Dec 21, 2008

Standard rates in Germany: the JVEG

There is occasionally a lot of grumbling to be heard among translators about "just rates" and the desirability of "standard rates". For some reason a lot of the grumblers seem to be French or otherwise lost in a Neo-Marxist fog which my mind can't quite penetrate. Aside from the sheer impracticability of trying to regulate an international market which can operate largely by e-mail and money transfers by any means, notions of "just" may vary considerably. Translation is a business like any other, and a successful business here depends on a lot more than just linguistic skill. If a translator can't or won't deal with these other factors to make the business successful and insists on thinking like an employee, then it's time to get an in-house job somewhere or move on to another field. On bad translation days, dog training sounds pretty good to me.

In any case, this Mecca of standard rates does in fact exist in a few areas. In 2004 the JVEG (Justizvergütungs- und -entschädigungsgesetz, Judicial Remuneration and Compensation Act) replaced the previous more generous law governing payment for translators, interpreters and others providing services. The new law provoked fury in some quarters, as it forced rate reductions of 30% or more on many service providers. Although the new law allows for higher rates to be charged for particularly difficult texts, in many jurisdictions, the bean counters insist on paying the minimum rate uniformly, and invoices for higher amounts have to be collected by a lawsuit.

Section 11 of the JVEG specifies the conditions for compensating translators. Here is my translation of that section:

Section 11 - Fee for translations
  1. The fee for a translation amounts to 1.25 euros for each 55 keystrokes or fraction thereof in the written text. If the translation is considerably more difficult, in particular due to the use of technical terms or due to poor legibility of the text, the fee increases to 1.85 euros; in the case of extraordinarily difficult texts it is 4 euros. The target language text is the standard for the number of keystrokes; if, however, Latin characters are used only in the source language, the number of keystrokes in the source language text is the standard. If counting the keystrokes is associated with excessive effort, their number is determined by taking into account the average number of keystrokes per line and counting the lines.
  2. For one or more translations which are part of the same order, the minimum fee is 15 euros.
  3. Insofar as the service of the translator consists of reviewing documents or telecommunication recordings for specific content without the need of preparing a written translation for these, the fee received will be that of an interpreter.
Section 9, Paragraph 3 of the JVEG specifies that interpreters are to be remunerated at a rate of 55 euros per hour. Mind you, not everyone gets this rate, certainly not if doing court work through an agency. I remember berating one friend of mine a few years ago for driving through a snowstorm in her old car while 8 months pregnant to make 15 euros per hour while her agency billed 55 euros per hour for her services. I really think a more reasonable distribution of the fee would have been appropriate in that and other cases.

According to my calculations using my rate equivalency spreadsheet, the basic line rate of 1.25 euros in target text for German to English is equivalent to 18.5 euro cents per source word, which at today's USD exchange rate is USD 0.26 - an acceptable, but by no means outstanding rate on the European market.

Some of you reading this and other recent posts on rates in Germany may see the rates as low. In some cases I certainly do, particularly with regard to the published agency rates. Offering high quality specialist services one can usually do better with agencies that have good marketing skills. Others who are scratching for USD 0.10 or worse in my language pair may think of this as "pie in the sky", but trust me - it isn't. If you offer good quality, market your services in a reasonable way and stand firm on your prices, you can do much better than that even if you live in India. I am very sure of that, because I know what some of my customers are paying to appropriately qualified specialist translators in India. At a certain level of quality or above, good rates should and can be considered as independent of local conditions in today's Internet market.


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  2. Well said, Kevin. More often than I am comfortable with, pricing negotiations are so far off the mark. You have brought up some really good points for getting a more even-handed view of the playing field. One statement often heard is also: "There is more, way more coming." When I ask my customer to show me the quantity and include it in what they are asking me to bid on, I am often met with silence.


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