- Capable and Cheap: An Irresistible Combination
If tomorrow I were to decide to launch my product on a new market, I would find out what my competitors were charging and offer my product at a slightly cheaper rate. That's the price you pay for starting out. But you can be sure I would keep on bearing in mind what my competitors were charging and the market price for what I was selling in order to eventually equal it or (why not?), even charge a bit more as soon as I could. After all, my product is worth it.
Many Argentine colleagues are today receiving job offers from international agencies, but at local prices. I myself recently received an invitation to join a team of translators run from the UK...at Argentine rates. What can I say?
Better said, what can't I say? I can say quite a lot, in fact. And in words that serve to inform and alert others.
How does this happen? Take the case of a well known sportswear company (let's call it...'Pike'). Pike contracts cheap labor anyplace in the world, anywhere that the current situation makes it convenient. Well, a lot of translation agencies do exactly the same. But what they're contracting isn't "cheap labor" like 'Pike' to make athletic gear, but rather, "cheap intellect". And the current foreign exchange situation in Argentina makes the country's translators a tempting target. This isn't due to some whim on the part of my compatriots, but to the currently capricious nature of the country's exchange rate, in which a rate of US$ 0.03 or US$ 0.04 converts into a rate similar to what is often paid locally in pesos.
So of course, the Joe Blow Translation Agency is able to find highly capable translators (most of them graduates of four or five-year courses of study), people who are academically well prepared, cheap and (for the time being) unwary. The temptation is enormous.
I admit that I have turned this cross-indexing of rates into a pet peeve and raise my voice against it every chance I get. Not because I have any particular ambition to run for "town crier", but rather because my own professional future is at risk.
Last year, I was selected to form part of a project team along with other Argentine translators. First came joy and then disappointment. The Joe Blow Translation Agency had put out an offer on the same project to translators in Spain 15 days earlier, but when they found out that they could obtain a better margin in Argentina because of the current local situation, they cancelled the project in Europe and disembarked in my country. Here they only offered to pay three U.S. cents a word. Needless to say, I pulled out of the project immediately.
Converting frustration into anger can be very positive. So I called a meeting to expose this opportunistic maneuver and seek a solution. The meeting confirmed what I had suspected: Many local colleagues had no idea about international rates, nor did they realize that they were being taken advantage of due to our current reality. Many of you might be really surprised to learn just how many excellent (and well known) Argentine translators haven't the slightest idea what Money Gram and other ways of receiving payment from abroad are, nor are they familiar with billing methods and other bureaucratic details for dealing with the international market.
Clearly, it is logical to expect that, due to the deep crisis in which Argentina is immersed, many translators have found it necessary to accept this kind of foul play. Regarding the case in point, I myself wrote in the ProZ website's Spanish Forum (to which I am an assiduous contributor) that I can only be sure of maintaining my principles regarding rates as long as I can keep money in my billfold. But what will happen tomorrow if I don't have enough money to feed my daughter? I can't answer that. And you probably couldn't either until you found yourself in that position.
Some, but not all, colleagues already find themselves in this difficult and disadvantaged situation. These are the ones who are accepting work at rates of three or four U.S. cents. Obviously, we feel for them, but the trick must be to hold their number to a bare minimum. A handful of translators that accept such rates aren't enough to wreck the market. There will come a moment in which agencies won't be able to find any more translators in this situation (let's call them "cheap out of need"), and then they'll call me and I'll sweetly tell them no. And then they'll call others and they'll also sweetly say, “What?! Three U.S. cents on an international rate? No way, José!”
Being in the Know
Once we know what the situation is out there (how much the guy in the next store down is charging), then it becomes utterly unacceptable for an Argentine translator to take on a job at US$0.03, knowing full well that an agency in the United States is accustomed to paying, say, US$0.10 per word, and that they even calculate their budgets on the basis of that rate.
If in order to maintain our piece of the market we accept a rate of US$0.09, I would call it logical, a question of supply and demand, of competitiveness and all the rest, right? Let our colleagues get out there and fight for market share based on quality or on any added-value factors they have and can. But offering yourself directly at US$0.03 (without even putting up a fight!!!!!) is an ignoble suicide (if such a thing ever existed) that I for one simply cannot understand. Short-term thinking, mediocrity and short-sightedness all have the same price.
I hope all of my Argentine colleagues can gain access to the kind of information necessary to set fair playing rules for everyone. It's fine for the international agencies to know what the local rates are in each country so as to take the decisions that are most convenient for them (that's their business, after all). But translators should make it their business to also know what the international rates are and to make their own moves accordingly. This is our business and our future.
Translated by Dan Newland