;   Medical Translation Insight: Translation prices are going down, down, down - ForeignExchange Translations

Translation prices are going down, down, downAn EC-backed study called Size of the language industry in the EU was published. This hefty study (the PDF is 426 pages long) is heralded as "the first to analyse the size of the language industry EU-wide, covers translation, interpreting, localising and globalising, subtitling and dubbing, language technology tools, multilingual conference organisation and language teaching".

The report contains some eye-catching data, chief among them the claim that Europe's language industry is worth €8.4bn and is set to grow by 10% annually.

Unfortunately, the report's credibility is undermined by some obvious problems, including:

  • On a couple of occasions, the report makes unsubstantiated claims about unfair competition in the translation business. This is not to argue that unfair competition doesn't exist but such an important claim warrants an explanation or reference.
  • ISO 9001 is mistakenly referred to as "ISO 2001" - several times.
  • The report contains contradictory conclusions: The authors remark on the low barriers to entry to our industry. This is accurate but doesn't jibe with the report's statement that "the currently fragmented nature of the language industry will continue to consolidate into larger commercial entities". M&A activity may continue but until some company puts up defensible barriers to entry, acquisitions are unlikely to result in consolidation.
  • Finally, the report's non-standard font encoding greatly complicates its use.
Nonetheless, the report does offer insight into the makeup of the European translation market. It also highlights some of the challenges faced by translation service providers:
"Entry barriers to the field of translation and interpreting are low. The main consequence is increasingly fierce and sometimes unfair competition, as well as a decrease in prices combined with a decline in quality levels. The new EN15038 certification designed to counteract this trend ... appears to require amendments."
We have already seen this "decrease in prices combined with a decline in quality levels" in action: A tongue-in-cheek comment in the proz.com forum wonders weather or not "...0.00 per word is a fair price for a Portuguese-English translation done by a native Italian residing in India."

On a more serious note, Jose Henrique Lamensdorf's concept of an X market for translation addresses the same question: What is the price/quality ratio of a given translation?

For medical device and pharmaceutical buyers of translation services, this changing landscape requires them to define (really define) their quality expectations. Simply requesting "good" or "perfect" quality will, sooner rather than later, lead to unacceptable quality. Similarly, translation service providers will finally need to define the quality and the value that they provide.

And all of this is good news for clients and providers alike. More effective segmentation around quality and price will make translation service providers more effective and help clients find appropriate translation suppliers.

ForeignExchange Translations provides specialized medical translation services to the world's largest medical device and pharmaceutical companies.


  1. Cath said...
    The report says : a "decrease in prices combined with a decline in quality levels"

    Decrease in prices: yes, if you consider the competition from emerging markets.
    Decrease in quality : Oh yes ! And here, you can consider the whole global market, whatever is the country the translators are established in. This is the point that simply makes me mad !
    kate said...
    Relative to 20 years ago when I first started translation the prices have not increased - this is a real decrease in prices as there is no correction for inflation. What I also notice is the increased demand for proofreading of texts produced by people who consider themselves adequate translators, while the general quality of these texts is poor.
    Despite increased aids in the form of Trados, Wordfast etc what is still needed for good translations paid at proper rates is good translators. Many companies have tried cheap translators and soon learn their lesson especially if they expect high quality.
    I will continue to translate without reducing rates and with no concessions to quality.
    Craig and Terry said...
    Barriers to entry for service providers -- does this mean the people who actually provide the service (the translators) or the agencies who resell it but who are often viewed as the providers relative to the end-user?

    It is true that there are very low barriers to entry for both (especially agencies, as seemingly very few of the kitchen-table style startups -- I mean the "have Internet connection, will broker" sorts -- seem to feel it necessary to have sufficient cash or credit on hand to pay for the product they are reselling before their end-users pay them).

    Agencies could help on the quality issue by not promising first and sourcing second (I am tired of receiving ridiculous offers with the excuse "We signed a contract for a very low price so we need your BEST PRICE"). What happened to the old-school business model of deciding what product you want to resell, researching how much it costs, then finding a way to make your offering more attractive than others, either through marketing or adding value?

    This is not to denigrate the many good agencies I provide language services for, but many of the "newbies" or "cheapies" seem to be forgetting that they are not providing the product. Finding a good translator and sticking with him or her, instead of bidding each job out on reverse-auction sites, might be worth some consideration.
    kate said...
    I couldn't agree more. However even some of the better agencies are guilty of allowing themselves to be beaten in a corner on price and expecting translators to bring home the goodies. Accepting low prices denigrates those of us who have been working in this profession for a long time. We often work long hard hours pulling someone's chestnuts out the fire with very little recognition or even thanks.
    Cath said...
    Kate said :
    "We often work long hard hours pulling someone's chestnuts out the fire with very little recognition or even thanks. "

    Did you say "recognition" and "thanks" ?
    What's that ? Never heard those words these last years !
    Are you sure that they belong to the common language spoken by most agencies PMs? Maybe are you mixing up "recognition" and "Rush, rush", and "thanks" and "price too high".
    Another dying word in the mouth of agencies, but not in mine or yours, is "quality".
    Apparently, dictionaries need to be reformed. The question is: which ones? Theirs or ours?
    Cath said...
    This has nothing to do with the original post, but I want to resolve any ambiguity about my username (or pseudo) which appears on Blogger, I mean Cath. Please note that "Cath", "cgtradmed" and "Catherine Guilliaumet" are the same person,that is me! I had to change my Google profile 2 weeks ago when I created my French non-professional blog (http://lavalzine.blogspot.com), because I didn't want that, locally, one could relate my citizen blog and my international professional occupation, while the opposite does not pose any difficulty.
    Thank you for your understanding.

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