The cost for translation services
So, you’re the owner of a company and you want to translate some marketing materials into Spanish. You hop online and start to look for translation services. However, you get frustrated because most companies’ websites don’t give you the answers you need, right?
Well, there’s a reason for that.
Translation pricing – how does it work?
Before you buy anything, you like to know how much you’ll be spending on that product or service.
And you’re right to want to know!
You should be able to quantify the value you get for the money you pay, and in order to do that you need to know how much something costs.
But with translation, it’s different. You won’t find many translation agencies listing their prices for translation services on their websites. Why? Because each translation project is its own unique job with many variables involved in determining its price.
Sure, there are companies out there that list their pricing on their websites. However, I would be hesitant to work with them in a professional capacity due to their blind approach.
Let’s discuss the cost for translation services and what you can expect so you can be an informed—and empowered—consumer!
Pricing models for translation services
In our industry, there are four main ways of charging for translation services: per word, per page, per hour, and flat fee.
Depending on the language combination and location of the agency, companies may also charge per character, per line, per cartella (an Italian invention), or other ways.
However, these are not as common as the Big 4 mentioned above—namely, word, page, hour, flat fee.
1. Per word
This is the most common unit you will encounter. Many translators and companies charge for their services per word.
Per-word pricing is considered the fairest method for all parties involved. This is because the actual effort involved in translating a document may vary from translator to translator.
For example, a document containing 2,000 words may take one translator 8 hours to translate, while another can do it in 4.
Paying per word helps you keep project costs under control as opposed to paying per hour.
Per-word pricing can be charged based on source or target word count, depending on your needs. For example, if the source word count is 2,000 and you are being charged $0.30 per word. Then your total cost will be $600.
But let’s say your document is a PDF that cannot be easily converted into an editable file. You might receive a quote for translation per target word. If translating from English to Spanish, your target count will increase roughly 20% in the Spanish version due to expansion.
In other words, 2,000 English words may become 2,400 Spanish words after translation, and your bill would come out to $720. Be aware of the differences in paying per source word or per target word.
2. Per page
Sometimes you will be charged to translate your content based on the number of pages in your document.
Per page pricing is best used for documents where an electronic word count cannot be obtained. A good example would be a scanned PDF such as court documents, medical records, or the like. Vital records and academic transcripts and diplomas are also often charged on a per page basis.
Per page pricing is determined either on a flat fee basis or by an estimate number of words on a single page.
Let’s say you have 40 pages of medical records you need translated. We’ll assume there are roughly 500 words of content on each page.
The content may be typed and may also include handwriting as well, so an electronic word count cannot be easily obtained. Your translation company quotes you $100 per page.
The total price for this project would be $4,000.
That sounds expensive and there is a chance you could pay less, since not all pages probably have 500 words of content. They way to ask for more a precise quote is to get a word count.
In order to do this, you should provide the translation company with editable files wherever possible and avoid scanned PDFs. You can also work together with the agency to come up with an hourly fee, which is our next point.
3. Per hour
It’s not very often that companies charge for translation services by the hour. This is because it is hard to estimate the amount of effort each translation project will take.
However, per hour pricing is common when quoting for editing and updating content that has already been translated.
For example, that 2,000 word document you had translated into Spanish now needs an update. You update a few paragraphs in the English version and send it to your translation company so they can update their Spanish version accordingly. It may be more cost effective for both parties to bill hourly for this revision work.
However, sometimes when you make many revisions (or when many revisions are needed to an already translated document), your source content may suddenly yield a whole new document. In such cases it may be more cost effective to simply re-translate from scratch rather than having it revised.
4. Flat fee
When per word, per page, or per hour pricing just doesn’t make sense, you may get a flat fee estimate.
Perhaps the biggest downside to flat fee pricing is you don’t get the fine details of what you are actually paying for.
Be ready to pay a minimum price to language service providers for small projects!
Any document that contains up to 250 words is considered a small project. Please note that this number is arbitrary, and some companies have different thresholds for a project to fall under the minimum fee category.
In other words, whether you need 10 or 250 words translated, you will still pay a minimum fee. This covers not only the translation part of the project but also other related tasks such as project management and revision.
Putting it all together: factors determining price
Now that you’re an expert on the most common translation pricing models, you’ll also need to understand other factors that determine price. They include:
1. Complexity of the subject matter
How complex is the subject matter of your content?
Does it require research or special knowledge? Would it be difficult to write, even in the source language?
If you have highly technical or specialized content requiring a certain expertise, be prepared to pay for it.
When your source document was difficult to write and its author was an expert on the subject matter, it is a safe bet that your translator will need to have equal writing skills and expertise to turn out an equivalent document.
Be extremely cautious of companies that provide you with the same pricing regardless of subject matter. If it’s quality you want, you need to budget accordingly.
2. Language combination
Some languages have more translators than others and are also more in demand.
Following the laws of supply and demand, the rarer your language combination the more you can expect to pay for it.
At Metropolitan Translations, we often see requests for English to Spanish and vice versa. As a result, we can offer competitive pricing for those language combinations. The same can be said for other language servicecompanies as well, as long as they have a specific language combination that is more in demand than others.
When you have a rare language such as Marshallese, a competitive price similar to Spanish is impossible to achieve.
So, if you need a translation in a rare combination or a combination in which not many translators work (for example, there are very few native English speakers translating from Dutch), be prepared to pay a premium.
3. Turnaround time
How quickly do you need your content translated?
A good, realistic turnaround time is anything under 2,500 words a day for a single translator. Some translators can translate up to 3,500 words or more but this is not standard.
You should note that this estimate is for translation only. It does not include editing and proofreading by additional translators. Any translation company worth its salt will insist on providing these services to ensure their work is ready for publishing.
Thus, it takes more like 2 or 3 days to translate, edit, and proofread a 2,000 word document and get it ready for use.
Can a project like this still be completed in less than 24 hours?
But you’d be looking at paying rush fees since you’re pressing for a quicker turnaround time than usual. Ideally, stick with the 2-3 day turnaround time for a 2,000 word translation that also includes editing and proofreading to avoid rush fees.
4. Volume of work
Are you looking to form a solid working relationship with your language service provider or do you have a one-off document you need translated?
The translation company is more likely to give you preferential pricing if you’re willing to make a volume commitment. This has an added bonus: the company can “book” your translator for your committed work, giving them a steady workflow and providing your translations with a single, unifying voice.
Customers translating 300-page user manuals every quarter will see a greater volume discount than those translating a one-time marriage certificate.
They may be able to give you a discount on pricing for your ongoing commitment.
5. Intelligibility of the source document
Is your source text hard to read or understand?
If your document makes the work of the translator more difficult, you can expect to pay more.
When documents contain false information (which the client asks to be corrected), is unclear or illegible, or is handwritten, your language service provider has to dedicate more time to managing it effectively.
This equals to a premium for content that is hard to understand or work with.
6. Formatting and DTP requirements
Your content may not be a simple MS Word document. You might have graphics, charts, tables, and other visual content.
It may even be laid out in Adobe InDesign or another popular content creation tool.
This now takes a simple translation project and adds an extra level of complexity. Advanced formatting and DTP (desktop publishing) services are usually billed per hour as a separate line item.
As you create your documents, keep in mind that you will have to budget for them to be typeset.
So, it’s apples to apples… right?
Now that you’re feeling more confident about your ability to understand translation pricing, you’re ready to shop for translation services as an educated consumer.
Your instinct tells you to make an apples to apples comparison of translation companies, right?
If it’s a true apples to apples comparison, you should go for the most cost effective option, no?
Here’s where you should stop. Consider what it is that you’re getting for the price you’re paying.
Some companies may charge for translation only, but you think you’re getting editing or proofreading. Those could be priced out separately.
Or worse, a company may be charging you pennies on the dollar but simply running your documents through a machine translation tool and presenting the finished product as theirs.
So, how do you avoid such experiences?
Always clarify what is included in the price of a translation, whether quoted per word or any other way. Otherwise, you can’t make a fair comparison. You may end up spending less up front but it will cost more in the long run.
What’s a fair price?
When you see a translation company charging pennies for professional human translation services, run.
It’s an immediate red flag. I’ll show you why.
As mentioned before, the average translator can handle up to 2,000 words of content per day. Let’s take that number and divide it by an 8-hour work day. That leaves you with about 250 words per hour.
You find a company offering translation services for $0.04 a word. Multiply 250 words by $0.04/word. That comes out to $10 an hour.
The company needs to keep some of it as profit since they’re outsourcing to a contracted translator. The translator will probably end up getting less than $8.00 and hour for his or her work.
I don’t know any professionals that get paid less than $8.00 an hour. Do you?
I would absolutely question the abilities of a company that’s charging such a low price and claiming to provide professional translations. I’d also question the abilities of the translator willing to accept those rates. Find out more about the real cost of cheap translations here.
It simply doesn’t make sense.
In order to attract the kinds of expert translators whose work they can be proud of, reputable translation companies need to offer a fair rate to their translators. Skilled translators have years of experience, advanced degrees, and maintain professional licensing and memberships—they are every bit as professional as a lawyer, accountant, or doctor and deserve to be compensated accordingly. There is no way around this!
You’re now an expert on all things translation pricing.
You’ve learned about different pricing models and factors that impact how your translation is priced. Most importantly, you’ve learned what to look out for when shopping around for translation services.
With this information, you now have the tools to make a truly informed decision when buying translation services.
Don’t be fooled by companies offering unbeatably low prices.
If their prices look too good to be true, they probably are.
What other questions do you have translation pricing? Ask them in the comments below!