully paid me more than the agency was getting for a trial job, since they knew my work would give them a good chance of impressing the potential new client. So the agencies understand the idea, we just have to remind them sometimes. I also reject the idea of volume discounts because I don’t get time savings from volume the way project management can. I just act like the proverbial broken record and keep telling them that whenever they ask.


  10. […] Two Sides of a Coin for ata54 ATA Science & Technology Division: ATA54 Division Meeting Minutes There is no such thing as “a temporary price reduction, for this job only” When someone tries to change a grammatical form I know is correct Disrupting the perceived order of […]


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