Price pressures, a viable business, happy customers – can you have it all?

Price pressures

The pressure for price reductions holds strong throughout markets and industries, both for products and services, for many years now and will continue to do so for many years to come. However, according to the law of supply and demand, a low supply and a high demand increases price, while the greater the supply and the lower the demand, the lower the price tends to fall.

For parties in the translation industry, it is common knowledge and a topic visited often in conferences that reliable, experienced and qualified translators and editors are not that many – no matter the language pair – and even if someone argues that they are, then usually it is their availability that is limited or they are lacking in specialization – always compared to the demand!

So, the first half of the law should apply here, right? The answer is “no”! Despite the very optimistic predictions for the growth of the industry, compared to the stability or even slump in other industries due to the recent financial crisis, the pressure for price reductions in the translation and localization industry is more than ever. Why is that? Maybe because translation is considered as an afterthought in the development of any given product, and often of so little visibility that it gets a tiny bit of the allocated budget, if any? Maybe because we, as professionals in the field, have not fought enough to elevate our ‘product’ to the place it should be in our buyers’ minds? Maybe because technology has taken its toll? Maybe because non-professionals have entered the profession offering ridiculously low rates for a respectively low-quality ‘product’? You can pick and choose, but I would not want to get into that.

Instead, let’s take this for granted and see how we can respond to that fact in a way that is respectful of our customers, our businesses and our resources, and still lead a viable business.

Let’s start by trying to understand our customers’ needs and educate them on our workflow and its importance for their end ‘product’.

There are certain steps a text must go through before a high-quality translation can be delivered. Of course, there is a reason for that and it’s not out of a whim that localization agencies favor the translation & editing process, nor because we want to add to our customers’ spend. Language is flexible. Language is subjective. Language is preferential. Language is also fixed and objective (i.e. industry terminology). Humans create language and they choose how to do it, and each individual may choose a different way, a different word, a different meaning… and all may be saying the same thing! So, yes, humans need to be involved in your translation projects, and the more they are involved, the better it is for you and your content, because the more chances there are that their translation gets closer to YOUR way, to YOUR word, to YOUR meaning. How much time, effort and energy have you put in and how many different people have you involved in the creation of your content, or even your ’slogan’? If you think about it, from enough to too much. So, if it was so challenging to settle on a phrase or to finalize your initial content, how can its translation be considered an easy task, especially when it involves many different markets and cultures?

Our advice would be that you should not try to save from compromising processes and eliminating steps (which correspond to people). Instead you should try to locate what you really need to translate and into which languages, evaluate and streamline your translation processes. If this is something new to you or you don’t know how to go about it, ask us; we can help.

And some more seasoned translation & localization services buyers might question the role of humans and ask where technology is in all that. Although, technology was late to enter our industry and help us benefit, there are quite a few tools that can facilitate our work, and the savings time-wise have been translated to real savings for the customers. Customers must always make sure that their language service provider reflects those savings from CAT tools in their invoice offering discounted rates for previously translated (fully or partially) content. Another new trend is machine translation (MT). It is undeniably a considerable advancement in our industry and will most probably play a huge role in how the future of localization will be shaped, but it does not have a universal application. It can serve as a first draft in some types of fixed-language texts, like manuals, to increase the speed and the performance of human translators, and free machine translation engines can be used to give you the gist of a text for your personal understanding; but, raw MT output is not ‘publishable’ text — at least not yet and not where the message matters. Ιt is merely usable in only some language pairs and in no case does it serve the broad spectrum of the languages of the world, it cannot cater for more creative content, and don’t think of only sophisticated marketing content, just try to machine translate your Facebook status update and see what the engine comes up with in various languages.

In every case, we need to invest in and make the most of all available tools and technologies, not only to save money for our customers but to also streamline and standardize our processes, facilitate our project managers and our linguists, monitor and report on our workflows, and lead a transparent and healthy business.

In terms of business practices, price reductions are usually pushed down to the lower levels of the supply chain, which can either be us as agencies or our external resources. In both cases though, this level involves the actual people who do the actual work, and these are indeed those of value to the customer. In the same way agencies recruit for expertise and knowledge, and train their in-house staff to new trends, tools and methodologies to optimize efficiency, the same investment should be considered for external collaborators. Individuals have invested both time and money to specialize and should be able to keep doing so if they are to continue to efficiently support us and, of course, our customers. Hence, although, regular flows and high volumes or long-term projects can of course justify a negotiation to a certain extent, crunching fees should not be adopted as a standard practice, as it is important that all parties involved in this transaction, be it the customer, the intermediary(ies) or the resources, feel that this is a mutually beneficial relationship.

Ultimately, I feel that the way we conduct our business will determine the quality of customers we attract; fair and reasonable practices will most probably attract fair and reasonable customers, and talent will gravitate towards places it can grow.

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