Charlie Bavington

French to English Freelance Translator - I.T. specialist

Bringing a pragmatic eye to meeting your needs

No money for old rope

April 1st, 2011 | Categories: agencies, business

Another LSP is causing a minor stir with a unilateral change to its T&C, or so it would appear (I don’t work for them). Applied Language Solutions (ALS), who claim to “Respect everyone like a friend”, which seems a clumsy turn of phrase as well as an odd thing to say, have emailed the world and his wife (but not me):

High quality translation is an ever-evolving skill and the research and development into technology tools to assist in the process means that customers want to see these advancements reflected in our charging model.

I dunno so much – are end-customers that aware of the technology used? I suspect many are not. Customers may “want to see” lower costs, which is what ALS mean here, they may even ask for them, but are they basing such requests on knowledge of how our CAT tools and suchlike work? I doubt it, and reading between the lines of my own experience, such as when the volume of TM matches is not as it first appeared when a job was first offered, those agencies that operate systems involving reductions for TM matches do in fact charge most end-customers for every word, pay us lot a reduced rate for those matches, and pocket the difference.

In recent months, a zero charge for exact matches and repetitions has become a trend within the industry. As a result, we can no longer pay linguists in the same way, as we cannot pass these costs on to our customers.

Interesting turn of phrase. A trend on which side? The agency/end-customer side, or the agency/freelancer side. I suspect only the latter, if indeed there is such a trend, although ALS try to make it sound like the former (I refer my honourable friend to my earlier statement on how much end-customers know). Such an arrangement was offered to me once, last year. It’s not something I have heard a great deal of discussion about. Maybe I hang out in the wrong places.

Anyway, the money shot following this clumsy and dissembling foreplay, is:

ALS will no longer pay linguists for exact matches and repetitions for any new projects.

And just in case you feel cheap and dirty:

We value the large number of linguists registered to work on our customer translation projects and we understand from feedback with many of you that other language companies are communicating similar changes in their payment models.

I am sceptical that freelancers are running off to ALS moaning that other agencies are adopting a 100% matches = no money policy, and that ALS are just following suit. I’ve never discussed one agency’s practices with another (unless perhaps, rarely, to make the opposite kind of point, that something that agency is doing is not up to the standard I would like to see, and do see in others).

So, back to the highlight – no money at all for repetitions and 100% matches. Although this has not caused the cacophony of weeping and wailing and gnashing of keyboards that followed other similar announcements (Lionbridge a few months ago, thebigword in 2009-ish), there has been some response, including at least one freelancer announcing that he actually voluntarily charges zero if the project is over a certain size.

That’s fine, we are all free to set our own charging parameters (this same fellow charges the full whack for partial matches, for instance, not a reduction). And for me, the main point for this post is not about whether freelancers should or should not accept unilateral changes “requested” by agencies (or anyone) – it’s been covered before, it’ll be covered again (e.g. here with a partner blog post here)

Personally, I object to this notion (hence I am unlikely to add it to my T&C on my own initiative or anyone else’s) purely because it seems the thin end of a wedge that, although I’m not sure precisely how it will end, I am sure I would not enjoy experiencing.

So, first, let us be clear that zero pay for reps/100% matches (we need a single word for this concept) really is working for free. If you ignore them, that requires mental effort and takes a few seconds of your time, every time. If you just skip through the 100% matched segments, that takes time (regardless of whether we are able to resist the temptation to a)read and b)correct them, unpaid). If you hit the auto-translate button, you still have to monitor it. Whatever you do, you will be working in some way or another, it’s inevitable.

I am, as I’ve said before, very much a “fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work” man. You could argue (and some do), that if you do some work unpaid, and some work for pay, it will balance out, as long as the paid work is paid high enough to compensate for the unpaid. Do one hour for nothing; do another hour for twice your target earnings, and all is hunky-dory. That’s great in theory, and I agree it would be fine if that were how it worked.

In practice though, it must be said that the kind of agencies who apply these kind of policies are going to be the price-centred, pile-it-high, sell-it-cheap segment. The chances that you will be able to compensate by asking for more for the non-matched bits are slim to nil. They’re competing for end-customers solely on price (effectively, no matter what corporate effluent their marketing department might manage to spew out about quality or service) and they are trying to pay you a bit less, not to pay you the same or more, but under a different model or worked out in a different way.

Remember I said I was offered an arrangement of this sort last year? It was a 30k word job, and 20k was reps/100% matches, for which they wanted to offer me payment for just the 10k “new” words, as it were. So, at least this arrangement is not new to me, as it seems to be to some who have commented elsewhere. In response, I ran through the arguments above, and apart from the odd hopelessly optimistic query when they are presumably in fairly dire straits (“get your matches for nothing and your reps for free” perhaps?), I hear nothing. But their rates are low, and getting lower, and I’m trying to get away from that kind of price-focused agency.

And, having taken the view that it is indeed asking people to work for free, on the flimsiest of grounds to boot, I also just think it’s the thin end of a nasty pricing wedge. If they think 100% matches don’t deserve remuneration, what about the 95% matches (in truth, they can be very often left untouched in the target language, in my experience*). What about names and addresses and numbers and…. who knows? Once you accept the principle of working for free, which is bad enough, in combination (and this next bit is important, in my view) with the likelihood that this will not be compensated for elsewhere, who knows where it will end?

* On the subject of the linguistic effect of this policy, it should not be overlooked that, in contrast, some 100% matches need to be changed, for the sake of providing the best possible translation, even within one document. We all know that. ALS probably know that, but don’t care. However, I had overlooked the possibility of a 100% match that needs to be changed to actually be grammatically consistent with the text preceeding it, let alone to actually provide an optimum translation.

I wonder too, about the legal/contractual side – but I think this post is long enough, and it’s a slightly different topic, so another post on that issue follows…

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