Translation agencies: powerhouses of exploitation

A view into the way they work

Making a detailed analysis of all projects I received from translation agencies in the past decade working as a freelance Hungarian translator, I made a shocking discovery: in 80% of the cases the agency was totally unnecessary. They did nothing more but after receiving an assignment and the source document from the end client, they passed it to me, dictating deadlines and fees, while keeping about the half of the money the end client actually paid for the job.

This means that while adding 0% to the value of the job they took 50% of the money. This is robbery.

The client was ripped off without even knowing about it. He was distracted by the shiny and professional online websites and marketing campaign of the agency.

Most agencies has their disgusting ways to generate competition between translators in order to decrease rates paid for them. The rated offered - or rather, dictated - by translator agencies did not raise since 2004, while the cost of living almost doubled.

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The most common fraudulent methods of translation agencies are:

  • Masking translators. Agencies frequently collect CVs of professional and experienced translators and showcase them as their selected and regular subcontractors, while often outsource projects to third world agencies unknown to the client. If you walk to any model agency you can pick the model you want for your photo session. When you contract a translation agency, you will never know who will look into your sensitive documents or trade secrets.
  • Sending out mass emails to a huge pool of translators and giving the job to the one who is first to accept their ridiculous conditions.
  • Delaying or refusing payment to translators, for example by shamelessly lying about non-existing quality issues or telling that the client did not pay.
  • Delaying payment by requesting a complicated invoicing and accounting process. I know companies that pay 4 months (!!!) after the delivery of the translation - and they do nothing illegal just follow the guidelines the translator is forced to accept in order to receive any job from them.
  • Delaying payment by repeatedly refusing the invoice made out by the translator referring to non-existing formal or content errors of the invoice.
  • 'Forgetting' payment day. For how long would you work for a company which 'forgets' to hand you over your payment cheque on payment day? Most of the time the translator has to 'remind' the agency that his invoice is overdue. In my experience 90% of translation agencies totally ignore their own payment policies and the translator has to repeatedly remind them. Remember: we are talking their own payment policies, which were not negotiated with the translator but dictated to him.
  • They don't let the translator quit. While constantly lowering rates they demand him continue working by threatening him that his earlier, pending invoices will not be paid.
  • Automatic crowdsourcing of translation projects. This is the most disturbing exploiting method. They set up a shiny, smooth, mobile-friendly website, and they send translator applicants here to register. Most of the time they don't check the background of the translator, so anyone can register for any language combination and for any specialist areas. When client uploads a project through this website the translators matching the requirements of the project receive an email notification. For most of the time we are talking about hundreds or thousands of translators notified of the same project. Then they have to make a price offer, and after a set of time - surprise - the cheapest one gets the project. The whole process is automated and takes place without interaction of the agency. Not to mention that while they demand advance payment from the client, the translator gets paid in 60-90 days. IMHO this is the recipe of destroying an industry.
  • Sentence by sentence crowdsourcing. If the previous one was disturbing, I don't know what to say to these. Let's say that you have a 20 page document what you upload to the system I described above. Let's say there are 2000 sentences total in these 20 pages. This means that those translators will receive a notification that there are 2000 available jobs right now. As soon as they log in to the online platform of the agency, they can start accepting each assignments and translate your text, sentence by sentence. The system handles each sentence of your document as a separate assignment, and a different translator can accept each one. Consistency? Not existing. On top of this, the starving translator will struggle to translate each segment as quickly as possible, not wasting time to check quality issues, before others translators take the rest. If this reminds you a pack of hyenas ripping a carcass to pieces, then you are pretty close to the truth.

So, what can you expect from agencies who do not follow their own policies?

If you want a quality translation, you have to deal directly with the translator, since there are some obvious and immediate advantages:

  1. You will know who is the person working for you. You can check his professional background, you can ask a test translation from him, and you can be sure that your sensitive materials will not be seen by anyone else but him.
  2. You can save time. You can ask your questions directly. The project manager working at the translation agency is not familiar with the topic your document is about. If you have a technical documentation, then you need a technician or rather an engineer to translate it. A middleman in between will slow down communication and raise many possibilities for mistake.
  3. You can save money. Comparing the fee translation agencies dictate to translators and the money paid by end clients to translation agencies, you can save 50% of your translation costs.
  4. Fair trade. You are not supporting a business where the only aim is making profit by exploiting professionals.
  5. You will get the best quality possible. For obvious reasons you need a perfectly and flawlessly translated document, so you can not  afford to choose worse than the best.

Start paying less and get a better service!