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, TranslatorsCafé 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:
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, TranslatorsCafé, 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.