You sent a few short sentences to translate to your translation vendor, who then asks you to pay a minimum fee, while you expected a price proportional to the volume. Is a minimum fee for translating just a few sentences fair?
A minimum fee for a few short sentences may be difficult to understand, in particular compared to services that better lend themselves to a minimum fee, such as when traveling to a client’s location is necessary. Even if a handyman takes just five minutes to fix the lock on your door, he will still charge you a minimum fee for time it took to get to your place.
With translation, there is neither travel involved, nor other obvious costs. So are there hidden costs associated with each translation project?
Costs: Project management
- Download and review files to be translated
- Confirm availability and price
- Create and manage project in a project management system
- Choose and contact a translator (hopefully, the first contacted translator will be available, otherwise costs will multiply)
- Choose and contact an editor
- Review ready files before delivery
- Deliver the ready files
- Send an invoice
- Process payment
- Bank fees
Costs: Actual translation
- Translator’s fee
- Editor’s fee
Even though this list is far from exhaustive and contains just the basics, they add up to at least one hour. And often this is what the minimum fee is equal to—an hourly rate.
Some of these tasks can be reduced or automated to a certain extent, but just as with machine translation, more automation means lower quality and poorer customer service.
A different perspective
Another way of looking at a minimum fee is paying for the years of education and experience of people who will take care of your translation for you. There is a great story about this. A large company once had to halt its operations due to a major technical problem. The downtime was costing them thousands of dollars, so they called in a specialist to pinpoint and fix the problem. He spent a few minutes figuring out the problem and then turned just one screw. Miraculously, this solved the problem, and the company was able to resume normal operations. The management thanked the specialist profusely; but their happiness soon gave way to rage. The specialist’s fee was $10,000. “What? $10,000 for five minutes?”, they said, “Can you give us a breakdown of the costs?” This is the breakdown that the specialist gave them:
- Item 1: Turning the screw: $10
- Item 2: Knowing which screw to turn: $9,990
A reduced minimum fee?
It is not uncommon for a client to insist upon a reduced minimum fee or no fee at all. I do not think this is realistic. Accepting a reduced minimum fee usually means a loss for a translation vendor. Whether a vendor is willing to accept such a loss is another question. For example, we usually accept a reduced minimum fee from our favorite clients, looking at the loss as a favor in return for their repeat business; we never reduce the fee for clients who buy from us just occasionally.
Generally, a minimum fee for translation is fair, even though the amount of work might seem very small. If you want to avoid minimum fees, do not send small tasks to your translation vendor, time permitting. Combine them instead into a single task.
If you are a translator, do you charge a minimum fee? Please let us know in the comments.
Here is an article about projects where a translation vendor can increase customer satisfaction by not charging a minimum fee.