Jan 22, 2019

The Ultimate Comparative Screwjob Calculator for translation rates

Some years ago I put out a number of little spreadsheet tools to help independent translators and some friends with small agencies to sort out the new concepts of "discount" created by the poisonous and unethical marketing tactics of Trados GmbH in the 1990s and adopted by many others since then. One of these was the Target Price Defense Tool (which I also released in German).

The basic idea behind that spreadsheet was the rate to charge on what looked to be a one-off job with a new client who came out of nowhere proposing some silly scale of rate reductions based on (often bogus and unusable) matches. So, for example, if your usual rate was USD 0.28 per word and that's what you wanted to make after all the "discounts" were applied, you could plug in the figures from the match analysis and determine that the rate to quote should be USD 0.35, for example.

Click on the graphic to view and download the Excel spreadsheet
Fast forward 11 years. Most of the sensible small agencies run by translators who understand the qualities needed for good text translation are gone, their owners retired, dead or hiding somewhere after their businesses were bought up and/or destroyed by unscrupulous and largely incompetent bulk market bog "leaders" with their Walmart-like tactics. Good at sales to C-level folk, with perhaps a few entertaining "inducements" on the side, but good at delivering the promised value? Not so much in cases I hear. And many of the good translators who haven't simply walked away from the bullshit have agreed to some sort of rate scale based on matching (despite the fact that there is no standard whatsoever on how different tools calculate these "matches" and now with various kinds of new and nonsensical "stealth" matches being sneaked in with little or no discussion).

So now, it's not so much whether a translator will deal with a given rate scale for a one-off job, but more often what the response should be to a new and usually more abusive rate scale proposed by some cost- and throat-cutting bogster who really cares enough to shave every cent that an independent translator can be intimidated to yield, thus destroying whatever remaining incentive there might be to go the extra mile in solving the inevitable unexpected problems one might find in many a text to translate.

And this, in fact, was the question I woke up to this morning. I told the friend who asked to go look for my ancient Target Price Defense Tool, but I was told that it wasn't helpful for the case at hand. (It actually was, but because of the different perspective that wasn't immediately obvious.)

Click on the graphic to view and download the Excel spreadsheet
So I built a new calculation tool quickly before breakfast which did the same calculations but in a little different layout with a somewhat different perspective: the Comparative Screwjob Calculator (screenshot above), because really, the point of these match scales is to screw somebody.

Shortly after that, I was asked to include the calculations of "internal matches" from SDL Trados (which are referred to as "homogeneity" in the memoQ world, stuff that is not in the translation memory but where portions of text in the document or collection of documents have some similarity based on their character strings - NOT their linguistic sense). And of course there are other creatively imagined matches in some calculation grids - for subsegments in larger sentences (expect to get screwed if an author writes "for example" a lot) or based on some sort of loser's machine pseudo-translation algorithms that some monolingual algorithm developer has decided without evidence might save the translator a little effort - cut that rate to the bone!). So I expanded the spreadsheet to allow for additional nonsense match rate types ("internal/other") and to compare a third grid which can be used, for example, to develop a counterproposal if you are currently billing based on an agreed rate scale and a new one is proposed (all the time keeping in view how much you are losing versus the full rate which might very well be getting charged to the end customer anyway).

Click on the graphic to view and download the Excel spreadsheet
The result was the Ultimate Comparative Screwjob Calculator (screenshot above). Now that's probably too optimistic a name for it, because surely those who think only of translators as providers of bulk material to be ground up for linguistic sausage have other ways to take their kilos of flesh for the delivery mix.

If this all sounds a bit ludicrous, that's because it is. I am a big fan of well-managed processes myself; I began my career as a research chemist with a knowledge of multivariate statistical optimization of industrial processes and used this knowledge to save - and make - countless millions for my employers or client companies and save hundreds of jobs for ordinary people. I get it that cost can be a variable in the equation, because starting some 34 years ago I began plugging it in to my equations along with resin mix components and whatnot.

But the objective I never lost sight of was to deliver real value. And that included minimizing defects (applying the Taguchi method or some other modeling technique or just bloody common sense). And ensuring that expectations are met, with all stakeholders (don't you hate that word? it reminds me of a Dracula movie in my dreams where I hold the bit of holly wood in my hand as we open the coffin of thebigword's CEO) protected. That is something too few slick salesfolk in the bulk market bog understand. They talk a lot of nonsense about quality (Vashinatto: "doesn't matter"; Bog Diddley: "no complaints from my clients who don't understand the target language", etc.). But they are unwilling to admit the unsustainable nature of their business models and the abusive toll it takes on so many linguistic service providers.

So use these spreadsheets I made - one and all - if you like. But think about the processes with which you are involved and the rates you need to provide the kind of service you can put your name to. The kind where you won't have to say desperately and mendaciously "It wasn't me!" because economic and time pressures meant that you were unable to deliver your best work. That goes as much for respectable translation companies (there are some left) as well as for independent service professionals who want to commit to helping all their clientele receive what they need and deserve for the long run.


  1. "But the objective I never lost sight of was to deliver real value."
    Hmm, and real value needs real pay.
    Hit the wrong button and lost my comment first time around.
    Adjusting my base word rate upwards to compensate for their now crazy grid is the suggestion I gave to an agency who contacted me out of the blue after several years (I stopped working for them because they were bent on annual currency-shaving schemes involving the scaling of the fuzzy match fiasco in their favour.) They said they would get back to me on that one. They write very slowly, I assume, since the reply is taking weeks.
    Bottom line: I am not interested in tweaking either my own spreadsheet - or the nice one you have provided here - to discover in more precise detail what I can see at a glance: the agency is shaving off too much, and is not factoring in any plus factor for the delivery by any translator of *real value*, despite their knowing full well that each text has extra-textual difficulties and challenges that do not fit into any grid that they have ever come up with.

    1. Exactly, Allison. And that's what all the hamsters and monkey masters lose sight of and why I put that last paragraph in. Spreadsheets like these can be useful for a lot of things, particularly for some to get a quantitative understanding of what some people are trying to pull or to evaluate how some proposed changes might affect them. One thing you can be fairly sure of: *anyone* who proposes some kind of match scale to you is not trying to pay you what your work is probably worth and what would represent a reasonable return on the time put in to develop your skills and achieve a superior result for the work at hand. Once in a while people I work with will say "Hey, you haven't raised your rate X in a while. That's bullshit, you're the best we have. Your rate is now X+Y!" But it happens less than in the days when I was a commercial translation rookie. No bother, really; I can keep myself infinitely amused and solvent in a number of ways. But people need to think of value and common sense a bit more. These days I don't need spreadsheets. I mostly give a quote for a project, and if someone asks for a breakdown, my response will be "Is it in the budget or not?" Yes, I am pleased to give a description of the workflow, explain the points of value, because that is a fair and reasonable aspect of partnership and client relations. People should understand what they are getting and why that is of value. Most of the "competitive" quotes won't have half of what I routinely include in a delivery. If that is worth extra to them or not is their call, but I like to see people go as far as they can with what I can offer them, and if what they want is a Google Translate rework from the 10th grader next door, good for them :-)

  2. Hi Kevin,
    When I click on the graphic to see/download the spreadsheet, I get a "404 Page not found" error.

    For the rest: there still are some translation companies that care for quality. Unfortunately, more and more of them are getting swallowed by the big language sausage providers.

    1. Oops! Messed it up when I updated the graphic. Fixed now!

    2. Or even smaller sausage vendors. Too many have decided to circle the ethical drain with the big bogsters no matter what their size. There are welcome exceptions with the handover to the next generation upon retirement or sale for other reasons last year, but the track record I've seen in the last 12 years or so has left me somewhat cynical about such things. I get especially incensed to hear from Company X (with whom I have never dealt) quoting old business data from Y that is now part of the same "group" but lacking the respectable practices of that fish Y the group swallowed.

  3. Hi, Kevin,
    Clicking on the third (last) image opens an Error not found webpage and no Excel spreadsheet. Maybe the link is broken?

    Mario Chávez
    Localization specialist

  4. Thanks a lot for this interesting blog and the calculator!

  5. Very interesting reading, Kevin, thanks for sharing.

    I have the habit of sending my usual quote to translation agencies (let's say, x USD/word) and then, when they reply asking for fuzzy match discounts, I usually say "That's okay. If you want discount for fuzzies, no problem, but in that case my rate is 1.3 times 'x')."

    But you took the thing to a whole new level ��


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