A Funny Thing Happened at TranslationDirectory

Well more than two years ago, I registered at TranslationDirectory. Since then, I have regularly received their emails offering translation jobs in my language pair, Italian>English.

Quite naturally, I have never accepted—or even applied for—a single one of those jobs. And that is because TranslationDirectory—exactly like ProZ, TranslatorsCafĂ© and other jobbers of their ilk—specializes in submarket, cut-rate offers; in the case of TranslationDirectory, the vast majority of those offers originate in India or countries in the former Soviet Union.

In other words, TranslationDirectory’s business plan requires finding untried translators willing to work for starvation wages for clients who care more about price than about quality.

Because TranslationDirectory’s business plan actively interferes with mine—which is to earn a decent living for my experience and hard work—my only contact with their peanuts-paying outsourcers has been to send the occasional profane, outraged email when I received a particularly slimy offer.

But in late 2010, TranslationDirectory decided to change its policy and, on October 23, sent this email to all of its translator-members:

Dear Translator,

We are happy to announce that, based on your feedback, we have added a compulsory field into our job posting form:

“We will pay for this job: EUR per word/EUR per hour”

The minimum offered for translators is set to 0.04 EUR per word or 5 EUR per hour.

We hope this will greatly improve the quality of the jobs posted at TranslationDirectory.com.

Now, let’s be clear: “0.04 EUR per word or 5 EUR per hour” remains an offensive, bargain-basement rate that no translator worthy of the adjective “professional” should accept. TranslationDirectory’s pigmy pay is for tiny translators.

TranslationDirectory also continues to degrade translators by allowing outsourcers to tell translators what they will pay—indeed, every single TranslationDirectory email offer comes with that subject line: “Job XXXXXXXX: Totally Unserious Translation Seeks Translators, we will pay 0.05 EUR per word (message sent through TranslationDirectory.com).”

But here is what is interesting. Following TranslationDirectory’s October 2010 announcement, the number of Italian>English job offers at the new minimum has INCREASED rather than decreased. What’s more, the exact same outsourcers who once offered €0.01-0.02 per word—I know they are the same ones because I kept the angry emails I sent to them in response to their former offers—continue to post on TranslationDirectory. Now, however, they somehow manage to come up with €0.04-0.05/word.

The moral of this story is this: If an online jobber like TranslationDirectory sets a minimum, outsourcers raise their offers to meet it. In March 2010, a large group of translators tried to get ProZ to do the same thing. After much dissembling and sham-cooperation, ProZ refused.

Seven months of watching TranslationDirectory job offers, however, demonstrate that it would likely have worked. ProZ could have made a difference in the lives of translators. ProZ chose not to.

The problem is not—as we are so often told—a question of what the market will bear or that “the free market sets the rates.” Online jobbers like TranslationDirectory, ProZ, TranslatorsCafĂ©, et al. set the rates—usually arbitrarily—and have a profound impact on  our lives as they do so.

We won’t say that TranslationDirectory has taken a step in the right direction—its actions and its approach remain inadequate. But TranslationDirectory did what it did in response to protests from translators, and the results suggest two things: a) that unified efforts on the part of translators can and do have an effect and b) that the desire of poor-mouthing outsourcers to profit on the backs of translators can be resisted.

Outsourcers should pay more but, more importantly, they can pay more. The fact that they don’t is not a reflection of “market forces”; it’s a reflection of greed.

Keep protesting. Keep making your outrage known. And keep your colleagues in mind whenever you negotiate rates or accept a cut-rate job.

Solidarity remains the only strategy that can work.

11 Responses to A Funny Thing Happened at TranslationDirectory

  1. Simone says:

    In my pair (English>German), the subject line has indeed changed and now the minimum is a glorious 4 cent or 5 cent or 5 Eur/hr or whatever. However, if you do go to the site and read the full text, they often sneak in their REAL rate, and even if they don’t, once you get in touch with them, they’ll inform you that their real rate is still significantly lower. Even worse, there seems to be a tendency now to lure translators to their ads with intentionally fake prices. Again and again, I receive mails with “we pay 0.10 EUR per word” in the subject line, only to read in their ad “the information entered is only for xyz reasons, please, state your most competitive rate, we’re on a tight budget, yaddayaddayadda..” In fact, nothing has changed in my language pair. Thus, it’s important to spread the word (as you do here) and make sure that quality still has its price.

  2. Paulina says:

    @Simone – this is exactly the problem I expected after reading the article. However, I still believe that setting a price limit can help. Some clients might not be aware of translation costs and offer low prices simple out of ignorance. One of my colleagues has received an offer at… EUR 0.002 per word. With price limits, such offers would not appear, because clients would realise that this is not the money you pay to translators.

    • Rosario says:

      Thank you Paulina. Just received a “bulk translation” site, offering 1 cent a word. It is insulting to even consider it, so I let them know how I felt.

  3. Exactly my experience. In two years of being signed up with TranslationDirectory not once have I seen a decent rate offered, and some of the posts resort to glaringly-obvious trickery. I’ve made up my mind: I’m adding them to the Blocked Senders list this minute.

  4. finebetty says:

    I agree completely – my only problem is the world wide web – which means these offers are open to people across the globe and in many countries 5 euros an hour is the equivalent of 15 to 20 (25?) here in western Europe – still not good pay for a qualified, experienced translator but I know plenty who have worked for ten euros an hour in Europe to get started. And that to me is the biggest dilemma – how to find the balance for translators in all countries, to help translators in the “east” (from eastern Europe to Asia) get a living wage too while accepting that they can afford to charge less and live well than those in the west – and at the same time to try and quash the cheapo agencies employing non-natives or unqualified natives to do a substandard job for a pittance!? How to explain that an Indian speaker of English might not be the best option for an advertising campaign in Ireland or vice versa or that a German who studied English isnt always right when insisting that “have to” is slang and you must always use “must”….
    Its hard – a friend of mine lives in India, I live in Germany – both of us are equally qualified and experienced, she can charge less… so I do somewhat understand the problem for sites like the directory, proz etc but I think it should be easy enough to work out that there is no country in the world where 0.01-0.02 cents can be acceptable – and at least bringing in a minimum of minimum standards might contribute slightly to raising awareness among both unscrupulous clients – and unsuspecting new translators.

  5. Olaf says:

    After reading this I had a look at TranslationDirectory out of curiousity. They have menu items like “Admire God’s Creations” that links to a page with pictures of flowers. Just bizarre! Then panic struck me and I thought that maybe I registered with them myself at some point in the past but luckily I coudn’t find my name in the directory.

    I like flowers too, that’s not the problem…

  6. I entered their database few days ago, after having seen some apparently decent job/rate, but I was then able to understand that apart Indian, Chinese and similar agencies that offer very low rates, whose offer good ones are 99% scammers or simply banned from prozzozz and similar
    this is why I’m just removing my account from them

  7. postcronicita says:

    This is the problem: every employer’s trying to save a buck by exploiting people who *think* they have no option – that’s because these workers are like the slave protecting their master and have no idea what resistance is all about. So if we had say, a general strike (!) then we could make them give rates we also approve of. I betcha two days would suffice. But everybody’s scared they won’t have enough money to barely scrape an existence, which is where the system wants you anyway.

    Meanwhile, on Wall St… A psycho banker (I’m being metonymical here) is destroying the economy using derivatives, fraudulently inducing debt in sovereign countries so they can afterwards “help them” by buying them out with trillions in hedge funds. I mean… this is the feudalistic system we’re living in, just in case anyone still thinks it’s a free effin’ market. It’s indentured *servitude*.

  8. Nato Kvavilashvili says:

    Hello, could you please advise me some decent, legitimate online translation web sites that are actually trustworthy?

    Thank You


  9. Interesting article. I have received lots of emails from translation directory also. I’m already used to it… Not sure if I should be excited or sorry for myself…

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