This article dissects two main approaches to translation pricing. Whereas some translation vendors rely on word count quotes, others offer page-based quotes. I explain why word count is the best option for most translation buyers.
In a typical translation scenario, you send a request for quote, or estimate, to vendors. Vendors prepare quotes and send them to the customer. Then, you make up their mind about whether to confirm or reject quotes.
Translation quotes from different vendors vary in many aspects, from format to currency. This article discusses one of such aspects: calculating the scope of work by word or page.
Page count is a method of calculating the scope of translation based on the number of “conditional” pages in the original. A conditional page is usually 1,800 characters including spaces or 1,000 characters excluding spaces. “Conditional” means that such page is not equal to an actual page in the original.
A PowerPoint Presentation can have 100 actual pages (slides) with large font size or images, but if it has 18,000 characters including spaces, this is just 10 conditional pages at the rate of 1,800 characters including spaces per page: 18,000 divided by 1,800 equals 10 conditional pages.
A contract you need translated from Russian or other language might have 10 pages of fine print. But it’s likely to amount to 20 or more conditional pages, because small fonts and dense text often result in 36,000+ characters per real page or more.
Although strictly speaking, page count is really character count, a page is a more commonly used denominator, because it is easier to talk pages than characters.
Conditional page ratio is any number of characters including/excluding spaces per page by which you divide the number of characters in the original to find out the number of conditional pages in the document. For example, you have a document with 36,000 characters including spaces, and the conditional page ratio is 1,800 characters including spaces. This means that you calculate the number of conditional pages by dividing 36,000 by 1,800, giving you 20 conditional pages.
Word count is a method of calculating the scope of translation based on the number of words in the source text.
Character is any symbol used in the original text, such as a letter, a number, or a quotation mark.
Original (source) text is a text provided for translation.
Back in the old days, the translation industry relied mainly on page count as the easiest and most intuitive approach to estimating the scope of translation work. To find out page count, you do not have to own or master special software: all you need to do is use the statistics function of the program that you created your original text in. For instance, with Microsoft Word, you open the Review tab and click Word Count. A window opens showing the detailed statistics for characters. You can then divide the number of characters by the conditional page ratio. With this simple method of calculation, you can check quotes received from vendors and estimate the scope of translation work even before sending the source text for a quote.
However, with the advent of CAT (computer-aided translation) tools, the translation industry began to increasingly rely on word count. This was due to the fact that translation memory—the technology that CAT tools rely on—is geared toward words rather than characters. Because translation memory was a major breakthrough, increasing performance, improving translation quality, and lowering translation costs, freelance translators and translation companies adopted it as the calculation method of choice.
Translation memory is the main distinction between the two methods. Word count generally (but not always) means that translation memory is used or can be used, with a positive impact on quality and costs. Page count, however, typically (but again, not always) means no TM will be used. Therefore, because clients are much better off buying translation based on TM, it generally makes sense for them to prefer word count to page count. This is discussed in detail below by comparing the two methods.