The fees translation vendors charge for translation services vary depending on multiple factors. This article lists some of the most important among them.
Translation price is largely a function of quality, making it the single most important differentiator. Vendors with a “high volume, low margin” strategy attract clients with rock-bottom rates, but are unlikely to deliver to high standards. They deliver something that looks like translation, because it is written in another language (and clients often cannot tell the difference), but when push comes to shove, this translation may prove useless or even get clients into trouble. You may think of them as “hit and run” vendors, since making a quick buck is their priority—long-term relationships are not.
By contrast, vendors with a “low or average volume, high margin” strategy pride themselves in providing high-quality translations that are more expensive. By paying higher prices, clients ensure that the translations will provide the expected results, such as securing new business with a prospective customer from another country. Clients enjoy better customer service, too, because vendors value them and want to build a long-term relationship.
It stands to reason that writing a big, fat check for translation services does not always result in top quality, just as buying a BMW does not mean a 100% breakdown-free experience. It is all about probability. By working with a high-quality vendor, clients are much more likely to get a good translation than if they choose to pay an average price, much less when they buy at bargain-basement rates.
Even though factors other than quality have less influence on translation fees, they still matter. For example, subject area also contributes to a higher price. Whereas general texts, such as directions explaining how to get to a specific location, are fairly easy to translate, specialized texts, such as gas turbine documentation, are way more challenging. Such texts require translators who specialize in this subject areas. Such translators are scarce and are in high demand, allowing them to charge higher fees. Another reason for a higher rate is the need to research specialized terminology and concepts in the course of translation, which takes time.
Texts also differ by content type, with types that are difficult to translate calling for a higher rate. Suppose you have a user manual for an MP3 player and a website designed to sell this player. Whereas the user manual, with its simple language and straightforward instructions, is a breeze to translate, the website is another story. Its marketing message is much more difficult to reproduce in another language. Even if your translator understands it perfectly, she may still spend countless hours coming up with translations that sound just right—as if they were originally written in the target language. Just as it is easier for the MP3 player manufacturer to produce a user manual than to create an effective marketing tool, it is easier for translators to translate the former than the latter.
Turnaround time may also have an impact on translation fees. Rush translations require a surcharge, while longer deadlines may be subject to a sweet discount. Unlike other factors mentioned in this article, this one is totally within clients’ control. Clients who have the discipline to plan ahead and send texts for translation well in advance of their internal deadline are very likely to benefit from lower prices. In contrast, clients who postpone translation until the very last moment invariably pay more than necessary.
Note that optional services offered with translation, such as text extraction, DTP, or post-DTP proofreading, also increase the invoice amount, but they do not influence the price of translation itself. The latter is mainly a function of the four factors described above: quality, subject area, content type, and deadline. You can read more about those optional services in the article explaining different items on an invoice for translation.