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Dec 17, 2008

No mercy for PDF jobs!

I'm always amazed at the BOHICA attitude of many translators and agencies when it comes to PDF documents submitted for translation. As we all know, these usually involve considerably more effort to produce a document which often falls short of the original in terms of the quality of its layout or other factors. I've addressed this issue in the past by lecturing on handling PDF documents at conference in Berlin together with an expert on the subject, the German/Swedish/English translator Peter Linton, as well as publishing a short article on including OCR in one's business model and providing some guidelines for post-OCR workflow and QA that cover PDF and other formats.

To many people in our industry are hesitant to charge for the real nuisance involved in working with PDF documents of all kind, and they do end customers a great disservice by not educating them in the fact that PDF is not a valid format for translation. The number of ignorant queries from translators in online forums asking how to use Trados on PDF files indicates that this lack of knowledge is probably pandemic in some parts of our industry as well.

Aside from the fact that I have added many additional thousands of euros to our revenues for conversion work I had to do anyway simply by charging normal hourly rates for the effort, there is another big advantage to insisting on significant PDF surcharges (10 to 25% in my case). When the client knows exactly how much more a PDF job will cost, the "missing" original document in MS Word or other usable formats is often miraculously found. This happened to me again this morning. Last night I informed an outsourcer than an OCR conversion would take several days and cost at least an extra 400 euros, and this morning - wonder of wonders! - her client managed to find the original file, saving everyone much hassle and allowing those involved in the project to get started right away. A meek acceptance of the format without insisting on an extra charge would not have led to the result, and in a document with very complex tables, the end result for a team project with a tight deadline would have been a real disaster.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, Lord Costner. Hope you're having fun with your recreational drones on the shores of Freelance Bay in the Caribbean. Anyway, I'm recommending this despite the fact that, as you know, I disagree with the notion of including OCR in a translator's... well, not exactly business model but personal to-do list — as I believe OCR and similar tasks are best left to office assistants, which translators are not (regardless of the fact that many office assistants are better educated and earn more than many translators). Anyway. I love the point about original editable files being miraculously found the moment they realize you won't budge on the PDF surcharge. I believe I've used similar phrasing when writing about this problem without the benefit of having read your little post here.

    I don't mind normal PDF jobs, but the moment formatting becomes an important issue, as in the client wants the formatting 'preserved', i.e. reproduced, I begin to wonder what's wrong with those people — and I'm led to think, perhaps in error, that there must be some magic allure to the format. Years ago it used to project status because not everybody had the software or the skill or thought to use it. There are obviously some legitimate reasons to make the PDF version the default version of a document, e.g. printer compatibility, word processor compatibility etc., but I can't resist the thought that some of those guys have some sort of special feelings for the format.

    (Of course, there is also the suspicion that PDF-to-.doc sculpting is some agencies' idea of added value or not-so-USP to justify prices with. Essentially a way of impressing their clients, like anybody's gonna be impressed with that.)

    Anyway, bottom line: put a surcharge on PDF, and .doc will be found.

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