I am not a person who likes to gossip. I'm also not a person who likes to speak ill of others. While other people can spend hours talking about the goings-on of people around them, I simply tune out the din and go about my business. But what I saw today on the popular Facebook group run by the owner of a translation agency stopped me dead in my tracks, and I feel I have to talk about it. As the saying goes, I'm mad as hell and I'm not gonna take it anymore.
Try to look at this and not clench your fists even a tiny bit.
For those who are not in the industry or those who are not in the know, there has been great debate as of late over the state of the industry and more importantly, the state of our rates. Just as the name suggests, as freelancers we are free to set our rates (and agencies and direct clients are free to accept or decline them). The natural supply and demand of the market dictates what it can and cannot support. Logically, I'm there. Yet for some reason I can't shake the uncomfortable feeling I get reading this post, and let me tell you why:
1. It was written by a man who claims to be an agency owner and freelancer.
One would think that a freelancer would know that these rates are not exorbitant at all. This particular person purports to be the owner of an exclusive boutique agency focusing on quality and excellence. Excellence doesn't come cheap. Do you think he's able to work with excellent translators with that attitude or furthermore with those rates? In fact, I don't put much stock in what he says at all: it's highly likely that this translator is able to get plenty of agency work asking those rates, which brings me to my next point...
2. Those rates actually are the industry average for that country and language combination.
According to this study carried out by the Sindacat national des traducteurs professionnels, France's translating association, those rates are entirely average and would put this translator right in the middle of the pack. It could very well be that this translator is used to getting 28 cents or more when working for direct clients, so this isn't even an outlandish request.
3. It presents a false dichotomy. Great translators aren't always great businesspeople.
There's a reason that the stereotype of a translator is that of a person attached at the hip to his dictionaries, preferring to work alone and pass his time reading a book or sipping some tea in blissful solitude. By no fault of their own, most translators are just bad businesspeople. Hell, most translation programs don't even include classes on how to run a business; it's no wonder that some translators prefer to do what they do best - work with words.
The fact remains that you could be the best translator in the world but you will not gain direct clients unless you know how to sell, or hire someone who can do it for you. Why should that affect a rate you are entitled to ask for your translation services?
4. Since when do agencies work against translators?
Back when I first started, agencies were more likely to help translators. In fact, when I first started, it seemed that agencies were happier to accept higher rates asked by translators. After all, happy translators = better work = a more satisfied client = return business, right? And everyone knows that a client who truly seeks excellence will recognize the value of paying a premium for top notch work.
Nobody is saying it's illegal for an agency to make a profit, but at what point do you take a profit in exchange for bringing hardly anything to the table at all? Building upon point 4, an agency's job is to market to clients, seek out translators and bring them together to produce magic; in other words, agencies act as a middleman and manage projects. Good, honest agencies are worth their weight in gold as there is no end to the work they do (marketing, courting translators, finding steady work, managing projects, proofreading if necessary, organizing business meetings, attending conventions and conferences, setting up interpretation etc.). But let's be honest: in today's era where anyone with an internet connection can pretend to be an "agency," there are too many fly by night companies that demand a cut of your fee which they really haven't proven to be worth.
5. It's just plain ugly.
I think the worst offense is the ugliness of this post. It's just plain mean for two reasons:
It should be noted that after serious and understandable backlash from the numerous freelancers this agency owner panders to on his website, he took this down. Guess he felt ashamed of his actions; I certainly would. I can only hope that the translator he so politely spoke of did not have to witness it.
We can all do better than this.
About the Author
Audra de Falco is a freelance Italian, Spanish, French and Sicilian to English translator based in New York, NY. She has been working in the industry since 2003 and is an advocate of fair industry practices and translators' rights.