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Monday, July 31, 2006

Who Pays for Technology?

Remember the good old days, when all you needed to translate was a piece of paper, pen or pencil (typewriters came later), and a couple of dictionaries? Those days are gone forever. In addition to machines with many times the computing power of the Apollo 11 moon rocket's controls, we have to buy and learn how to use sophisticated software worth much more than the machine it's installed on.

And then comes a client who wants you to do DTP (for which he previously used expensive typesetters) free of charge, or wants a discount for the savings you achieve with the CAT tools you paid for and spent countless hours learning how to use. It makes one wonder if all that technology you've purchased will benefit you or your client.

There can be no doubt about the savings in time and effort our hi-tech tools can bring us. I also think using these tools is more fun than typing your translation on a Selectric typewriter. The question is how to make them save us not only time and effort, but also dollars, euros, or yens.

Do you give a discount for "100% or 80% matches" when you use a CAT tool? Do you provide extra services such as DTP or glossary compilation free of charge only because your tools enable you to do so? You may decide to give your clients all these freebies if it gives you a competitive edge, but you must be aware of the fact that you're giving away something that you've paid for and that rightfully belongs to you.

Have our incomes grown at the same pace our expenses with hardware and software have? Who is ultimately benefiting from the technification of the translation industry?


Blogger Timothy Barton said...

CAT tools give us better quality and more consistent translations. This is what we should be marketing to our clients.

5:07 PM  
Blogger MT said...

CAT tools have their place (although their usefulness is a bit overrated, in my opinion)--but the issue here is actually pricing. The use of a TM can increase consistency, but the main reason why TM technology exists is to lower the cost of translation. When agencies ask for discounts on X% matches, it is unlikely in most cases that the savings is being passed on to the end client, so TMs are used primarily to siphon money out of the freelancer's pocket and into the translation agency's pocket.

In my experience, quality operations (whether end customers or agencies) have no qualms when I say that I don't offer TM discounts because a TM doesn't really reduce my work, certainly not in terms of proofreading and editing, etc. I'm happy to say no to clients that want TM discounts--and I would urge any and everyone to do the same.

7:51 PM  
Blogger Hipyan said...

Some people may argue that CAT tools are beneficial to translators. Unfortunately, it seems that CAT tools are tended to be misused by agencies to exploit translators. The percentage of matches is always used as a basis for compulsory discount. As a result, there is no gain on the part of translators. Their possession of CAT tools makes no difference altogether. The real profit goes to the agency.
This is really ridiculous. Then, what is the point of purchasing extremely expensive CAT tools if translators must suffer from sure loss?

9:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like to look on the increasing role technology plays in our profession as an opportunity rather than a threat. Let's take DTP: If a client requests DTP as part of a translation job, there is no question that I will charge for this service. If, on the other hand, a prospect proposes to send me the texts in, say, Word format to paste into their DTP application later, I may well suggest that they send the DTP files instead for me to work with. In most cases that means no or minimal additional work for me - as I import the files into my CAT program anyway - and is time saved for the client: a selling point for me and added value for the client at little additional cost to me. And an added benefit for me is that I’m likely to actually save time reviewing the proofs, since they won’t have been put together by a non-native speaker.

As for the graded pricing structures often associated with CAT work, I regard this, in general, a negative, purely price-oriented trend. But I also feel that the discussion on this issue is too polarized. There are shades of grey that tend not to get a look-in. For example: A large customer of an agency client of mine has, over the past years, updated their huge repository of German user manuals (literally millions of words) to the new German spelling, updating the existing texts with each new, revised edition. Had I insisted on a full line price for every fuzzy match, this client would have had to (unjustifiably) pay me and the TSP literally thousands of additional euros for doing next to nothing. Admittedly an extreme scenario, but one which is typical for many technical publications to some extent. And had I turned down the jobs purely on principle, I would have let an extremely lucrative job slip through my fingers.

Charging by time rather than word count would be an effective solution to the discount-or-no-discount dilemma. Let’s hope this trend gathers pace. A quality-based marketing approach can also be a solution, weeding out the price-oriented clients. This works even with TSPs, who are often regarded as the main culprits in forcing graded pricing for CAT but whose output quality is, in my experience, often variable, with several translators working for the same clients and past mistakes being easily propagated through the TM.

7:34 AM  

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