Should we care how much other translators charge?
A recent discussion on the Honyaku mailing list about low rates, and the clients who offer them and the translators who accept them, had me asking myself: should we care how much other translators charge?
I generally have no problem with what other translators want to charge, and wouldn't take kindly to other translators trying to dictate how much I should charge. If another translator can offer the same quality as me and charge less, good for them. If there are enough cheaper translators that all the demand in my segment is taken, then I need to lower my rates. Conversely, if there aren't enough translators, and clients are asking me to do more work than I can handle, then I need to raise my rates.
Usually when a client offers a very low rate, it's because they're looking for a quality/cost trade-off outside my target market. And translators who accept these very low rates are targeting a different market from me.
- Many clients want lousy translation at a low price. Fine, they were never in my target market.
- Some want lousy translation at a high price (e.g. they insist on "made-in-Japan English" or style sheets crafted by someone who wouldn't know an English-language intuition if it bit them on the backside) — that's an education problem, but separate from pricing.
- Then there are the ones who want quality, at the lowest price possible (it's always the lowest price possible, as their expectations dictate). This is my target market. And of course, this is quality as I define it, since it's my target market. I want clients who want what I consider to be a good translation.
The one problem for me is that if translation is available at a very low price, no matter how poor the quality, then it sets an expectation of the high end of the market in the minds of translation consumers, no matter how unrealistic.
When clients are convinced that the "high end" of the translation market is one half of my normal rate, I feel that all I can really do is send them on their way, and hope they educate themselves. Sometimes, they come back to me. In one case, a client came back after around three years.
I advise translators to find out about going rates. Finding out how much other translators are charging, and how much clients are willing to pay, will go a long way toward erasing rate disparities.
I also advise translators to leave room to grow. If all your time and energy is spent earning enough money to live, you won't improve the many skills demanded of translators (e.g. source & target language proficiency, subject knowledge, communication skills, sales, marketing, research, …), and you'll stagnate professionally. Leave some leeway to invest in your professional growth.
This might mean charging more than the bare minimum, so you can afford to work fewer hours. Or it might mean living a simpler life, so you don't need to work as many hours to support your lifestyle.