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翻译价格:翻译和本地化公司的成本

这个词既不是以S(暗指Service)开头,也不是以F(暗指Finance)开头,也不包含字母Q(暗指Quality)。在我们行业中,这个词是“cena”(波兰语“价格”的意思)。我们这篇文章要审视的正是翻译价格。通常说来,正如众人皆知的,价格是客户判断是否购买的决定因素,也是厂商选择产品目标客源的决定因素。
这篇文章要揭示的有关东欧国家翻译定价的骇人秘密,究竟是怎样一回事呢?可能也没什么创新之处。希望这篇文章能将向读者揭示一些人们对定价问题的常识性反应,很可能也会解决世界上其它国家的翻译本地化公司共同存在的诸多普遍问题。
1. 投资报酬率(ROI)
             —— “赚不到钱就别费劲去本地化了”
很多人在谈论本地化的投资报酬率以及它是如何影响定价的。进入某个市场之前花钱进行本地化是否值得?这个问题的答案看来再明显不过了。那么为什么我们看到很多公司在谈到投资报酬率的时候还在抱怨本地化成本呢?
这里,有一个潜在的问题是各公司其实是在抱怨它们的产品缺乏竞争力。这种事经常发生,没必要为此感到羞愧。无论你怎么分析,说到底还是钱的问题。如果一个产品没有足够的由资金支撑的需求,那么在管理层的眼中,对该产品进行本地化就没有效益。如果一个应用程序是为了东欧国家的终端用户设计的,它要么价格相对便宜,要么是针对特定的细分市场量身定制的。因为只有这样,较低的销售量才能有可接受的回报。由于规模所限,东欧国家软件市场通常不会有高销量。
因此,本地化决策常常被暂时搁置一旁,而投资决策则是基于拙劣的市场信息。结果是——某些公司发现它自己身处东欧市场,而之前却没有正确地估计该市场的销售潜力。然后,正常的商业流程开始发挥作用:经理们被逼着赚取利润,而本地化的问题(正如我们看到的)被抛给了当地的经销商。
突然间,原本专门从事软件销售的公司开始要为软件发布商在当地市场的形象和质量承担责任。当地的经销商常常规模较小、基础设备不多、资源不足,翻译经费亦较少(还得从自己口袋里掏)。然而,实际上,产品的本地化责任突然落到了他们头上。除了随之而来的翻译成本增加的相关问题,经销商还遇到了另外的问题。例如,回答诸如此类的问题:“如何本地化”、“该雇佣哪家代理商”、“产品如何适应当地需求”等等。
以上问题其实都可以归结为一个简单的事实,即经销商常常缺乏本地化领域的经验,而这种经验的缺乏将进一步导致销售量降低以及成本上升。
软件发布商自欺欺人地认为产品本地化做得好对经销商颇为有利(例如,经销商销售起产品来会更容易),而他们自己则不用为本地化操心。然而,经销商通常不理解本地化相关的复杂情况。即使经销商确实认识到了本地化所包含的内容,但多数经销商对本地化公司持“简单、低附加值服务”的态度。实际的情况就是劣质的本地化产品,以及软件发布商严重受害的形象和品牌。
2. 翻译/本地化公司的大客户在做什么?
一些大客户处理这个问题的方式非常不同寻常。我们的翻译公司与一家客户合作,我们不仅通过两个不同的办事处直接与其合作,同时也间接地通过其它三家本地化公司和它开展业务。当然,我们的收费标准不同。事实上,各自完全独立地通过自己的渠道谈的价钱。现在,最有趣的部分出现了:我们通过一家本地化公司收取的费用比直接从客户那里收取的费用高出50%。那么客户的钱到哪里去了? 他们的精简到哪里去了? 术语一致性呢? 将多语言服务商限制在有限几个的价值是可以理解的,但是这样弄一点,那样弄一点的意义何在呢?Argos
最大的客户们如何处理翻译和本地化只是该行业中的一个问题。另一问题是这些公司愿意接受多低的本地化成本。去年,我们公司和一家非常大的全球化公司谈判,希望接管他们大部分的斯洛伐克语的本地化任务。我不想指出这家公司的名字,但它的确是一家年全球销售额超过500亿美元、数一数二的大公司。由于这是一家大客户,双方的合作是长期的,业务量也非常大(大部分是文档),因此我们决定提出一个非常具有吸引力的本地化/翻译报价(当时)是0.12欧元每字(按源语言计算)。
后来,这家公司联系我们说,他们非常欣赏我们丰富的经验,也希望同我们合作,但有一个问题:价格。我们询问是不是降一分钱两分钱的问题,他们清楚地告知他们要的价格低得多。很明显,我们离他们的价格期望相差太远了。他们要找的是0.07-0.08欧元每字的报价! 这样一家大型的跨国巨头怎么会出价如此之低呢? 这将如何影响我们行业呢?我唯一能提供的答案是:客户接受如此之低的翻译价格,其代价是获得同样很低的翻译质量。
3. 质量:究竟有几个人在乎呢?
最近,我参加了一个翻译会议,当一位语言学教授在讨论高质量译文在职业道德上的重要性时,我正在打盹儿。当他谈到“保证高质量的译文是翻译服务提供商应该担负的道德责任”这样一个观点时,我突然惊醒了。提问时间到了,我适时地问道:“如果我们的客户不给我们足够的时间来‘具有职业道德地、负责任地’完成工作时,我们该怎么办?” 这位先生告诉我,要求更多的时间是我们的道德和责任。
尽管他的推理很好、很恰当,但是很不幸地几乎完全不适用于现实世界。如果我打电话给客户并提出建议:“听着,我知道这是一个120万字的项目,我们原本也是可以按期完成的。我亦了解您的当务之急的是先把 FIGS发出去,但是这个项目延迟了。此外,你希望我们使用过时的TM软件只因为你的上一个版本是用它做的,而我们收到的TM数据库一致性极差,翻译新版本之前还要解决一致性的问题。我们的时间只够完成翻译并单独审校两遍的。这不足以维持我们的语言水准,亦将有损我们的职业道德。”试想他会做出何种反应?
很不幸,但事实是(也许我不该这么大声地说)通常我们的生意都需要做出让步。如果你考虑到我们在收费非常之低的时候却得提供非常高质量、非常快速的交货时间,这个真的想法很可笑,很明显,有些东西必须舍弃,而我相信本地化服务提供商处理这一矛盾的方法是通过降低我们行业对卓越的定义。
我们行业最好的公司是那些适时拥有最好的系统,以便在提供尽可能高质量的服务的同时,根据“真实世界”的商业条件,试图将成本控制在一个不妨碍这种质量的水平上的公司。不然,我们都很熟悉“错误的输入会导致错误的输出”这个概念。就是那么简单,真的。
4. 所以,这些会如何影响价格呢?
由此可见,简单的逻辑就是软件发布商和较大的翻译和本地化服务客户将价格控制在自己手里。他们会根据他们愿意接受并付款的质量水平来为本地化和翻译价格定价。很不幸,这在价格和品质之间建立了一个相反的关系。最后,尽管你能够发现很大的价格浮动空间,选择与哪家本地化公司合作的决定还是你自己做出。尽管价格也许是决定性因素,还是记住:一分钱一分货。
5. 一个真实的东欧
下面的表格对东欧各国的翻译公司的成本作了一个粗略的估计。请把它当作一个粗略的信息:各国的成本有所不同,例如: 斯洛文尼亚文比保加利亚语贵得多。尽管作为一个基准它还是很有用的,而我相信多数认真的东欧服务提供商会同意这些数据。

 

 
成本按每字计算(单位:欧元)
年产能400万字的翻译公司(包括项目经理和工程师的薪资、租金、软件、计算机等)
0.05-0.06
语言成本(翻译+审校,拥有TM经验的专业译员,测试)
0.04-0.05
总和
0.09-0.11

 

 
利润如何呢?
公司建在东欧国家并不意味着它不存在严重的成本问题。我们都知道在波兰或捷克共和国购买Trados或者SDLX并不比在西方国家便宜。每台电脑都需要一个操作系统以及其它的基础软件,这些都是成本的一部分。管理专业本地化公司的高层领导的薪水也不低。
如果我们看看西欧对应的数字,基础设施和固定成本0.05-0.06欧元是非常便宜的,但是那离零还是很远的,正如有些报价申请似乎在暗示的。如果我们把语言成本(包括经过专业培训和测试的译员、审校、专业人员/咨询师)算进来,每个字的翻译成本上升到0.09-0.11欧元之间。记住,这还只是公司的成本。
如果我们假定专业的本地化公司将不赚分毫仍然在这个行业里经营,这样的收费是可以接受的。不过,我们还是不要开自己的玩笑了吧。我们不会,我们的客户也不会,我们的客户的客户也不会,很不幸,东欧各国翻译的价格一般在0.09-0.11欧元的水平上徘徊(当直接同东欧国家公司合作时)。真实的情况是没有人想要亏本做生意,因此有些事情必须得舍弃,而有些事情的确舍弃了。
因此,将上述都计算在内,这些翻译/本地化公司如何生存,如何保证盈利呢?在这样的翻译价格水平下,有两条路可以实现短期盈利:
1. El Cheapo (破烂货)模式: 当然,你至少能得到一次物美价廉的翻译,但是试试天天如此? 如果你来到波兰这样的国家,打开一本电话簿,你会发现翻译公司要价只有0.03欧元每字。这些是真正的翻译公司,而且它们还是想办法在维持生存,它们还付得起房租、. 甚至有钱在电话簿上打广告。我请所有的怀疑主义者去亲身体验、眼见为实。这是真的。这样的公司将会发现以上提到的价格非常有利可图。我甚至不会打消任何人使用这些公司的念头。然而,我还是要继续我之前的观点,即:一分钱一分货。
2. 更高的交易量: 这是我们遵循的模式,而且我们能赚到钱。要降低固定成本就必须有足够多的交易量。交易量一高,你可以雇佣更多的全职人员,包括非常高质量的内部译员,你也可以提供更好的客户服务。但你必须天天都有活干,这是关键的一点。当然,利润率不会像“EI Cheapo(破烂货)”模式那么高,但是至少这样的生意有意义。它可以维持生计。非常重要的是,这种模式不会降低质量。
6. 价格倾销:东欧的现实
倾销”其实不应该用在这里,因为它暗含一个公司从战略上降低价格从而将其它公司驱逐出市场。这并不是东欧翻译市场的现状。翻译公司发现提供廉价的翻译服务在经济上可行的原因是有市场需求。市场是国内市场,而正是这些国家对翻译的态度才有这样的结果。
我们开玩笑说自己是“拾荒人”(政治上正确的说法是“废物处理专业人员”)。但是别人对待我们的态度就是这样。这是一个没有附加值的服务,而且几乎“人人都可以做”。大多数人在选择他们的清洁公司的时候,做决策时考虑什么呢?当前都是:价格。这在翻译和本地化行业是同样的状况。“把我的问题解决掉,价格嘛越便宜越好。”
公开招标开的价格是东欧市场状况一个很好的指示剂。我们根本不和公开投标人竞争,因为那样的价格实在非常可笑。2002年时,我正好在波兰翻阅这些投标者的中标结果,中标的平均价格是0.03欧元每字。而这样的价格常常是为上万页的项目开出的。提供此种收费的公司完全忽视了质量和标准的概念。
还是那句话:“一分钱一分货。”
7. 成功的希望
这里,我揭露了东欧国家市场上真实翻译价格的“小小肮脏秘密”,有些人也许会因此而不高兴。可能也有些读者会因为你可以拿到“更便宜的”翻译服务而蠢蠢欲动。我深信这一状况在未来会有所改观。数字是真实的,但是这种情况不会永远持续下去。有些东西必须舍弃,质量标准最后会胜出。
东欧还处在一个转型期,因此市场调整归位只是时间问题。长远看来,没有哪家公司能够靠着提供低质量的服务维持经营。在这个行业里“钱来得又快又容易”的时代已经过去了。当越多人被这些超廉价的译文烫到手的时候,市场就会越快地走上正轨。
东欧的价格最终会回升。而某些高成本国家的翻译价格会下降。全世界的价格趋于平均只是时间问题,到那时各家公司都要转向他们曾嗤之以鼻的竞争优势:质量。只要西方国家的公司理解了东欧国家的翻译公司也可以提供与欧盟和美国公司同样水平、甚至更高水平的服务时,再谈翻译定价就会看到一个真正同等高度的竞赛场。
于是,尽管有关定价问题的这个四字母词(指“cena”价格)解决了,还会有很多其它的四字母词可以应用到本地化业务的质量上,例如,“本地化是xxxx(垃圾产品),真是xxxx(乱七八糟)!”
关于作者
Kevin Fountoukidis出生于纽约市。获得威斯康辛-麦迪逊大学本科学位。1992年毕业不久,为了寻求新的经验,他搬到东欧。很快他于1996年成立了Argos翻译公司,现在是公司的总经理以及最大股东。在短短六年的时间里,Argos公司已经成为提供东欧翻译和本地化服务的市场领先者。Kevin从1993年开始在波兰永久定居。联系作者:sales@argostranslations.com
 
Translation Prices: Cost of Translation and Localization Services
No, it doesn’t start with an „S” or an „F” and there is no „Q” in it. This word in our industry is ‘cena’ and it is the Polish word for„price”. Translation prices is exactly what we’ll be examinig here. Price is usually, as anyone and everyone knows, the defining factor for customers on whether to purchase, and the defining factor for producers on how to target their products to the client base.
What horrible secrets about Eastern European translation pricing will be revealed in this article? Probably nothing too revolutionary. Hopefully this article will expose some common sense responses to issues with pricing, and probably address several universal problems shared by all translation companies and localization service providers in the rest of the world.
1. ROI – ‘Don’t bother localizing if you can’t make a profit’
There is plenty of talk about localization ROI and how it affects pricing. The decision of whether it pays to localize something before you decide to enter a market sounds obvious. Why then do we see companies complaining about localization costs in the context of their ROI?
The underlying issue here is that companies are complaining about their products’ lack of competitiveness. It happens, there’s no shame in that. No matter how you slice it, it comes down to money. And if there is not enough demand backed by money for a product, then localization, in the eyes of management, doesn’t seem to pay off. If an application is designed for Eastern European end users, then it either has to be relatively inexpensive or should be tailored to a specific niche market where lower sales volumes give an acceptable return. The Eastern European software market will not usually generate huge sales based on its size alone anyway.
As such, localization decisions are often put on a back burner, and investment decisions are based on poor information about the market. The result - a company finds itself in Eastern Europe before it has properly estimated sales potential. Then, normal business processes come into play; managers are pressed to make a profit, and we see the localization problem handed over to the local distributor.
All of a sudden, a company that specializes in software distribution is responsible for the software publisher’s image and quality in the local market. Local distributors are often very small, with little infrastructure, inadequate resources and small translation budgets (coming out of their own small pockets). Nonetheless, localization responsibility for the product is suddenly literarily dumped upon them. This imposes additional problems on the distributors not only associated with added incurred translation costs, but also the problem with answering questions such as: ‘how to localize’, ‘what agency to hire’, ‘how to go about adapting the product to this region’…
It all boils down to one simple fact, distributors usually lack the experience in localization, and that lack of experience will further result in declining sales numbers and added costs.
Software publishers fool themselves into thinking that it is so much in the distributor’s interest to do a great job localizing the product (ergo, the distributor will have an easier time selling the product) that they, themselves, don’t need to worry about it. However, distributors usually don’t understand the complex issues connected with localization. Even if a distributor does recognize what’s involved, the „simple, low-value added service” attitude toward localization services prevails. The real world consequences are poor-quality localization and serious harm to the software publisher’s image and brand.
2. What’s going on among the bigger buyers of translation/localization services?
What are the organizational structures of larger buyers of localization services, and how do they affect the price of translation? It seems as if Microsoft is getting its act together by limiting the number of vendors and giving the remaining more work. IBM and Oracle also seem to be well-organized in this respect. Unfortunately, there are other large buyers of translation and localization services that have not addressed the issue of centralizing or streamlining costs.
It is quite remarkable how some large buyers deal with this problem. Our translation company, Argos, works with one particular client directly through two different offices and indirectly through three other localization companies. Of course, we are paid different rates, negotiated completely independently with each of these channels. And now the punch line: the rates we receive working through one localization company are 50% higher than what we receive working directly for the client. So where are the client savings? Where is the streamlining? What about consistent terminology? The value of working through a limited number of MLVs is understandable, but what is the point of doing it a little this way and a little that way?
How the biggest clients deal with their translation and localization is only one issue. Another question is how far these companies are willing to go to lower localization costs. Last year, our company was in negotiations with a very large global company to take over a large portion of their Slovak localization work. I am not going to name any names here, but suffice it to say that this is one of the elite, with over $50 billion in annual global sales. Since this was a large, long-term client, and there were significant volumes involved (mostly documentation), we decided to quote this client the extraordinary attractive localization / translation price (at that time) of Euro 0.12 per source word.
The company got back in touch with us to tell us that they really liked our experience and wanted to choose us, but they had an issue: price. We asked whether it was a question of 1 or 2 Euro cents, and they made it clear that the price would have to be „significantly” lower. It was obvious that we weren’t even close to their price expectations. They were looking for Euro 0.07-0.08! How is it possible that the rates being paid by this particular global giant were so low? How does this reflect upon our industry?The only answer I can offer is that such clients receive low translation prices at the expense of similarily low level of quality that they obtain.
3. Quality: does anybody really care?
I was recently dozing through a translation conference as one of the speakers, a professor of linguistics, was discussing the ethical importance of a high-quality translation. I was suddenly jolted awake by a statement he made along the lines of „it is the translation vendor’s ethical responsibility to ensure the highest-quality translation.” When question time arrived, I duly asked what we should do if our client does not give us enough time to do the job in an „ethically responsible” manner. The gentleman told me that it was our moral responsibility to ask for more time.
As good and applicable as his reasoning is, unfortunately it almost never applies in the real world. I tried to imagine the response that I’d receive if I were to call my client and suggest, „Listen, I know this is a 1.2 million-word project, but you really should have met your development schedule. And I know that your priority was to ship FIGS first, but this was delayed. And now, on top of all that, you want us to use this outdated TM software because this is what your previous version was in, yet the TM database we have received is full of inconsistencies that need to be removed before we start translating the new version. What it really comes down to is that we are only going to have time to do the translation and have it reviewed independently TWICE. This won’t be enough to maintain our ethical language standards.”
Unfortunately, the truth is (maybe I shouldn’t be saying this too loudly) that our business is full of concessions. It is a humorous concept, really, when you take into consideration that we are supposed to offer incredibly high-quality, incredibly fast turnaround times at incredibly low rates. Obviously, something has to give here, and I believe that the way localization services providers handle this contradiction is by diminishing the definition of excellence in our industry.
The best companies in our industry are the ones that have the best systems in place to provide the highest quality possible while trying to maintain costs at a level that does not hinder such quality, according to „real world” business conditions. Otherwise, we’re all familiar with the concept of ‘garbage in, garbage out’. It is that simple, really.
4. So, how does all of this affect price?
Well, simple logic follows that the software publishers and the larger buyers of translation and localization services are in control of the prices themselves. They will define the localization and translation prices simply by deciding what level of quality they are willing to accept and pay for. Unfortunately, this sets up an inverse relationship between price and quality. In the end, though you can find a wide range of prices, the choice which localization company you go with will be your own. And even though price might be the definingh factor, just remember, you get what you pay for.
5. The truth about Eastern Europe
The table below provides a rough estimate of the costs for a translation company in Eastern Europe. Please take this as no more than a rough indicator; the costs change from country to country, e.g., Slovene is far more expensive than Bulgarian. It is useful as a benchmark though, and I am convinced that most serious Eastern European service providers would agree with these figures.
 
What About Profit?
Just because a company is based in Eastern Europe doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have serious costs. We all know that you can’t get Trados or SDLX any cheaper in Poland or the Czech Republic than in the West. Every computer has to have an operating system and other basic software as well, all of that costs too. The top staff needed to run a professional localization company doesn’t come that cheaply either.
If we look at these figures in Western European terms, Euro 0.05-0.06 for infrastructure and fixed costs is quite a bargain, but that is still far from zero, as some requests for quotes would seem to imply. If we add to this the linguistic costs, which include professionally trained and tested translators, reviewers and specialists/consultants, the cost per word for translation goes up to between Euro 0.09-0.11. Remember that this is the COST to the company.
These rates are fine if we assume that professional localization companies will continue to operate in this industry without making any real money. However, let’s not kid ourselves. Neither are we, nor our clients, nor our clients’ clients, in business to come out even. Unfortunately, the prices for Eastern European translations generally hover around the level of Euro 0.09-0.11 (when working directly with Eastern European companies). The truth is that nobody is operating a business with the intention of losing money, so something has to give, and something does give.
So, taking the above into effect, how do all these translation/localization agencies stay in business, stay profitable and make money? There are two routes to making a profit at these translation price levels in the short term:
  1. El Cheapo: Of course you can get the one-off translation that is good and cheap, but try getting it day-in, day-out. If you were to come to a country such as Poland and open the phone book, you would find that companies are charging as little as Euro 0.03 per word for translation. These are real companies, and they are somehow operating, paying rent . . . even advertising in the telephone book. I invite all the skeptics to see for themselves. This is real. Agencies such as these will find the rates mentioned above to be extremely profitable. I am not going to even start to discourage anyone to use such services. However, I will continue to stand by my prior statement, i.e., „you get what you pay for.”
  2. Higher volumes: This is the model we follow, and we are profitable. You need to have a high enough volume to lower your fixed costs.With higher volumes,you can hire better people full-time, including very high-quality, in-house translators, and you can offer better customer service. However, you must have the work day-in day-out, that is the key. Of course, the profitability will not be as high as with the „El Cheapo” model, but at least the business makes sense. It keeps running. Most importantly, it doesn’t cut down on quality.
6. Price dumping: a reality in Eastern Europe
„Dumping” is actually not the right word here since it implies that a company might be acting strategically to drive other companies out of the market. This is not the case with the Eastern European translation market. The reason why companies find it economically viable to offer such cheap translation services is that there is a market for it. The market is internal, and it is a result of the attitude toward translation in these countries.
We joke that we are „garbage men” (to be politically correct we should say „waste disposal specialists”). But we really are treated as such. This is a non-value added service that almost ‘anyone can do’. What do most people, when choosing their garbage company, base their decision on? All together now: price. Same case applies here. „Make my problem go away, and the cheaper the better.
The prices that are paid in public tenders are a good indicator of the state of the market in Eastern Europe. We don’t compete for public tenders at all because the prices are just ridiculous. I was reviewing the results of such tenders in Poland in 2002, and the price that won on average was Euro 0.03 per source word. This is often for tens of thousands of pages of work. Companies work at these rates and neglect the concept of quality and standards altogether.
„You get what you pay for.”
7. The light at the end of the tunnel
There may be some individuals who will not be pleased that I have revealed our „dirty little secret” here in Eastern Europe regarding the true translation prices available on the market. Possibly, there will be some readers who are encouraged by the news that you can get „even cheaper” translation services. I am totally confident that this will change in the future. The numbers are real, but they can’t last forever. Something has to give, and quality standards will be victorious in the end.
We are still in a period of transition in Eastern Europe, so it will just be a matter of time before the market sets itself straight. No company is going to stay in business by offering low-quality services over a long period of time. The time of quick and easy money in this business is coming to an end. The more fingers that are burned with these ultra-cheap translations, the faster the market will get to where it should be.
Prices in Eastern Europe will eventually increase. Translation prices in some higher cost countries will fall. It is just a matter of time before the prices all over the world will even out, and agencies will have to turn to their abandoned competitive advantage: quality. Once Western companies understand that Eastern European companies can offer the same level of service, or better, than their EU and US counterparts, we will see a real level playing field when it comes to translation pricing.
Consequently, until the four-letter word of pricing is addressed, though, there will be a number of other four-letter words that may be applied to the quality of localizations being done, such as, „This localization is a load of XXXX, what a XXXX up!”
About the Author
Kevin Fountoukidis was born in New York City. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Immediately upon graduation in 1992, in search of new experiences he moved to Eastern Europe. He soon founded Argos Translations in 1996 and presently is its managing director and the company’s largest shareholder. The company has become one of the market leaders in providing Eastern European translation and localization services, all in the short span of just six years. Kevin has resided permanently in Poland since 1993. He can be reached through sales@argostranslations.com.