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May 21, 2011

It's a price war out there! Or is it?

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Flanked by others on innovation and pounded by a user base that is sometimes weary of past abuse, sometimes just unwilling to migrate to more modern technology, SDL appears to be getting desperate. Recently, the Kilgray blog called attention to heavy discounts offered by SDL in some markets for the Professional version of Trados: a license that formerly cost nearly 3000 euros was offered for less than 1000. Then this morning, the following tweets gave me the kick that my double espresso failed to deliver:
 Following the link from István, I found the following ProZ group buy notice:

In naked cash terms that is:
Item Company Price (USD) Price (EUR)
SDL Trados Studio 2009 Freelance
Ensure your compatibility with the market leader

TRADOS 995.00 845.00
Total retail price (for 1 item) USD 995.00 EUR 845.00
Translator group buying price USD 495.00 EUR 420.00

Savings = 50.2% (500 usd/eur reduction!)
Please note the following terms:

  • Other currencies - Normally £695 TGB price £350 / Normally – 128,000 Yen TGB price 64,000 Yen


  • Not bad, really. Someone intending to get a new SDL Trados license will indeed save significant money. AFAIK the package still includes the old SDL Trados 2007 Suite and SDLX. Even if you prefer other tools as I do, there may be a case for purchasing a new license of upgrading an old one for better workflows and QA in projects involving multiple tools. For example, memoQ translates SDLXLIFF files from Trados Studio quite nicely, but does not (in version 4.5.71), I believe, set the flag to indicate that the translated segments have been confirmed. That's a minor thing, but in general if a deliverable is called for in some other vendor's format like TXF (Star Transit), TTX (Trados TagEditor) or SDLXLIFF (Trados Studio), there are some advantages to doing final QA checks in those environments to avoid surprises.

    In terms of absolute costs, however, the cut-rate SDL Trados Studio prices for freelance licenses are still more expensive than some other options. OmegaT, for example, costs 420 euros less, unless you want particular features that aren't available and have to "sponsor" these with the developers, and the OmegaT support plan ("RTFM") delivers more value in most cases than SDL plans are rumored to provide. Anaphraseus offers similar value for the money and also saves users 420 euros while also supporting the "we-don't-need-no-stinking-formats" philosophy of those who believe that asking a translator to deal with a word processor's interface is quite enough, thank you. We won't count the opportunity costs involved in these alternatives, because I am informed by reliable sources that there are none ;-)

    Even Kilgray, known for the high cost of memoQ in the opinion of some translators who prefer their CATs to be furry, not fuzzy, routinely offers ProZ group buy pricing and other special packages for significantly less than the 50% off rate now offered by SDL. I paid about 400 euros for my memoQ Pro license a while back, and typical special packages I've seen since then run between 300 and 400 euros.

    I disagree strongly with Renato's suggestion that "free" or at most $99 is the "right" price for a high-end commercial translation environment tool able to support work with dozens of media formats and work efficiently in collaborative environments, mine terminology and apply it for translation and QA, etc. Get real. We've been there and seen that approach (or something close to it) fail: Déjà Vu. Once my favorite tool, this once fine software from Atril has been horribly neglected for most of the past 8 years, with very few upgrades released to fix bugs or add new formats. Users were promised "free upgrades", and we got what we paid for. Frankly, I would have preferred paying a few hundred euros for a tool that helped me earn a comfortable living, so I could see it evolve and benefit from the innovations. I can understand the allergy than many developed to annual support fees through past bad experiences with SDL, but I have the impression that this is improving, and market leaders like Kilgray are legendary for their support and continual improvement of their software products, and such companies earn their support fees and our support as well.

    As I see it, however, the actual cost of most translation environment tools is fairly irrelevant. Even "free" versus 420 euros or so is a bit of a red herring. If I make about 40 euros per hour on average as a translator, and the tool that costs me 420 euros enables me to work 10% more efficiently or take on projects in formats for which I can charge 10% more, I have recouped my cost for the "expensive" tool in about 100 hours of work - typically less than a month. After that, this "expensive" tool is just dumping more money in my bank account. (The reality for me is somewhat different, with an ROI break-even of less than a week based on actual rates and past efficiency measurements with various tools, but I wanted to show that the math works even with more modest rates, efficiency differences of less than half of what I have experienced, and light workloads.)

    And let's not forget support. Someone like me, who has a serious geek streak, can live with the RTFM world of the free tools, where despite occasionally good user communities and some incredibly helpful individuals, you are (rightfully) pretty much on your own to sink or swim. One of the best reasons to invest in a commercial tool for modern, professional translation work, is to have your hand held when necessary by competent people in the UK, Hungary or elsewhere. I'm getting old and have a bad memory these days, but without thinking very hard I can come up with at least half a dozen incidents in the past year where an acquaintance of mine with less technical savvy than my dog has had projects rescued by the legendary Kilgray support department for memoQ. I've heard some similar tales for SDL, and I see very clearly the commitment of excellent employees in both these companies (and others) to making their users' experience more secure and beneficial. And that, my friends, is a part of the balance sheet where freeware and Open Source projects will never look as good.

    10 comments:

    1. Well, Renato, maybe $1.99 would be more appropriate.

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    2. The price war is a sign that something nee adjustment... But I must agree people who claim to be "professionals" should no be unaware that ANY tool whatever pays itself in 1- month... The same goes for training and continued education. I sometimes feel amased (other times, embarassed) by the complaints of colleagues on the price of professional tools.

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    3. It's funny, Guilherme. If you knew that a particular investment was very likely to bring you a 300% return in 6 months, you would probably be eager to put as much money into it as possible as long as the one helping you isn't named Madoff. But the potential returns for the right investment of money and time in a translation environment tool is well beyond that. The hesitation isn't based on fact or logic but on misinformation and/or fear.

      I understand the concerns that many have about the ways in which "support technologies" for translation have sometimes been abused, and I strongly condemn the past practices of those who have tried to commoditize translation and translation quality. If you want to learn some really interesting English vocabulary, put a few shots of Unicum in me and then ask me what I think of the old Trados text count methods that exclude numbers and dates or the idea that any but the highest percentage fuzzy matches actually save real time in a project.

      The best view of these technologies, in my opinion, is that they are quality assurance tools which are useful in many, but not all situations, and their proper use in projects will often depend upon the type and purpose of the text. It should also be kept in mind that some of the objections that these tools adversely affect the flow of marketing or literary texts in many cases, but some of these effects can be offset by appropriate ways of using the tools that may not be widely known.

      So often I hear colleagues say that they "have no need of a CAT tool that handles many formats, because all they ever get offered is text in Microsoft Word files." It would seem to me that their clients know them pretty well, as mine know me: they don't ask me to do Turkish translations, because they know I'm not "equipped" to do them. Nor do my neighbors ask me to haul their horses, because they know I have neither a horse trailer nor a hitch on my car. The ability to handle a wide range of formats was a critical part of the early strategy in building my translation business, and this has been one of my business strategy's biggest successes. I say find out the formats in which information is handled in the areas in which you wish to translate, then find tools that will handle those. It might be the same tool I use - or a different one.

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    4. Maybe they are offering lower prices because a new Trados version is around the corner? Then they can charge again for a licence update.

      Otherwise customers would just stop buying licences waiting for the next version.

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    5. Well, Jordi, someone else suggested the same thing recently, but I'm not making any assumptions. Usually if a new version is released within a short period, those who recently upgraded to the prior version are given the "bump" to the latest version for free. Who knows what SDL will do? I asked, but for now all info related to Studio 2011 is under wraps.

      BTW, those who are readers of Jost Zetsche's Toolkit (everyone should be) may have noticed that a decent discount is offered there for new licenses and upgrades as well. The new license price isn't as good as the ProZ group buy, but the upgrade discount (30%) is the best I see at the moment. The link for that is here.

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    6. It's worth bearing in mind that the ROI offered by improved productivity will only hold true for translators who are currently having to turn down clients because they're getting offered more than they can take on. For anyone who's sitting there twiddling their thumbs for a few hours (or days) between jobs, the outlay may seem considerable and the benefits negligible. I have no idea what proportion of freelance translators fall into the second category, but I imagine there must be a fair few.

      Of course, those who do have unused capacity and have sufficient savvy might wish to reflect on your comments on the business advantage offered by being able to support different formats... but with a few rare exceptions, I suspect most of them (certainly if they've been at it for a few years already) fall into what I call the "yes-but" category - there's always a good reason not to do anything different from what they're doing right now, even if that isn't getting them where they want to be.

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    7. @Marie-Hélène: Reflection is usually a worthwhile thing, something all of us probably need to do more often.

      Those with excess (unused) capacity can obviously benefit in many ways:
      (1) take on projects that requite a CAT tool of some kind, thus using some of that excess capacity;
      (2) work & perform QA more effeciently, thus freeing up more capacity to play or perhaps attracting more work;
      (3) create additional revenue more easily with well-managed customer terminologies (an old favorite of mine); and
      (4) attract new kinds of projects because they can handle additional formats (among other things).

      However, you are right about the "yes, but" - and I find that a good thing. A decade ago it was the reluctance of most translators to use technology like this that left the door wide open for me in a new profession and enabled me to build a large client base quickly while others dithered and wondered if the investment was worthwhile.

      Those who know me personally know that I don't give a damn about "competition" except to hope that it is well-qualified so I can send my best customers to it when I'm busy or feel the need for a time-out. But at the same time, I have come to accept that if others want to slam their heads against stone walls it is their good right to do so, and we should simply learn from those examples without comment and move on. When they recognize the need for an aspirin, there is plenty to go around :-)

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    8. The latest SDL promo discount on Twitter today is at http://oos.sdl.com/asp/products/promotion.asp?PromotionCode=order_SW - 40% on new licenses, 30% on upgrades. And the other day I saw something about 20%. This is the big corporate way of speaking with one voice.

      I actually did put down some tender, legal money for a Trados upgrade that I have been talking about for two years. This will enable me to do more workflow testing and post-process SDLXLIFF files that I translate with memoQ. I did notice a considerable difference in USD and EUR rates thanks to an exchange rate that assumes the dollar is much stronger than it really is. So using my US credit card, the upgrade cost me far less than it would have in euros, less than I would spend for a night out at a good Indian restaurant in London.

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    9. So what is happening then with SDL? Prior to Studio they were getting an annual fee for updates to the classic Trados software; we haven't paid them anything since we bought Studio about 2 years ago ... thank god, because we have hardly used it for lack of time to do some training. And now they've started their summer sales which is good if you haven't got any SDL software but a slap in the face for all those people who bought the software/upgrade at the full price. Are they going to release Studio 2012? Is it worth investing time in learning Studio? It would be nice to know how many translators have 'converted' to Studio -- maybe something for a survey.

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    10. @Annick: I don't know what the current support/upgrade policies are at SDL; I think the old support contracts are available pretty much as always (that was an option when I bought an upgrade recently), but I think the past two years SDL has been finding its feet with the new environment and passing out the service packs without demanding blood for them. Just as well given the propensity of the product to trash many systems. I am in a very bad mood today, because the delays caused trying to deal with trouble from the upgrade install cost me a nice contract. I suspected that there might be trouble given the errors in the MultiTerm tools, but I've been so busy with other matters that I didn't have a reason to do anything with the installation until a few weeks after I put it on, then I spent half the afternoon watching it crash. I had a false sense of security this time, because the last time I tested Studio on another machine it did not lay waste to it. But then that was the *previous* service pack. Today I'm just wishing that the White House would send in a Seal team to extract the good people at SDL, then blow up the rest of the operation, including the ones that created the installer routine for Studio 2009. Maybe I'll feel better about this when I find a few hours to overhaul my system. Or not.

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