If you’ve ended up reading this article, you probably need a translation and you’re interested in what the price of one translation is for us. You may request a quote from several translation agencies and compare prices. Possibly, you’ll choose the cheapest because you think you are comparing apples with apples.
Unfortunately, expert services can rarely be compared so straightforwardly. The translation price shown in the offer may not tell you what is included in the service or how the translation service is delivered. One may offer an edited and proofread translation for the same price, another a machine translation only. For some, the ordering process is automated until the very end, while for others the price includes tailored solutions.
As it is so difficult to compare offers in the translation industry, in the following we will open up a bit on the pricing of a translation service.
Although translators do not actually sell individual words, the most well-established pricing unit in the industry is still the source language word. In addition, some in the industry use the page price (1,560 characters with spaces).
If you know the word count for your source text, you should mention it already when requesting a quote. If the source material is, for example, on a website or in a large number of Excel files and you are unable to determine the word count, the translation agency can analyse the amount of material to be translated using its own software.
The translation price depends a lot on the source text word count. As a general rule, the higher the word count, the higher the total price, but probably, however, the lower the unit price.
As the translation service becomes even more technical, service solutions are also sold using new pricing models. These broader service solutions are often applied to large translation volumes, and pricing may include, among other things, licence fees.
Translation agencies usually have a minimum charge for small translations, typically jobs of 300 words or less. Then it’s exactly the same whether you order a translation of 30 or 300 words, the charge is the same.
In addition to the translation work, the minimum charge covers the project management work involved in booking the job and customer relationship and invoicing. The translator may also be right in the middle of a larger translation job, and needs to adjust their schedule to make room for the small minimum charge job.
If the customer relationship is ongoing and there are frequent orders for small translations, it is possible to agree on or waive the minimum charge separately. A professional translation agency will then usually also proactively propose the most cost-effective pricing model for all parties.
Of course, there are also translation agencies on the market that do not apply a minimum charge for any type of translation. However, we find it somewhat unethical to sell an expert service for just a couple of euros.
Which factors (most) affect the price?
In addition to the source text word count, pricing is usually affected in particular by the language pair, timetable and file type of the translation.
The law of supply and demand applies to language pairs. The price of a translation is usually more competitive when there are enough good translators available for the language combination. Less common language pairs, such as translations from Finnish to Chinese, are more expensive than translations from English to Finnish.
Urgent translations, typically same day deliveries, are often subject to an express delivery surcharge, the size of which varies. Exceptional pricing is also generally applied to translation assignments outside normal working hours.
In addition, the price of the translation may be affected by the form in which the translatable material arrives. If the customer is unable to submit the material in an editable form, the translation agency will often charge separately for the pre- and post-processing of the material. A typical example of this kind of additional hourly billing service is the conversion and translation of PDF files.
Instead, in our view, the price of a translation is not so much related to the subject matter of the translation. A text with general everyday language may have as many tricky parts as a text that is overflowing with professional terminology. For the customer, it may be difficult to assess the difficulty of the translation for a translator in a specialist field, and even the translation agency’s service manager may not have time to check the difficulty of very extensive material when preparing the offer. The translation may later prove to be more challenging than expected, regardless of the topic.
How much does quality cost?
And how does the price of the translation service affect the translation’s quality?
It would be easiest to say that good is never cheap. Unfortunately, however, that is not the whole truth, as good quality actually depends a lot on what the customer expects from the translation service. What’s good for one customer could be completely lousy for another.
In addition, a translation agency is a company just like any other: the purchase price of a good translation may be the same in two offices, but the final price of the other is still considerably cheaper for the client because of its different cost structure and margin target.
In addition, the client often has the option of choosing between different levels of translation service. Although, in principle, it must be possible to demand excellent linguistic quality from a professional agency, the customer can also buy a machine-translated raw translation or a copy-edited translation that has been honed to the last detail.
How does technology affect the price?
The best way to save on translation costs is to centralise translation procurement in a professional agency that makes optimal use of modern translation technology. Perhaps a translation agency offers just the right solution for your needs, such as integration with your own content management system (CMS), saving you a lot of your own time as well.
Translation is expert work that makes use of a variety of technical tools. The most important of these is a translation memory. Its benefit is based on the fact that the program proposes translations for parts of the text whenever it recognises similarities with a previously translated text. Cost savings arise when the same texts and parts of text are not translated again.
The cost of translation can also be reduced by taking advantage of machine translation. Machine translation and post-editing is often suitable for factual texts with short sentences and simple terminology, the volume of which can be millions of words. Machine translation and post-editing increase productivity and save costs.
How do you choose a good translation agency?
Many factors affect the price of translation. Apples and oranges cannot be compared. As a customer, how do you choose a translation agency that best meets your needs with the right price and quality ratio?
The most important thing is to stop for a moment before making a purchase decision and think about what you are buying and what you expect from a translation service. Then, with the help of background research, find out which translation agencies can best meet your needs. Find out about office security, technology and references. Find out what is included in the price of the translation and what you pay for separately.
In the end, it’s never just a question of translation, it’s always about the translation service.