Charlie Bavington

Professional French to English Translator - Business and I.T.

Bringing a pragmatic eye to meeting your needs

Article: Who sets prices?

November 10th, 2010 | Categories: agencies, business, My articles

I think this article fits in quite neatly with the Lionbridge hoo-hah, in terms of why there are a number of agencies in general who feel quite at ease with being the party that determines prices, unilaterally, on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. I wrote the original version almost 2 years ago (Dec 2008) although it has been tweaked since then. Perhaps discussion may lead to further refinement; I hope so.

It’s a long read, so you may want to make a cup of tea first. And then here it is – who sets prices?

  1. November 10th, 2010 at 11:40
    Quote | #1

    Hi Charlie!

    I’ve read with interest your article about the translation market.

    I’m not sure though that I agree with your statement “But if prices overall are falling,… then this is can only be happening, ultimately, for one reason – the excess of supply over demand”.

    I wonder if the problem is not that translators have no union, no governing body, nothing to unite them as a group to act against the huge companies that translation agencies have become. The balance of power is clearly against the translators. Also, in France anybody, even with no education at all, can become a translator if he/she wants to. Actually there is no rules at all to the translation game and, to me, this is the main reason why prices are falling (here we are only talking about the prices paid to freelancers like us because the prices paid to agencies are not falling at all, they are rising actually). They fall because translation agencies are free to act as they see fit.

    Just my opinion though and I may be completely wrong here!

    Anyway thanks for your article.


    English to French translator

  2. admin
    November 10th, 2010 at 12:47
    Quote | #2

    Hi Christian,

    Thanks for your comments. To be honest, I have not conducted a survey of supply and demand across the whole market, so I can’t prove that there is, in fact, an excess of supply over demand. It is simply a conclusion I have drawn from the behaviour of the market, particularly, as I said, that segment that competes mainly or solely on price.

    If, as you (correctly) say, some agencies act as they see fit, that can only be because they believe they will have no problem securing supplies/suppliers. I tried to look for an economic explanation – essentially that there is (too) much supply readily available. Your own explanation also fits the phenomenon we have all observed, and there is some overlap between the two (e.g. no barriers to entry = more supply and no organisation). And I have no doubt that what you say must be a factor – isolated individuals may be inclined to offer no resistance, for lack of confidence or lack of market knowledge, among other reasons.

    However, I should point out that belonging to an organisation is no guaranteed cure. Supermarket suppliers belong to any number of unions and confederations, and suffer exactly the same phenomenon, and if they stand up to Tesco or Carrefour and refuse to pay listing fees or absorb the cost of supermarket promotions, there are plenty of suppliers willing to take their place. The balance of power remains with the supermarket.

    I would like to point out that I am by no means anti-union. I first joined one aged 17 (in 1982), and stayed a member of various unions until I stopped being an employee in 2003. My mother was a shop steward. And, of course, while unions are an employee-based organisation, other industries have confedrations and union-type structures. There have been plenty of initiatives from translators along the lines you suggest, but they always seem to be triggered solely by some price issue or other, and I wonder if the negative nature of that trigger means they are doomed to fail or get so far and no further (no peanuts, the petition crew, the United Transators group (R.I.P.) on Yahoo!). If your idea is to have legs, it needs a different model, IMHO. Accentuate the positive, or something, perhaps 🙂
    (To say nothing of the cultural issues of a transnational group reaching agreement on what is and is not acceptable, be it in terms of rates or anything else.)
    But it may be an idea worth considering in some form or other…

  3. November 10th, 2010 at 14:10
    Quote | #3

    Good points Charlie.

    In France, I would be in favour of a governing body for translators like we have for health professions. Also, there should be a strong regulation so that you need diplomas to become a translator, like you need a diploma to become a practitioner. I think the “solution” is more on a national level than on a transnational one.

  4. admin
    November 10th, 2010 at 16:12
    Quote | #4

    Well, we would need to be clear about the objectives. It seems to me that for those professions that are strictly regulated, medicine, law and so on – even to the extent of making it an offence to practise them if you are not qualified – the purpose is mainly to protect the end customer, for obvious reasons. The fact it protects existing supply levels in the interests of incumbents is, I would hope, a beneficial side-effect (beneficial for the supplier, that is), not the main aim.

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