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Written by Russell Winterbotham
on September 05, 2013

A client recently asked why translation costs are different between a range of languages we had quoted on; some in Asia, some in Western Europe. I responded that due to the differing labor costs, costs of living, taxation etc. pricing would vary between linguists based in different markets. In rebuttal, the client then asked why we didn’t offer flat-rate fees like some other companies they had spoken to. It’s a question we’re facing more and more as new companies enter the localization market offering what appears to be the translation equivalent of the Holy Grail - highest quality, lowest cost and fast turnaround. In our experience you get to choose two of these, not all at once. With online portals for uploading content, selecting language/subject matter and instant quotations, they all have a similar look and feel.

To the uninitiated, it seems an obvious choice. Why should I pay more if I’m going to get the same service in a short turnaround with top level linguists? To industry insiders or clients well-versed in localization, this kind of offer sets alarm bells ringing.

  • Why would top quality linguists work at incredibly low rates when they can easily find higher paying work elsewhere in the market?
  • How can these companies secure linguists for the most expensive languages at such low rates? [Try requesting Nordic Languages, Japanese or Gaelic and see what they say]
  • Being asked to split larger volumes of content between large numbers of linguists is only going to increase the chance of errors and inconsistencies, right?
  • How are the linguists evaluated? How do you know they’re right for your content?
  • Why would someone go through all the time and effort to create great English copy, only to risk their international image with less than optimal resources?
  • Are they offering translation only? Or are they just editing Machine Translation?
  • Is it the same rate even for highly creative marketing, UI or technical content?
  • Are the clients getting the benefit of translation memory, text repetition and translation termbases/style guides?
  • Why are they asking for payment upfront?

The problem with a flat-rate pricing model is that it negates all the advances made over the last 20 years in computer-aided translation. Take leveraging repeat content for example; if your Word document contains a footer with your company’s name and a short disclaimer, and that footer is on 30 pages, you will pay for it to be translated 30 times. The standard practise for localization vendors is to perform a repeating-segment analysis as part of their quote. This previously translated content would also be available via the translation memory, which stores content for reuse on future projects of the same language pairs. For certain types of copy this leveraging can make traditional translation cheaper than flat-rate providers.

Perhaps the biggest concern with flat-rate providers is quality. With a traditional localization provider you’re not asked to pay until you’re satisfied with the quality of the delivery. Translation can be a tricky thing to get right. Clients have different expectations depending on their industry, the target language and the anticipated audience. We work with a client to get this right up-front, by developing a termbase, doing review samples and screening translators. After delivery, translations can be updated to correct oversights or to change the tone. With a flat-rate provider you have no guarantee of quality and if you are not satisfied with the translation your only option is to take your business elsewhere.

Notably, over time some of these companies have changed their pricing models, from what was a one-rate-fits-all, to tiered pricing. With pricing bands labeled along the lines of; Basic, Corporate, Professional and Specialized, and arbitrary quality scores ranging from 7-9 out of 10 [what they’re based on, who knows], but there seems to have been a change in tactics.

As their pricing reaches the same as standard localization vendor rates, has there been a noticeable backlash from disgruntled clients? Do they now need to offer the tiered pricing because "one-size-does-not-fit-all", as everyone in the industry already knows?

There possibly is a place in the market for this type of service though. Clients with one-off jobs, low volume needs, with simple content or low quality expectations probably can take advantage of this. However, for any client really serious about taking their app, brand, product or website global, a more tailored approach is required.

To understand more about making the right localization choices, contact Andovar for further details.

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