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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Who Goes First?

The other day I needed a gallon of milk, so I stopped by my favorite convenience store, picked up a gallon of low-fat, and headed toward the cashier. When it came to my turn, I told the cashier: "I'll pay $1.20 for this." She pretended not to hear me, but answered, in a polite but firm voice: "Two-ninety, please." I could describe the exchange that followed (the whole story is imaginary, anyway), but it should suffice to say that I ended up paying the price asked for by the cashier.

If it sounds unusual that the customer proposes a price he or she is willing to pay in a store, why is it accepted without discussion if a translation client tells the translator up front what rate is to be paid for a translation job. We see announcements even in "translation portals" looking for a translator to do a job in a certain language combination at a certain rate. And many of those rates are at or below the level that prevailed in the U.S. in the 50s or 60s.

Of course, the price of any merchandise is determined by mutual consent between vendor and buyer. In principle, it doesn't matter who "goes first" naming a price. The practice becomes questionable when the buyer attempts to give the impression that the price he is offering is immutable, non-negotiable, as if handed down by God as the eleventh Commandment.

Translators should not accept any condition imposed by their clients, and that includes the rate to be paid for their work. A client's offer should be considered a first bid in a negotiation that is ultimately to result in a rate that is acceptable and advantageous to both parties. Even if the client is offering a rate that is a fraction of our normal rate, we shouldn't be afraid to make a counteroffer: "Sorry, but my rate for this kind of work is $XX.00." If the conversation stops here, the translator has lost nothing (compared with the alternative of shutting up in disgust), and the client has received a piece of information that he could use in his offer to the next translator.

And if there is a sufficient number of translators unwilling to accept an unreasonable offer, but the client needs the translation badly enough, the scenario at the cashier's counter in the convenience store may repeat itself: The buyer may ultimately accept the vendor's price.