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Choosing Translator by the Price Tag: Think Windows vs. Linux

With so many offerings of cheap translation services available today, buyers are often tempted to go with the cheapest solution. After all, why would you pay more when it’s so easy to pay less—it’s just a matter of changing the recipient’s email in the To field. In a recent post, I compared choosing a translation agency to choosing your investment management company. This new post provides yet another analogy along these lines—you need to be very careful about your vendor choice. A cheap translation can be an excellent way to make yourself feel good because you cut costs, but it’s important to understand that there’s always a catch.

I think choosing between expensive and cheap translation vendors is like choosing between Windows and Linux (I will use Ubuntu as an example). Just like a high-quality translation, Windows is a reliable, best-of-breed operating system, but an expensive one as well. At the same time, just as a cheap translation, Ubuntu is not as good and trouble-free, but it’s a very compelling choice financially.

When Lower Cost is the Primary Consideration

When you need an operating system for your PC and you know that you can immediately download Ubuntu for free, it might be difficult to consider another option that will actually require paying money. Even if you recognize that Windows is generally better, you might be so cost-conscious that the prospect of saving some money by getting the OS for free might outweigh all other reasons, however strong they might be. Likewise, when it comes to buying translation, you may receive quotes from two different vendors. One of them may ask for $500, while the other may suggest a $1,000 fee. Knowing that the second vendor will do a better job might not be a good enough reason for you to pay twice as much. As with Ubuntu, the first vendor’s translation is likely to be worse, but because low cost is more important, you decide that you can live with that.

Lower Reliability

When you buy Windows, you can trust that Microsoft cares about you as a customer and wants to provide you with a great user experience. With Ubuntu, you are essentially on your own—no one is actually committed to serving your needs and you are using this software at your own risk. For instance, when Ubuntu 11.04 was released last year, it had a frustrating issue with AMD video drivers, making it brutally hard to use it on PCs with certain AMD Radeon graphics cards. Simply put, the OS was released with a major issue, resulting in a disappointing experience for many folks. Can you imagine Microsoft shipping Windows with a major issue like this? I can’t. In a similar vein, anyone who buys cheap translations must be prepared for various types of problems simply because a bottom feeder doesn’t have time to care about you as a customer. This type of translators have to make up on volume what they lose on the price. First and foremost, this approach results in substandard quality. Next, it means unprofessional behavior such as missing the deadline or ignoring your calls. Finally, if you have any questions or something goes sideways after translation was delivered, you might not get a quality customer service from your translator because they are too busy with the work at hand.

Pretty on the Outside

Although Ubuntu may look great and shiny on the outside, it’s not a trouble-free experience on the inside. To me, the biggest problem is the limited choice and functionality of compatible software. Often, a program you need is either not available for Linux at all or its functionality is limited as compared to similar software for Windows. By the same token, a cheap translation may appear fine at the first glance, but when you look closely, you may notice a flood of literal translations, mistranslations, and other types of errors. An experienced translation professional can often tell a cheap, low-quality translation from a good one in a matter of minutes.


Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that it’s inappropriate to buy cheap translation or install Ubuntu, for that matter. In fact, as a strong believer in supply and demand forces of the competitive marketplace, I agree that when translation quality is unimportant, it might be unwise to pay a high price for translation. Rather, my point is that, just as with free Ubuntu, you need to clearly recognize the risk associated with a lower price. Think about it: why would your translator work for a price below market average? Is it because this translator likes to earn less than competitors? Or, perhaps, there’s a good reason why they can’t ask for a higher rate?

P.S. Make no mistake, I believe Ubuntu is a great product. In fact, we use it on a file server. I just think that it has limited applications and Windows often provides better value for money.

One comment

  • Cassy says:

    You have a very good points! Free stuffs are good but when we think of having the best, then buy the best. I am sure that the return of investment is also very good.

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About the Author

Roman Mironov
Roman Mironov
CEO & Founder

As the founder of Velior, Roman has had the privilege of being able to turn his passion for languages into a business. He has over 15 years of experience in the translation industry. Roman has helped dozens of clients increase sales by making their products appealing for speakers of other languages.