Redefining the premium market

Redefining the premium market

Why it is also about you and me

I have a bonus post for you this month by my colleague Veronica Sardon, a translator from Spain bilingual in Spanish and English, living in Argentina, and specialising in international development and social sciences. As well as Spanish-English and English-Spanish, she also works from French into both those languages. I don’t run many guest posts, but I think what Veronica has to say is important. This is her story.

Veronica Sardon

Three years ago, I was a career changer who was starting out as a freelance translator. I was working in what some people call the “bulk market”: I had begun to get jobs through agencies and the odd acquaintance, worked mostly from English into Spanish, and I was routinely paid around five cents a word.

I had come across blog posts by Chris Durban, Kevin Hendzel and others describing their work in specialist markets that paid ten times what I was earning. My initial reaction, however, was that theirs was a parallel universe with nothing to do with the world I live in.

It made sense to me that there might be a “premium” translation market for seasoned professionals with outstanding skills and very specific specialisations in lucrative fields. But they generally translated into English and lived in first-world cities full of other premium products and experiences – people whose business (and business contacts) often pre-dated not just Google Translate and ProZ.com but even translation agencies as we know them today.

Prospects

None of this applied to me. I live in Argentina, where there was no chance of meeting any high-paying prospects at the supermarket or my daughters’ school events. I wasn’t a financial translator or a lawyer-linguist or an experienced biochemist. The areas I specialise in (international development and the social sciences) are not on anybody’s premium translation market list.

I could have dismissed the premium market as a lie, since it didn’t apply to me or to anyone I knew personally, to say nothing of all the accounts I had also read, which said that translation was declining inexorably, that real translators would be extinct before I reached the retirement age and that the steep fall in rates could only continue because Google Translate is free.

And yet I did have a few points in my favour. I had an international background that meant I was bilingual. I had lots of experience as a journalist, so my writing skills were solid. I had no money issues because I still had a day job. I have always worked hard. I wanted to make a success of my new career, so I read all the books, got certified, joined associations. I did my best to tick all the boxes, and fortunately the conviction that I was good and could get better with time and effort kept me looking up rather than down.

Background

Then, out of the blue, something happened that gave me a whole new perspective. I received an email from an organisation (not a translation agency) that had found my details on ProZ.com. They needed someone to translate a politics text from English into Spanish. I must have been on page 8 on ProZ for that field, but they had really done their homework: my background made me the perfect fit, at least on paper. It was a fantastic potential collaboration with an amazing client, and I really wanted it. So I gave them my “best decent rate,” the one I got from my top agencies: ten cents per word. They wrote back saying they paid all their translators fourteen cents!

This made me feel incredibly stupid, but it revealed a long series of new truths about a market I thought I knew. First, someone who used ProZ.com was prepared to pay fourteen cents for good English to Spanish translation (just translation: they had in-house revisers). Until then, I didn’t know that was really possible. Second, someone was prepared to pay more than I asked for! These guys were apparently not out to get me. Third, the content wasn’t even nuclear physics or a high-profile legal dispute. All they really wanted was good, professional work in a field I knew well. Fourth, once I started working on their material and got more familiar with them, I found I could often make as much as 100 dollars per hour, and deadlines were comfortable and often even negotiable. It really was a whole new world.

From that point on, I decided I couldn’t ignore talk of the premium market, but nor could I take it at face value. Instead, I chose to adapt it to my own situation. Sure, some people were doing much better than me, but that simply meant I had plenty of room for improvement. Improvement in terms of my rates, my clients, the texts I focused on and the quality of my translations. I stopped seeing it as us and them, the premium market versus the bulk market. These were not discrete realms, but rather a continuum. I was clearly at the low end but could work to climb higher, and I had no idea how high that might mean.

Rates

Knowing about that potential for growth meant I never felt preyed on by bottom-feeders or threatened by Google Translate. In fact, I stopped even thinking about them. In more concrete terms, it also meant I started charging ten cents a word rather than five – far lower than the rates the premium translators talked of, but still a 100% improvement.

The experience with this client who found me through ProZ discredited several other things that aspiring translators like me were often told were facts. First, free test translations were supposed to be exploitation. Yes, I had to translate about 400 words for free, but they turned out to be part of my first project, so I eventually got paid for them. Second, certification was supposed to be worthless. I can’t be sure, but this client’s profile makes me think I wouldn’t have got that job if I hadn’t passed the DipTrans a couple of months earlier. Third, ProZ was supposed to be all rubbish. Instead, I have since earned six figures from this client’s projects alone, in just three years and with very good working conditions. My experience has shown me that ProZ is not always trash, that some free tests are worth taking and that certification may help you attract some of the right clients.

From then on, what the proponents of premium markets were saying made a lot more sense. They were mostly in a different league to me, but my experience with a single client showed me that premium translation practices were not just for other people in other parts of the world. Since then, I have largely turned away from agencies, because their rates and deadlines are rarely up to these standards. I ask new direct clients to at least match an hourly equivalent of that long-term client’s rate (although I occasionally work for less with clients I think are good for me for other reasons).

Impossible

In my own experience, it is a lot easier to go from 14 cents to 30 cents than it is to go from 10 to 14. I really thought anything above 10 cents a word to translate English into Spanish was outright impossible. Seeing it wasn’t simply changed the game for me.

I get why young translators in overcrowded markets who need to pay their bills and think the first world is light years away might feel angered by talk of the premium market. I can see why they might think that the people who keep going on about it are at best bragging about their own exceptionalism and at worst just making the whole thing up.

The thing is, I was just a bulk-market translator, and then suddenly I wasn’t anymore. Just like that, simply because one client came up who disproved most of the things I was taking as truths of the industry. I was not a savvier person and I certainly wasn’t a better translator, but suddenly I was no longer in the same place professionally.

Well-prepared

It is always tricky to put forward personal experience, because it can easily be dismissed as anecdotal. However, I think that beginning translators, in particular, need to know that things like this can and do happen, because believing that they happen is almost as important as being well-prepared when they do. You need to be good and want to get better, but if you do not realise there is a world beyond low rates and unappreciative clients – some variant of what you have seen described as the premium market – you may walk right past it, certain that it just doesn’t exist.

I still think it will take me decades to get to where Kevin Hendzel and Chris Durban are, if indeed I ever do. And I also have the impression that my ideal client is not the same as theirs. However, I have found time and again that things can get better rather than worse, and that there are enough people out there who value what I have to offer to keep me as busy as I want to be for now. While that is probably not true for all freelance translators, I know of plenty of other examples.

I’m not a social media star or face familiar from many conferences. Before reading this, you had probably never heard my name. I live in Buenos Aires. I translate social science materials from English into Spanish. I have been a freelance translator for less than five years. But in that time, I have redefined “premium” in a way that works for me. Are you still sure that you can’t?

34 Comments

  1. "In my own experience, it is a lot easier to go from 14 cents to 30 cents than it is to go from 10 to 14."
    I agree. You have to start somewhere, and both are possible. Thank you for your candid account so clearly expressed here, Veronica!

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    • Thanks, Allison, I agree too. As someone still struggling to make the breakthrough from 10 to 14, I particularly value Veronica’s suggestion of producing quotes varying in price depending on the deadline. That offers a way forward in situations where I want to give myself a chance to earn as much as is really available but at the same time I worry I’ll never hear from the client again if I quote too high (something that’s happening all too often to me at the moment as I try to increase my rates for new clients).

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      • Thanks for hosting me here, Simon! I really enjoyed writing this post. Not being able to charge 50 cents per word should not stop us from trying to improve both our rates and our working conditions, and I certainly used that excuse for too long! Hopefully this post can help someone else challenge perceived truths about ‘the market’ and push out those limits a little bit at a time.

        Beyond that, clients require different things from us as translators, and they also offer us different things (obviously money, and also volume, as agencies are so keen to stress, but also references, feedback, the chance to grow in a specific field of specialisation, and so on). I think we need to take all of that into account, if only because we need to grow professionally as well as pay our bills. But that’s probably the subject of a different blog post!

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  2. Congratulations to my former mentee.Very happy to read of your success.

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  3. Just brilliant, Veronica! Congrats and keep up the good work. 🙂

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  4. I’m very familiar with the premium market philosophy pushed by Chris Durban and Kevin Hendzel, among others. They know my opinion. We had our conversations.

    The marketplace is not a binary unit: premium market/bulk market. Whoever says so is trying to sell you something. That sort of black and white mentality (along with the sweeping statement "those who complain about low rates and work for the bulk market suffer from some sort of low self-esteem or poverty syndrome") is beneath any of us. Different markets tolerate different rate bands. That’s not just for translators. It holds true for graphic designers, architects, lawyers and a host of other professions.

    Take Portugal, for example (not my market). The average rate there for freelance translators is 0.05 euros. One of my PhD professors told us recently that a known literary Portuguese translator charges a little more than twice as much.

    We need to dig deeper and think wider. This polarized discussion about markets for translators is toxic, misleading and a disservice to translation students and seasoned translators alike. Most translators from different backgrounds I’ve spoken to in the last few years react with “What is the premium market? I have no idea.” And not all of these translators are begging at the door of the so-called bulk-market peddlers.

    I am not contesting Verónica’s experience or veracity of her account. Not at all. There are higher-paying clients, sure. Just don’t call them “premium market.” It’s a marketing ploy, not an accurate portrayal of the language services markets anywhere on the planet.

    Finally, for those who care to learn more, there are translation scholars who study these things. Look them up, get informed with facts and responsible research, not anecdotal statements.

    Reply
    • Thanks for your comment, Mario. I don’t think Veronica is polarising anything. If you read her post she actually talks about different markets. Her point is that we can’t all earn those premium market rates, at least not straightaway, but by learning from those who do, particularly improving translation skills and specialist subject knowledge, as well as thinking more ambitiously, we can all improve what we earn. I think that’s true and I know a lot of translators who share the same view. There is nothing toxic about Veronica’s post and it does a disservice to no-one. She is sharing her experience and others can learn from what she has achieved. And what is more use to a translator: the real experience of a colleague or a pile of figures from a so-called translation scholar which tells us nothing about how to translate better or earn more.

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    • I’m puzzled by your comments, Mario.

      Firstly, I fully agree with your comments that the marketplace is not a binary unit. However, there are rates which would clearly be one or the other (1 cent a word being bulk – defined by working for price-sensitive clients who are not that informed about or interested in quality, 80 cents a word being premium – defined by working for quality-driven clients who have a clear idea what they want). I think Veronica is trying to illustrate this.

      I also agree with your point that the reasons for the persistence of the bulk market and those who complain about low rates are more complex than low self-esteem or poverty syndrome. And yes, you get different rate bands, as well as providers with seemingly limitless rates, in various industries. (A good book on this is Mastering Services Pricing by Kevin Doolan, if you’re interested in learning more about what determines these bands.)

      Where we come to disagree is on the idea that premium-market discussions are polarising. Far from it, the advocacy of all the strategies that will help translators make it out of the bulk market will support everyone – newbies and old hands alike – in generally *improving* their current lot as a translator. Whether people really understand what the premium market is or could represent for them is irrelevant if they are simply aiming higher (in terms of both skills and positioning).

      And as for these translation scholars you cite – do you mean people like Pym? I’m afraid many of these people are terribly misinformed, so misinformed I’ve been misquoted in at least two academic papers – where the academics have misread things that are clear as day to practising translators. No, I’m afraid academics and even economists rarely know much about the market I serve, because we’re as good as invisible and not covered in any surveys.

      I also disagree that the premium market is a marketing ploy, at least in the way Kevin Hendzel, Chris Durban, Simon Berrill, Veronica Sardon or I use it. It’s possible others are using it to peddle coaching or whatever, but that’s not the case for these people. To be honest, I switch off when people are actually selling false promises to translators. The best advice comes from people so successful they don’t need to charge for it.

      All that motivates us is a desire to show people a better path – that they can be happy and successful in this sector. It’s shocking that we get so much negativity, despite never ripping our colleagues off with everything from coaching to webinars, seminars, substandard ‘copywriting’ and ‘website design’, and paid memberships of dodgy groups. It feels sometimes like the dodgiest of people out there are getting a free pass!

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      • Your point is a good one, Rose. How anyone can be reprehensible just for mentioning the words premium market, when there are others ripping translators off at every turn, is beyond me.

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      • "Whether people really understand what the premium market is or could represent for them is irrelevant if they are simply aiming higher (in terms of both skills and positioning)."

        This is all there is to it really. People simply need to aim above their current perceptions of a glass ceiling and understand that shattering that glass and the ones past it that always exist is possible but takes maybe a very different approach than what they’ve had.

        This isn’t a competition about who can earn more or call themselves top level, but about always advancing professionally and investing resources where appropriate, distinguishing between high-value genuine advice focused on mentality and semi-competent would-be profiteers focused on recipes for success.

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  5. Mario is right that there is no binary "bulk" vs. "premium" markets as distinct elements with clearly delineated lines. I know that and agree with that because I’ve written precisely the very same thing on my blog and elsewhere backing up Mario’s very point: That the market is NOT two separate monoliths (Mario knows this — I’ve posted it back to him in so many comments sections that I’ve simply lost count, since I think it’s an important point to make, as has Chris Durban, Paula Arturo, and Rose Newell, to name just three others, but for some reason I don’t understand, we have trouble communicating it to Mario in a way that sticks).

    The market is rather a continuum — that is, it’s essentially an endless series of gradations of shades of gray, with "bulk" being black and "premium" being white.

    A translator can fall ANYWHERE on that continuum with its original shade of black and white. In fact, a translator is likely to fall at different points on that continuum at different points in his or her career.

    There is really no dispute that the premium market exists.

    A few anecdotal mentions of people who have not heard of it really carries no weight. Large institutions that conduct wide-ranging surveys show a dramatic differential in actual paid rates; according to such studies, translators at the EU and the UN are solidly in premium territory ($125K/Euro for staff positions), with similar rates/salaries for the IMF and World Bank.

    The same is true of the thousands of translators who work in the secure sector, which typically hires translators in the $150,000 – $175,000 range. These are all a matter of public record, and even if you didn’t believe the record, the recruiting companies working to place linguists in the secure sector just crossed 100 and include companies you may not have heard of, such as Leidos or SAIC, and many companies you no doubt have, such as Lockheed Martin and Booz Allen Hamilton. They make their money by commissions on large salaries, mostly in the IT sector, until they discovered the premium market in translation, which they have eagerly embraced since the early 2000s.

    Other premium markets? To borrow from another post (as I have some nuclear nonproliferation work calling me right now, and can’t spend endless hours repeating what I’ve already published on my blog posts, and that have been picked up and published by others on their blogs) here are some examples that I describe in response to a posted claim in a forum that no translators in the Asian or Slavonic languages make more than 15 Euro cents a word.

    There are excellent patent translators working in Japan translating Ja->Eng who charge $1,000 a day on average (word rate likely converts to 50 Euro cents a word). The same is true of those working in the high-end marketing sector in Japan, parts of Indonesia, in Qatar, and even across Latin America in the prestige high-tech market and the elite consumer goods markets, where the rates are about 3x the 15 Euro cents per word.

    There are also Russian translators making about the same rates working in London, Moscow, Paris and several other cities as they are experts on the legal issues that arise in settling lawsuits, or oligarchs suing each other, which has practically become a spectator sport in London alone.

    There is a HUGE market in Paris, Berlin and across Switzerland for highly-paid translators (50 Euro cents and higher) with special expertise in banking, law, marketing, translation/copywriting, transcreation and language consulting.

    We see them show up in droves at the "Translate in.." series that have been held every year in different cities, and the most recent event just sold out, and is putting translators on a waiting list several months in advance of the conference.

    Should I really go on? The hundreds of translators working in the premium financial markets in Paris that regularly host speakers from Euronext Paris or brokerage houses, or come and speak at SFT events on the crucial role of expert translators in the success of financial markets.

    So yes, there are markets where customers care more about not irradiating populated areas or initiating a nuclear detonation or nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists or being sued by a competitor or looking ridiculous to the competition, or losing a billion-dollar lawsuit, or being audited because their financial statements make no sense or being embarrassed in front of the whole world (hello United Airlines). This list goes on and on.

    There’s a whole world of clients out there who are begging for high-quality translation work because it’s essential to their business, reputation and mitigation of business risk.

    And if you have the subject-matter expertise (meaning you are a legitimate expert), can leverage exceptional (native) writing skills, and have a colleague to collaborate with, then that market will eventually open itself up to you.

    It may take slightly different flavors, just as Veronica has so elegantly described here, but it’s out there for those willing to make the investment in expertise to rise to those levels (note how Veronica had to take a proactive role in education and credentials in making the leap herself).

    I’m not sure there is any value in continuing to engage Mario on this topic; he’s made it a bit of a sport by challenging the many people who write about the premium market, who cite the evidence, surveys and huge numbers of translators from those markets that show up at the premium-market translator events. He does seem to have a unique skill in dodging evidence, data, institutional surveys and a whole range of useful information, even if it involves just ignoring what a person has written, or denying it altogether.

    Several translators with greater patience than I have once made a herculean effort to address every single one of Mario’s claims about the non-existence of the premium market out of simple professional courtesy, but they got nowhere, and it cost Paula Arturo about 150 comments of real-estate on her blog. If you want to see how crazy these conversations can really get, go check out THAT conversation. It will entertain you no end. 🙂

    https://translatorsdigest.net/2016/02/10/on-being-the-underdog-and-earning-six-figures-as-a-translator/

    Reply
    • Thanks, Kevin. It seems that the mere words "premium market" are a red flag to some people, but it’s ironic that Mario should object to Veronica’s post, which makes fairly modest claims in terms of earnings and is really all about taking the ideas (dare I say mindset) of the premium market and applying them even if you’re not quite there yet. It’s also daft to deny the existence of a thing just because you’ve never seen it. I’ve never been to the North Pole but I’m not going to tell someone she’s wrong if she tells me she’s been there.

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  6. "It is always tricky to put forward personal experience, because it can easily be dismissed as anecdotal."
    Please don’t hesitate. We all need to hear anecdotes. How else can we learn?I can support yours by adding a similar one.
    A potential direct client contacted me via ProZ last November – I could not have thought of a better target customer if I had tried. I quoted my "ooh – direct client, but I really want them and don’t want to scare them off" rate, which is more than 0.14 but not sky-high, and they accepted it without any quibbles.
    That’s not the only direct client who has found me through ProZ, just the most recent.
    All the best as we grow and find good new customers, one at a time!

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    • Thanks for your comment, Karen. I agree. Personal experience is very important here. We’re not trying to draw scientific conclusions from translator blogs, we’re trying to find techniques and ideas we can apply in our own lives and careers. And to hear how someone made a breakthrough into another market is inspiring because it means others can do it too.

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  7. Thanks so much for sharing your story, Veronica! It’s great to hear how other translators have found much, much better clients and moved on from low-paying agencies. It shows that having your profile or website ‘out there’ is an excellent start as it means that clients can find you, even if you move in different circles. There are definitely discerning clients out there who are happy to pay good rates to skilled translators – you’re living proof of this!

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    • Thanks, Jayne. I know you are another person who can confirm that translators can do better by aiming higher.

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  8. Perhaps Mario’s issue is with terminology and structure.

    Discussing “premium markets” is not polarising, but it does refer to a stratification of the industry.

    There is a "premium" level, which is defined not by rates per se, but by the requirements of the clients, which can only be met by exceptional expertise and services, which in turn are achieved through grueling effort and a certain mentality towards self-improvement and client interaction. This is limited in the choice of one’s field. That is what drives the rates up naturally at that level.

    And there is a "bulk" level, where client needs and/or education are low, specialization is less important or not at all, and services as well as projects are handled in bulk most often by intermediaries who compete on volume and price with usually sterile client interaction. Most fields fit here, as well as some higher level ones when performed to a lower or good enough level, but several not at all. That is why rates are low at that level.

    However, there is also a mid level, where one borders between these two, having advanced above the lower end but not quite having enough of what is needed at the upper end. Rates vary the most here, as does client interaction. This level includes a large but still limited number of fields.

    This is where the field comes into play. Certain fields of work, like repetitive and formulaic ones such as low-end law, which are quickly being eaten up by MT, do not go above the bulk level, because they cannot. Others, which require more specialized abilities, have less competition and more demanding clients, so they operate at a higher level, and, depending on how high requirements and abilities are, they function in the what has been called low-mid, mid, or high-mid levels. And there are some fields which require exceptional skills in more than just translation, which operate at the premium level.

    Next are the actual markets, by which I mean national or regional markets. Now we all know these vary wildly. Some premium level fields do not exist in certain markets, some fields that are premium in a market can be mid in another, but most bulk fields are bulk everywhere. Also, markets are not to be confused with language pairs, whose rates depend on local markets.

    As for rates, there will always be differences in or caps to the earning potential for certain fields in certain markets, creating different levels driven by supply and demand. And the rates that one might earn in the same field at the same level but in different markets will vary. It is true that different markets tolerate different rate bands, but those are for each field and each level – there is no singular rate band for a market.

    Therefore, to suggest that clients are running along an unstructured rate band where some just pay higher rates for similar services is a dangerous mischaracterization for people in the localization industry looking to position themselves to advance professionally and earn more.

    A 30 cent/word client would have been unlikely to contact Veronica, and if one did, she would very likely not have been able to perform work at that level at that point in time. A 50 cent/word client might not even have existed in her field or market. Those are realities, and people need to move beyond their ego regarding the quality of their work, and not only be hyper-critical of themselves, but put themselves in a position to be reviewed to tears by high-end professionals (which most agency in-house reviewers are almost always not). People also need to understand that simply pouring out volumes is not what takes you to high-end clients.

    A discussion about this stratification is not reductive, but expansive, and quite the opposite of toxic, but motivating. And it is most important for students and budding professionals.

    Translators need to determine where they are positioned in their market (or where they could be positioned in other markets) and to discover what the achievable levels are for fields they are interested in, with their varying rate caps, then take strides in specializing in the fields with the highest potential. "Achievable" is the key word here – if your field is one where machine translation is competition, such as areas of law, or is one with excessive supply, such as literature, the upper limits of rates will be very low and will continue to drop.; also, one should be very wary of those arguing that certain levels are not achievable and investigate in-depth and look for solutions, which are never easy or fast.

    However, too many people fall much too easily into skepticism, ego or fear and become hostile to excellent advice and support from people operating at levels that not only seem impossible to reach, but sometimes really are, due to field/market and also age/education/what-have-you.

    Most fields, even from those swallowed by the bulk level, have higher levels in most markets. You may never earn 100$/hour consistently, but you could earn enough for a very good standard of living and have a higher level career at 50$/hour in your particular market. But you need an open mind to the possibilities and to put immense effort in to get there from 25$/hour. And sometimes, part of that is changing fields or markets. But usually, it’s just specializing, professional development and willingness to take risks and say no to inadequate clients and developing your client relations while rejecting pressure on productivity and prices and focusing on quality.

    Continuing on the idea of possibilities and the essential aspect of self-awareness and positioning in a market, to dismiss these personal stories as useless anecdotes while comparing them to the output of "translation scholars" is quite disingenuous.

    This industry is so extremely fragmented and research is so often based on self-reports and with a heavy focus on large scale providers or fantastical formulas removed from reality, that it is very often misleading and certainly not an accurate representation of the markets anywhere, perhaps only at bulk to mid levels, where data is – not coincidentally – plentiful. But data also goes to prove the contrary of what Mario is saying, so let us not pick and choose. Meanwhile, small “success” stories such as this are incredibly important in opening people’s eyes to the possibilities out there, the first step to a healthy mentality – yes, the move from 10 to 14 cents/word is not that big, and certainly within expectable rate variations for that level, but even more impactful through its achievability.

    This is why I am confused by the “marketing ploy” comments. In fact, I don’t understand them at all in light of the very aggressive tone. Who is trying to sell what when discussing the levels of the industry? Things like Kevin Hendzel’s recently debated blog on moving upmarket presents a possibly subjective, yet informed, listing of fields sorted by level, with a disclaimer acknowledging the variation in what he’s saying caused by markets. Such things are essential for someone starting to look at their position, with nothing being sold even on the horizon. And advice and perspectives from people from the mid to premium levels is abundant on the internet in blogs and FB communities, all free, all open – and the limited paid content coming from that direction is usually high value and created by those at the higher end of the industry, not by 15 cents/word translators who aren’t even that busy.

    Meanwhile, there are always more and more people reaching a mid (usually low-mid for their markets) level in the industry that try to profit from lower-positioned colleagues by denying the existence of higher levels and trying to limit their horizon because in that limited world they can offer advice and many types of materials which are devoid of content that is good for more than going just a small step further but is full of suspect practices and marketing guru buzzwords and sometimes shockingly manipulative.

    I’ve yet to see Kevin pose with cars, mention earning as anything more than data to support a point or use 80’s aggressive marketing tactics and psychological tricks to sell products or ideas, or even sell anything at all. But I know a few faces well on their way along that path.

    I am very suspicious of violent criticism of the people saying “Hey, the sky’s the limit. It’s very hard, but I’ll help you at least up this mountain for an excellent view we can share” that is also not directed at those saying “Hey, this hill here is the limit. It’s easy but the path ends here, and you can’t go to that mountain because there’s no path there”. I guess some just choose that approach out of narrow-mindedness. But denying realities because they don’t fit your limited world view is one of the most toxic things going on in the translation world right now and it’s only serving the real exploiters.

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    • Thank you, Serban, for your articulate and well-argued comment. I absolutely agree with you that this is about helping each other to do better, not building artificial barriers by refusing to acknowledge the possibility that something we may never seen for ourselves have might nevertheless exist. And, as you say, neither Kevin Hendzel nor Veronica, nor you, nor I, nor anyone else I know who advocates this particular approach to translator development is selling or pushing anything. Some, it is true, provide high-quality paid-for training but this is done openly, not in an underhand way by first offering something free or setting up a so-called "community" to inveigle people in and then starting to demand money. Considering the rip-off merchants who are out there, this ought to tell translators who are in any doubt something about the honesty of the people concerned.

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  9. Thank you all for your comments! I sometimes hesitate about putting forward my personal experience, because it is too easy to end up arguing about the particular figure, the scenario, the language pair, the field of specialisation, the special case. But the point is that my personal experience has been positive, and so has the personal experience of many others. I eventually decided that positive case studies are, if nothing else, a good way to chip away at the monolithic ‘translators are obsolete’ message. I am glad most people agree and, like Karen here and Rose elsewhere, contribute their own personal experiences in the same direction. Different places, different fields, different language pairs and, of course, different rates, but the same impression that we are not necessarily and inevitably doomed.

    I understand that ‘premium’ is a controversial term in our industry. I know Mario is not alone in thinking that higher-paying clients who see translators as partners, while they exist, are ‘not an accurate portrayal of the language services markets anywhere on the planet,’ because the ‘facts and responsible research’ of translation scholars say they aren’t.

    That is why I think my figures are important. I know 14 cents is not premium-premium by any stretch of the imagination, and I have to say I am puzzled that Mario would think 14 cents is worth arguing about in his fight against premium markets. I was trying to make the concept less remote for those of us who haven’t worked on a presidential hotline and don’t have decades of experience, and I was obviously hoping for a different sort of reaction. Even from Mario. I can only agree with what Rose said above. I find it strange, actually very sad, that someone would take issue with the premiss that a translator can charge 14 cents per word. As a translator who is effectively starting out, I would argue that attitudes in our industry hardly get more toxic than that. And I do not mean to question Mario personally, his motives or his evidence to make that sort of claim, but rather their effects on aspiring translators and on our industry as a whole.

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  10. Your text is the perfect answer for the objections of so many people. Thank you for sharing with us.

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  11. Thanks for your post, Veronica; inspiring story.
    I strikes me that your experience, writing and language skills were a big part of the mix as you moved into a more attractive market segment, along with your willingness to roll up your sleeves and work at getting better.
    I also enjoyed reading how you revisited and challenged the "core truths" heard here and there.
    E.g., like you I’m quite prepared to do a test translation on condition that the client offer a good match with my skillset and correspond to the type of client I am seek (passionate about what they do; serious budgets; prepared to interact with translator). I actually sympathize with the many clients who are weary of receiving slipshod, half-baked work. (Thinking here of Mystery Shopper experiments. Sigh.)
    In any case, your comments are a reminder that good clients operate very differently from the bottom-feeders that so many translators complain about.
    This can be a real issue: if translators deny that good (dare I say "premium") clients exist and treat all queries the way they have learned (from sad experience) to react to the less attractive ones, chances are they will not get on the most promising radar screens.

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    • Thanks for your comment, Chris. Your final paragraph is particularly telling.

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  12. Since some contributors referred to studies on the situation of translators and Anthony Pym, here is the link to research Anthony Pym conducted on behalf of the European Commission http://www.termcoord.eu/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/The_status_of_the_translation_profession_in_the_European_Union.pdf.
    The study is from 2012/1213 and it would be interesting to see a (regular) update.It is a starting point, though, for anybody interested in the subject.
    For a brief overview of Anthony Pym’s qualifications and work see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthony_Pym.

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    • Thank you for this. I am aware of Anthony Pym’s research, although I don’t think it in any way undermines Veronica’s account of her experiences. As you say, it would be interesting to know how academics find that things have changed in the past five years.

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  13. I did not post the reference to undermine Veronica’s story. I think it is interesting overall information, albeit limited to the EU. If anybody knows about other studies of this kind, I would be very interested in hearing about it.

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    • I understand that you were just to provide information. I was referring to other comments in this thread claiming that only academic research is of any value and that people like Veronica (and myself for that matter) should keep quiet because our experience is merely anecdotal. I think that both approaches can provided useful information so thanks for your link.

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  14. Very briefly —

    The Pym research has been challenged as suffering from selection-bias; lack of visibility into actual commercial markets; the absence of familiarity with the full spectrum of the professional industry and markets as they actually exist; inaccurate rates; and the wholesale absence of direct involvement by the author in the commercial industry whatsoever, on any meaningful level, which caused so many problems in the findings in the first place.

    These critiques have both voiced both in writing and in public, including public sessions, by multiple people, including at least two commenters in this thread.

    Those critiques were not universal — they were not a dismissal of all the conclusions or data, nor of the author’s own insights in many areas — but of the methodology and limiting factors that made it almost impossible to extrapolate the limited findings to the industry overall.

    I think it’s important that we be aware that this research has been challenged in multiple public venues by very knowledgeable people before we accept any of it at face value.

    This is the nature of research — it’s put out there, and it’s subject to peer review. That process suggests that the findings are, to put it as accurately as I can, "strongly challenged." And certainly not something that should be taken as a "starting point" in view of those challenges.

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    • Hear Hear. I think Kevin is being very moderate here. To give just one example, i’m weary of academics claiming to put translation quality into equations, as Mr Pym does.

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      • Thank you, Dominique. I absolutely agree with you, translation quality can be assessed but not measured like that.

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  15. Thank you for sharing your story, Veronica. It’s an important one to share and proves that serious clients in need of well written translations are out there. I truly believe that there is enough (well paid!) work to go around for many of us, and it’s up to us to go out and get it.

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  16. I posted the reference to the study by Pym and his team because it was mentioned by one contributor, so that anybody interested can look at it himself/herself and form his/her opinion based on the findings of the study, the methodolgy applied etc. I personally believe that there is value in checking out a source. As far as I remember the study lays out its assumptions and methodology, so anybody interested can read it, think about its pertinence, validity, flaws etc.
    I read the study a while ago, and do not have the time to read it again in detail. In reply to what has been said about the quality of the study, I think it is important to remember that every study, no matter which field it is conducted in, is dependant on its purpose and design, and will reflect only that part of reality. I personally do not think that this makes a study invalid, if it is read and interpreted in this (clearly defined) context. The "flaws" of one study prepare the ground for more research correcting these "flaws" and expanding the scope. This is one way of gaining more insight and knowledge on a subject. With regards to translation I think gaining more knowledge about the situation of translators in different countries, their career development, working conditions etc. would benefit the profession. It would be interesting to see studies sponsored by national translators’ associations or FIT which cover the broad picture.
    Testimonies like Veronica’s could be used for qualitative research and lead to more insight about translation from an individual perspective.

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