How much does translation cost?

The translation industry is notoriously opaque when it comes to pricing. Until recently, there were only two options if you needed a translation: somehow do it yourself, or ask a specialist. Traditional translation agencies have made the most of their captive market, adding hidden costs and creating loopholes in their pricing system in order to maximize their profit margins. Although new services are challenging their industry monopoly, these changes have actually made it even more difficult to pin down what you’re actually spending your money on. As a result, there’s no quick answer to the question of how much translation costs.

All of this can be a nightmare if your business is looking into translation. With different services using different pricing methods and no universal standard fee, it can be difficult to gather all the information you need to make a good decision. In the interests of clarity, let’s run through some of the hidden factors that come into play when using various translation services. By knowing what will affect the price of your translation, hopefully you’ll be able to make a more informed choice and increase the profit margins on your investment.

5 factors that affect translation price

Whether you’re talking to an agency, a freelancer or a crowdsourcing service, some factors affect the cost of all translations. The following considerations should be kept in mind when conducting your market research:

  • Rarity of Language Pair: Of course, supply and demand is one of the biggest factors in the final price of your translation. It’s the reason why language pairs that share close roots, such as English and Flemish, can sometimes be significantly more expensive than more distant, popular pairs, such as English and Chinese. If translators in your language pair are hard to find, you should expect a large final bill.
  • Distance Between Languages: When translating between languages with vastly different grammar or cultural context, it can be easier to use a common language like English or Spanish as a go-between. However, this effectively means that your text will be translated twice. This practice is particularly common when working in unusual language pairs. If you think this might be necessary for your project, expect to pay extra for it.
  • Translator’s Cost of Living: Where the translator lives plays a large role in how much translation services charge. If your translator lives in New York, the overhead costs and salary demands will be much greater than if they lived in Bogotá, so they must charge more to compensate. It’s worth considering where your translators will be when calculating your projected expenses.
  • Volume of Work: If you have an extremely large text and choose an agency who are unable to scale the amount of work they do, they will be forced to hire freelancers to help them complete the task. It’s likely that you will bear the brunt of the cost for this.
  • Formatting Requirements: If your document has specific or unusual requirements, agencies or freelancers who don’t have a versatile platform for translation will be forced into expensive workarounds.

Further costs when using traditional translation agencies

As the oldest players in the industry, traditional agencies have plenty of tricks up their sleeve to make sure they turn a profit. Here are some of the specific factors that may affect your bill:

  • Type of Content: Whether it’s legal or financial texts, most agencies specialize in a certain kind of translation. Make sure to choose an agency that has expertise in your field, or you may end up paying extra. Also, you may find that different things cost more to translate within each specific field. For example, emails often cost less than webpages to translate. If you decide to employ an agency, make sure to ask about the cost of each different type of document to check you’re getting the best deal.
  • Staff: As the main source of income for the agency, your project will be priced to cover the costs of other staff working there who may not directly work on your translation. Although this seems unavoidable, the diversification of the industry means you can dramatically reduce this section of your bill. Consider innovative solutions such as crowdsourcing that can almost entirely remove these costs.
  • Pricing System: Many translation agencies won’t list prices, claiming that every project is unique. However, it’s important to know which particular pricing system they use. The most popular pricing method is per word, but you may also be charged per page, per hour or a flat fee. Each has its own benefits and drawbacks, so be sure to ask for a detailed explanation of what you’re paying for. With per word pricing, don’t forget to ask whether words are counted at source or after translation, since texts can shrink or expand dramatically during the process.

Faced with all these extra costs, it can be tempting to just bring translation in-house, particularly if your business needs regular translation. However, far from saving you money, this can prove to be a significant investment that your company doesn’t need to make. For more information on the costs involved, check out the article we wrote comparing in-house and outsourced translation.

The crowdsourcing solution

It’s clear to see that this is an industry in need of a pricing revolution. Luckily, crowdsourcing is tackling many of these hidden costs head on. By using crowd technology, it’s now possible to employ thousands of professional translators from across the planet who compete for jobs at one fixed, competitive rate. These easily scalable platforms are wiping away the industry’s vague promises without compromising on quality.

Thanks to the growth of these new services, both customer and translator are increasingly accepting no excuse for unclear pricing. Soon, traditional agencies will have to come to terms with this shakeup of the industry. Once they do, there may finally be a short answer to the question of how much translation costs.

How much does Gengo cost?

*Price via website order

At Gengo, we pride ourselves on our clear and competitive per-word pricing. We’re not interested in how many extra fees we can add to your bill. Instead, our business is built to maximize the return on your investment. Our obsession with technology has allowed us to create an automated job distribution system and versatile translator dashboard that help us to slash your bill. On the translation side, we use translation memory to track repeat phrases in your text and reuse approved translations, so you’ll only pay for it once. Whether you have a hundred or a million words to translate, you’ll know exactly how much you’re paying from beginning to end.

Need something special? Contact sales to work out how translation can make you money.

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CATEGORIES /

Daniel Smith

The author

Daniel Smith

Daniel writes a variety of content for Gengo’s website as part of the marketing team. Born and raised in the UK, he first came to Japan by chance in 2013 and is continually surprised that no one has thrown him out yet. Outside of Gengo, he loves to travel, take photos and listen to music that his neighbors really, really hate.

  • Daniel Walczak

    Well, it can cost nothing… If the service you’re using can leverage costs and the service provider has an efficient solution in place. It’s not even that difficult to adjust a website for foreign buyers yet so many sellers don’t do that because they have a wrong a belief it takes too much time and energy. Far from it. I recommend that you check infographic that explains how it works in practice. Worth taking a closer look to see if it may fit your business needs https://www.webinterpret.com/us/blog/ecommerce-localization-infographic/

  • Bob Myers

    > most of their captive market,

    “Captive” has a specific meaning in the field of economics. In what sense are you using it here? Why do you think translation agency clients are “captive”?

    > adding hidden costs and creating loopholes in their pricing system in order to maximize their profit margins.

    You apparently do not understand the meaning of “hidden cost”. It refers to a cost one can’t see. That’s very different from a charge to a customer, which will by definition appear on an invoice, and therefore they CAN see, right? If a translation company tries to charge you for something not on the estimate–I guess you mean “added charge”–then you just tell them no. End of story.

    > choose an agency who are unable to scale the amount of work they do,

    An odd comment. The vast majority of all agencies use freelancers for all their work–including Gengo, as far as I know. Therefore, larger scale does not drive higher costs by means of increasing the number of freelancers. If anything, larger scale drives LOWER costs since volume discounts can be passed down to the freelancers. In any case, in many cases full-time internal translators are MORE expensive than freelancers, which agencies can justify for reasons of availability and quality.

    The whole point of your “blog post” was that Gengo is super-cool because it publishes a standard rate sheet? So do most agencies.

    > Staff: As the main source of income for the agency, your project will be priced to cover the costs of other staff working there who may not directly work on your translation. Although this seems unavoidable, the diversification of the industry means you can dramatically reduce this section of your bill. Consider innovative solutions such as crowdsourcing that can almost entirely remove these costs.

    Another odd comment. If an agency provides project management services, why would they not charge for that? If they want to bundle that charge into their word rate, fine; if they want to break it out, fine. I’m not aware of any agency that charges for unrelated staff–that’s not “unavoidable”, it’s “non-existent”..

    Crowdsourcing does not remove the costs of product management and coordination. In fact, it often brings with nasty trade-offs, the most obvious one being inconsistencies in terminology and style.

    • Bob Myers

      > your project will be priced to cover the costs of other staff working there who may not directly work on your translation.

      For example, I assume you, Daniel, are paid a salary. That salary is paid from Gengo’s commission on the $0.06 paid by the customer. I fail to see how that does not constitute “pricing your project to cover the costs of other staff working there who may not directly work on your translation” (in this case YOU). All companies, no matter how physical or virtual, price their services so as to be able to cover their overhead. You are no different. So what’s your point exactly, again?


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