Rates: Barbarians at the gate

This is kind of a follow-up to my recent post about the 2010 work situation. It seems to me that a lot of translation buyers are shopping around for extremely cheap rates — as in a third or less of what I normally charge. That in itself isn't so unusual, as there are always cut-rate agencies searching for new translators (maybe if they paid more they wouldn't have to look so much, but I digress), but there are a lot more of them.

Even more unusually, I'm getting direct clients who ask for very low rates as well. This is rare because when a direct client cuts out the agency, they can already get a good deal by splitting the difference of the agency's markup, and my existing direct clients are very happy to pay me 50% above my agency rates.

My impression is that a lot of translators got spooked in 2009 after not getting any work (one colleague told me she didn't have any work at all for around three months), and out of desperation started taking any work that came along; and now translation buyers are trying to capitalize on this by searching out super-low rates.

Fortunately for me, I have more offers for work than I can handle at my current rates (in fact, I've even raised my rates this year with a couple of clients), but I wonder how long this trend will continue.

Things are tough for lots of people now — the Consumerist reports that 22.5% of Americans are unemployed or under-employed — but I still want to ride out the current Great Recession at my current rates!

When I started translation in the 1990s, old hands would tell me about the "good old days" of Japan's bubble economy, when they'd get 30 yen per word for manual work. The days of those kinds of rates are sadly long gone, but I hope that I won't be talking about my present rates like that 10 years from now.

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