Posts Tagged ‘Agencies’

The three wise monekysLast week, the No Peanuts! Movement, which this blog proudly endorses, was featured in an article on the Translation Guy Blog. I used to like that blog, so I was pretty excited when I saw the title of the post on my iGoogle page, and thought the awareness was spreading.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. What I found was instead a particularly weak effort to dismiss the whole movement as little more than a cartel of greedy and unrealistic translators with backwards tendencies. I left a comment, politely addressing what I thought were rather poor arguments, but it was never approved. The same, I think, happened with Wendell Ricketts’ comment, and possibly more. Only one comment appears on the page, conveniently praising the “great article.”

Being Wendell Ricketts the creator of the No Peanuts! blog, though, it would have been a show of basic decency to let him express his view with a reply. That’s what blogging should be about, right? Interaction, the free flow of ideas, the confrontation of different arguments. Most importantly, if someone talks about you, you’d like to have a chance to reply, wouldn’t you? That was not the case. Ah, but wait, Ken Clark, the self-styled Translation Guy, is first and foremost the owner of a huge translation agency. It’s all starting to make sense, now.

Given that my comment was not approved and that I had something to say about this, all I can do is turn it into a post. I’d simply like to analyse a few passages. Take this one, a bad attempt at being patronising:

Ready to throw down your chains, translation workers? Here’s how to do it: Hold the line on your pricing, and tell your clients why. Take back control from the mega-agencies, and don’t bid cheap. Boycott the bad guys, and tell others about them. Don’t be reduced to servitude, and keep the scabs from scabbing. And don’t panic.

Whoops. Too late on that last one, because the whole site just screams “panic” to me. Sorry, guys. […] The great wheel of commerce crushes all in its path.

Panic? What panic? No Peanuts! for Translators simply promotes better practices, which are beneficial for translators and their clients. On the other hand, it exposes practices that are self-destructive for our industry. No panic at all, to the point that we are willing to turn down offensive offers. In the parlance of youth, we’re chilled as, man. Of course, as we said, the guy runs an agency, so in a way it makes sense that he completely ignores the main point – agencies are middle men and cutting them out can often be beneficial for both the translator and the client. Have a read at  this excellent article by Wendell Ricketts to find out precisely why and how. Plus, dismissing a whole movement based on solid arguments with a vague and patronising reference to “panic” is not really that credible. The Translation Guy can do better.

Well, sort of. To his credit, he does give us the moral high ground, but that’s about it:

the “No Peanuts!” guys have justice and human dignity on their side.   Meanwhile, someone else is banging away on the iron triangle of service, beating out “better, faster, cheaper; better, faster, cheaper.”

This “better, faster, cheaper” mantra, of course, is purely a sales pitch. It’s pretty much a fact of life that it’s either better or faster and cheaper. And not just in translation, but think clothing, food, cars, medical treatments, and pretty much anything that can be bought. And it’s here that we get to the bottom line. The No Peanuts! movement is about quality. Quality of service, and quality of life. The Translation Guy never mentions quality in his post, which is puzzling, and at the same time sort of proves my point about agencies. Then, later on in the article, he tops himself:

watch out for that scab translator #260 under that rock over there because she is figuring out how to climb aboard the great commercial juggernaut on terms that pay for her, if not for you. And if she passes on that one, translator #22666 on PRoZ will take it, and the translation provided, for good or ill, might just fit the bill.

I find the “if you turn it down someone else is going to do it” argument trite and, most importantly, oblivious of concepts like professionalism and quality. It would be like saying to a gourmet burger restaurant “Hey, man, you shouldn’t sell your fancy burgers for $12, ’cause McDonald’s sells burgers for $3 and you’re going to go bankrupt if you don’t lower your prices too. It’s the great wheel of commerce!” Guess what? There are people who care about quality. To use a different metaphor, some people will buy an Armani suit over a cheaper one because despite the fact that the main goal is not to walk around naked, the Armani will just feel and look better and last longer. And, if you wear it to work, it makes you look better, which is good for business. I don’t see why the same shouldn’t apply to our sector.

Then the Guy shares a “sad little story”,

in an empty gesture of solidarity with all you translators who want to make as much money as you used to

Come again? What’s this now, about translators wanting to “make as much money as they used to do” (which was never a lot, really)? Is it really about that, or is it rather about big agencies getting worried that they might not make as much as they do now once their clients work out that they are better off hiring a professional translator directly?

UPDATE (27/07/2010): comments to the post on the Translation Guy’s blog are finally up. Ken Clark apologised for the technical difficulties.

Photo: detail from The Three Wise Monkeys – George Street, by Charlie Brewer

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Peanut Depot - Morris Avenue by Alby HeadrickYes, I am still alive. I had a record-shattering number of clients in June, plus I had a deadline for the translation of a novel and, on top of that, I couldn’t ignore the World Cup, could I?

[Note to self: plan for the unforseen, just in case it happens.]

It’s been an embarrassing absence, I know.  Anyway, I assume everyone could still fall asleep at night, so it’s all good, I hope.

So, without further ado, let’s resume talking about translation. Let’s talk about peanuts. Today I would like to briefly examine one of the many “job offers” that I find in my inbox as often as those messages urging me to buy Canadian Viagra.

I received it a while ago, to be fair, but I have been meaning to talk about it for a long time.


I’m looking for a professional English to Italian translator to provide translations/localizations for several projects we have coming up.

Fantastic! I am so the man they describe, and they have several projects, coming up. Maybe it’s my chance to get a lucrative client.

We are an old business, but more recently our clients have started to request translation projects. These projects are quite large for us and are seeking the services of a translator that can help us with these and future projects.

Hmm, wait. So, basically, the guy does NOT run a translation business (it’s a copywriting service, I would go on to find out with a Google search), but instead of referring his clients to experienced translators, he thought he could act as a middle-man and get a slice of the pie in a transaction where he is actually completely useless.

These websites are tourist and hospitality websites (currently) and marketing documents. It’s important that translations are 100% culturally accurate and read in perfect Italian.

No shit! Let me write that down, I think he might be onto something here! All sarcasm aside, this couple of lines show that the guy either has only a very superficial understanding of what translation is, or he’s used to working with very unskilled translators for whom those criteria are not a given. Possibly both, i.e. the guy doesn’t understand the process behind a translation, and as a result of his incompetence he’s failed to get good translators on board, and he’s used to working with unskilled translators.

Please let me know if you are interested in this first project for approximately US$0.015 per source word of approximately 127,250 words.

Wait. That’s a lot of words. Roughly, I’d say that might take 200 hours for the average translator. Except that the rate is one tenth of what I usually charge. The total would be US$1908 (about € 1500), for a rough estimate of US$ 9.50 (or € 7.50) an hour, gross, of course. That’s just about what a friend of mine gets, working in a small-town Blockbuster in Italy. That’s about what my mother earns as un underpaid nanny. That’s half of what a cleaning lady would accept where I live, in Australia.  Why the hell – one might be pushed to wonder – did I even bother studying to try and master four languages and the process of translation?

It’s also worth seeing the link between this paragraph and the previous one. If an agency offers such ridiculous rates, it’s not surprising that only bad, inexperienced or desperate translators accept the job. And all three categories are unlikely to produce a quality translation. The inexperienced one might get there, one day, but prostitution is no shortcut, for sure.

The budget is limited on this first project but we are happy to put it in writing that future projects will be paid at a higher agreed rate. The second project is approximately 110,000 words and the price per word will be higher for this. Other range projects from 10,000 – 150,000 words and will be higher price per word.

Oh! Future projects will be paid at a higher agreed rate, he says. He does not suggest one, though, and while he’s happy to put that in writing. I might by terminally suspicious, here, but I wonder if he’d be happy to put in writing that there will be other projects.

But that is not even the main point here. Once again, we have to stress this pretty unique situation where the client demands the right to dictate the rate to the translator. Think about, there are not many cases where the client purchasing a service dictates its price to the service provider. Try and jump on a train offering to pay for a tenth of the ticket, not a penny more. See if you get far. Or try to have your house painted by the guy asking a fifth of what all the other painters are asking. I bet  it’s not going to look pretty.

I do hope we can forge a relationship together. I look forward to hearing from you and answering all of your questions.

I bet he does! Who wouldn’t want to forge a relationship with someone accepting a fifth or a tenth of what they should be earning for their work?

Finally,  even though I admit that I replied to this e-mail with a rare cocktail of smugness and sourness,  I did take the guy up on his looking forward to answer all my questions. I asked him a few. Needless to say, he never did reply.

PHOTO: Peanut Depot – Morris Avenue, by Alby Headrick

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