Many of us who have dealt with an international clientele have encountered different approaches to counting text for charging translations. Charging by the word is probably the most common practice, but in various places one might encounter calculations per hundred words (Australia), thousand words (UK), "lines" (common in the German-speaking countries), "standard" pages or other units. Then, of course, there is the matter of charging by the source text count or by the target text count.
These issues are discussed at great length and with great passion by many translators, some of whom are convinced that only certain methods protect one against being "cheated" with particular language combinations. I can't judge the validity of this belief for every language, but when I hear that opinion expressed for the language pair I work in, I know it is nonsense. In September 2008, I published an article on a translator's portal (since removed and found here) as well as a spreadsheet tool to help inject a little quantitative thinking into the debate.
Careful analysis of various types of documents show that the rates can be converted between all the common methods of calculation with very low standard deviations. Thus if you calculate the conversion factors between different methods (for example source words versus target lines), on the average (i.e. after doing a number of jobs) your earnings will be pretty much the same as if you had calculated using your familiar method. Individual jobs may be a bit more or a bit less, but it's important - unless you are looking at a one-off job for a client whom you will never deal with again - to take a long-term perspective and accommodate client requests if a quotation by a particular method is requested. I usually charge by source lines off 55 characters each (including spaces); if a British customer asks for a quotation in GBP per 1000 words, that's not a problem. (Well, given the rapidly dropping pound it might be, but currency exchange is another kettle of fish altogether. Maybe I'll deal with that another day.)
The Excel spreadsheet I put together is designed to make rate comparisons between two types of texts and to track hourly earnings on individual jobs. After all, what is most important isn't the rate per word/line/page/etc. but how much you earn for a given amount of your time.
Alessandra Muzzi of Amtrad Services in Italy has put together a very nice online fee conversion calculator (as well as a downloadable spreadsheet). This has been around for a number of years and is much more user-friendly than my spreadsheet, but comparisons between text types are more difficult (you have to enter data in two different workbooks) and there is no tracking feature for hourly earnings. Still, for getting a quick idea of how one calculation method can be converted to another, her tools are quicker and easier to use than mine.
Update September 16, 2012:
After realizing recently that this tool has been unavailable for a longer period after a domain change, I reviewed it for current relevance and
decided to add it to the growing Sodrat Suite for Translation Productivity,
part of an Open Source resistance movement to the abusive complexities
of ill-conceived technology in the translation profession.
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