The last question in particular has been extensively debated (See this recent article by the Freelancery and the response by Thoughts on Translation). I’ve thought it over too, and done the “put them up, take them down” thing several times. For now I've concluded that I’m sitting on the fence, with leanings towards the no-camp. Hence, my site doesn’t have a “rates” or “fees” tab. I do mention cost at the top of my FAQ page, where I explain that prices depend on the complexity of the text, the formatting, etc. At the moment I also have a “prices start from X” type sentence, but I’m still pondering the usefulness of it.
What might be more useful is to explain what factors influence the cost of a (human) translation. While I understand potential clients might prefer to see immediately what they can expect to pay, it simply is true that cost depends on many things, and that giving a standard ‘price per word’ isn’t particularly helpful. Not to the translator, at least - all it seems to do is leave me out of pocket when said standard rate is applied to a document that is decidedly un-standard.
So what is it, then, that makes translation jobs non-standard? When you pay for a translation, what do actually get for your money? Or, conversely, what do you need to think about before you quote your price as a translator? Thinking about that might not answer the publish/don’t publish question, but at least everyone will know what to expect (ish).
‘Reading’ the thing
In an ideal world, I’d get everything sent to me as a word file. It takes second to feed into a CAT (Computer-Assisted Translation) tool and if I need to look something up I simply copy-paste the term(s) into an online dictionary.
However, often the reality involves reams of un-editable PDFs. If I want to use my CAT tool (which I usually do) these PDFs have to be converted into readable files using OCR (optical character recognition) software. OCR processing can be time-consuming, especially with Asian characters or poor quality scans. The same goes for image files, with colour images being particularly difficult to process.
If I don’t do the OCR processing to use a CAT tool I’m slightly slower too, so either way: un-editable file = extra time = more expensive.
Most translators specialise in a limited number of fields. The theory behind this is that the best translations are produced by those who have an understanding of the broader context of the original document. Nevertheless, even so-called ‘experts’ don’t know everything about their field, particularly if that field is fast-moving. I see this with patents; a 15-year-old physics patent may be straightforward and involve only well-known technology, but a recent one could throw up concepts so new that no equivalent term has yet been thought of in my target language. Coming up with one requires significant research.
Even in less extreme situations, any translator worth their salt will have homework to do. Who is the target readership? Does the text need adapting to suit the conventions of this readership? Are there multiple ways of saying the same thing in the target language, and if so, which is most commonly used whilst still conveying the original meaning? Answering these questions takes time, which should be reflected in the final price.
Japanese text takes up less space than English text. As a result, I often spend hours trying to squash my translations back into their little powerpoint text boxes. Dealing with tables and graphics also takes time. Indeed, formatting the translated text as a whole to look the same as the original can be quite a job, especially if that original was not an editable file (see above). Hence, if you want to preserve formatting, you can expect to pay for more than just the word-for-word translation.
I’m sure there are other factors that influence the cost of a translation. What do you think?