Bulk versus premium translation: insight from Chris Durban

January 6, 2014 by

Bulk vs premium translation Chris DurbanWhat is bulk translation? Is there a sizable market for premium translation? How does this affect me as a translator?

Last week I had the chance to think about these questions at a presentation by translator and speaker, Chris Durban, on “Bulk versus premium translation – what this means for you”. The presentation was in Wellington, New Zealand, for the New Zealand Society of Translators and Interpreters.

The bulk and premium segments

Chris explained that there is a big gap between the bulk translation market and the premium segment. She describes the bulk market as being all about high volumes, low prices and tight deadlines. In contrast, her clients in the premium segment tend to be passionate about what they do, have money to spend on translation, and are less sensitive to price.

There are opportunities for translators in both segments, but the demands and working conditions are very different. Many translators working in the bulk market are keen to escape from the high volumes and low rates, and complain bitterly about the situation among themselves. Chris is convinced that translators who really want to move on can find more interesting work at better rates – if they invest time in seeking out new clients.

Put your name on it

Chris has a good way of increasing your visibility as a translator: signing your work. She showed an example of a report that she and a colleague had translated for a client, with “English text: Name1/Name2” in the credits at the back. When working for an agency, you may be able to sign “English translation: Name for Agency”. However, she doesn’t recommend signing website texts due to the dynamic nature of the contents.

As well as letting them take the credit, signing translations also forces translators to take responsibility for their work. Her message to clients and outsourcers is clear: if you want your translator to up their game, tell them their name will be on their translation. However, when doing this, translators should review the final, print-ready version of their texts, to ensure that no errors have been introduced at the layout stage. Chris includes this condition in her one-page, six-point terms and conditions for new clients.

Meeting clients’ needs

While Chris provides highly polished translations for corporate communications, she explained that her direct clients need different approaches to translation in different situations. She gave examples of cases in which gist translations, summaries, rewriting, verbatim translations and even machine translation can meet clients’ needs. Her point here was that it is important to work together as a partner to our clients, focusing on the most appropriate solutions in each situation.

Chris also encouraged us to ask questions when something in a text is unclear. This is a much better option than guessing the meaning or fudging the text.

Writing skills and subject-matter knowledge

To work in the premium segment, translators need to have excellent writing skills (“better than those of 98% of the general population”), and they need to specialise. Some language combinations are a specialisation in themselves (like Greek to Thai), but anyone working in a common language pair needs to become a master of his or her specialist field. The aim here is to be the go-to person for translations in your specialist subject. This avoids fungibility, i.e. it ensures that you are not interchangeable with other translators.

I found that Chris’s presentation gave me some good ideas to incorporate into my business planning for the coming year. If you’re keen on more food for thought, I can recommend Chris’s book, “The Prosperous Translator”, an interesting compilation of business advice for translators.

And how about you? What do you think of Chris's ideas and suggestions about the premium translation segment? Let me know in the comments below.

About Chris Durban

Chris Durban is a French-to-English translator specialising in financial communications and crisis management. She is the author of “Translation: Getting it Right”, “Interpreting: Getting it Right”, and co-author of “Translation: Buying a Non-Commodity”. She also writes the “Fire Ant & Worker Bee” advice column at translationjournal.net.

Please note that I do not have a commercial relationship with any of the people or organisations mentioned above.

By Jayne Fox BSc MITI, German-English translator.
For German-English medical translation – and translation of corporate communications.

Photo supplied by Chris Durban.

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About the author: Jayne Fox is a German-English translator specialising in corporate communications for sci-tech and health care. She works with German and Swiss organisations to help them communicate effectively with international audiences.

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  1. karolinakarczmarekgiel

    I think Chris Durban's idea about signing translations is very simple, but could be a very effective motivator. I wonder how it would be if everyone put it in use...

    Karolina Karczmarek-Giel
    Office Assistant

  2. mariosphere

    I've known Chris Durban since 2012 and I agree with her on principle about signing your own work and working for higher-paying direct customers. Where I part company with her is in the lack of detail, the nebulous description she attaches to the much-touted premium market. Admittedly, Chris often offers that there are many markets, not just one. By that same logic, there are many premium markets in different pricing ranges, not just one.

    We need to ask hard questions to those who promote the premium market model: what real-world examples can you provide from last month or last year? Could you describe a premium project, give numbers, volume of work involved, timelines? Can you name some of your premium clients?

    Until we ask those questions and get the answers we need, all this talk about premium markets is like talking up winning the lottery.

    • Jayne Fox

      Thanks for your comment! I work with some direct clients who have a strong focus on quality. If a text takes time to research and recreate in another language, that's ok. They want good results and are happy for me to do whatever it takes to provide that. Projects can range from a short advert to an extensive website - and clients may contact me every other day when they need support, or just a few times a year. Timelines are usually fairly short, and I often provide translation overnight for my clients in Europe.

      The hard part is connecting with quality-focused clients who need these services in your language pair. But there are lots of translators explaining how this can be done. Like Chris, in her book, The Prosperous Translator - which is well worth reading!

      • mariosphere

        Hello, Jayne. In fact, I've perused Chris' book, which, as you know, is a compendium of questions and answers from her blog. It has some good advice, but the reader has to dig deep and sometimes trudge through the folksy prose.

        My current focus is on the value I provide with a well-written translation. In my language pair, US Spanish is awfully awkward, judging by the texts I've reviewed and improved over the years, texts written by bilingual hacks. One of the challenges is to persuade customers to see beyond the “consistent terminology” mantra, because it's not enough to produce readable, professional-level translations.

        I don't care much for the translation quality argument anymore because it rests on subjective and emotional, not empirical, testing, in my view.

        • Jayne Fox

          I like your focus on the value of well-written translations - especially if you can quote figures. And you're right, quality is subjective. But my clients still care about it, so I don't mind so much that it can't easily be measured.

  3. mariosphere

    I'll agree this much on quality, Jayne: if the client invokes it, it is surely a good focus on the conversation. What I find most comforting and decisive, however, is in discussing with the client what her expectations of quality she has. I'm big on discussing expectations upfront, so there are no unpleasant surprises later on.

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German-to-English translator specialising in medical and technical translation and corporate communications
Welcome to my blog, Between Translations! I'm Jayne Fox, German-English translator specialising in sci-tech, health care & corporate communications.
I work with clients from around the world. From my location in New Zealand, I translate overnight for European customers.
See my websites for more information.
Sci-tech translation and corporate comms: www.foxdocs.biz
Medical translation: www.jfmedicaltranslation.com
Email: jayne(at)foxdocs.biz