** This article is updated regularly. It was last updated in January 2020 **
‘Should I charge per source word count or per target word count?’
Have you ever asked yourself this question? If so, you’re in the right place! In this post we’ll look at two of the most common ways that translators charge for their services, and see which one might work better for you.
Some Practical Considerations
Before we turn to look at textual factors it’s worth considering some of the practical advantages that each option offers.
When you intend to charge per source word, then you’ll be able to give your client an accurate quotation for the translation up-front. And when a client knows exactly what they’ll be paying, they’re more likely to hire you than another translator who charges by target word count and thus can only give a rough estimation of what the final cost is likely to be.
Having said that, online tools such as Tomedes' free-to-use Word Count Ratio Tool make estimating the number of words in the target document easier than ever - provided you know the word count of the source file, obviously.
Charging by target word count has practical advantages too. For example, you might work with clients who submit documents in formats that don’t contain a word count, such as a paper hardcopy or a faxed document. If you do work with clients who favor these type of formats, then you won’t have to spend a painstaking amount of time counting each word individually or making a rough estimation by multiplying the words on a page (and potentially performing more work for less if you miscalculate!).
Expansion and contraction
When choosing between charging a client per source word count or per target word count, it’s also extremely important to consider linguistic factors that can affect your level of remuneration.
Depending on the language, your translation might expand and become longer than the source language, or it might contract and end up shorter than the amount of words in the original document. This is because different languages have different grammar, syntax and word usage, among other contributory factors.
Kwintessential conducted research on language expansion and contraction when translating from one language to another, and some of their findings are interesting. For example, translating English into Arabic generally results in text expansion of approximately 25%, whereas translating from Spanish to English has a textual contraction of 15%. You can use the Tomedes Word Count Ratio Tool to see how this applies to the language pairing(s) that you translate.
It’s also important to note that expansion and contraction aren't the same for two languages, regardless of the way you’re translating. For instance, translating English to Finnish has a textual contraction of 25-30%, but translating Finnish to English has an expansion of 30-40%!
In addition to linguistic matters, your document’s content can also contribute to a translation’s expansion or contraction, and is an important point to consider when deciding whether to charge per source word or per target word.
Romantic books or advertising copy need to entice the reader and awaken the senses, which in English often involves using additional detail and descriptive words to convey a point, making the text’s expansion likely. On the other hand, technical documentation is expected to be brief and concise, possibly resulting in textual contraction.
January 2020 Update - A Word on Video Translation
Since we originally wrote this article back in 2015, requests for video translation have increased hugely. That's because we're consuming more and more content as video these days.
Video is a powerful marketing and advertising tool and an increasing number of companies of all sizes are waking up to its potential. According to WordStream, 51% of marketing professionals cite video as having the best return on investment (ROI) of all types of content. Not only have we seen the use of video increase massively, we're likely to see that trend continue for at least the next few years.
So how does this relate to whether you should charge per source word count or per target word count?
Video translation can be tricky to provide a quote for. You usually don't have a written file with a convenient, electronically calculated word count, like you do with many other file formats. Instead, you will need to work out the running time of the video, watch a minute of it while counting the words that are spoken (it's sometimes easiest to do this by transcribing a minute's worth of the file) and then calculate an approximate word count based on those two numbers.
You can either quote based on this source word count or try to estimate an approximate target word count (using your knowledge of the usual rate of language expansion or contraction during the translation process for your particular language pair) and then provide a quote based on that. In either case, it's important to make it clear to the client that the quote is approximate and that the final price will be based on the exact number of words that you end up translating!
We looked at some practical advantages of charging per source word or per target word, and we also noted the effect that expansion and contraction can have on a translation’s length, and thus the time you’ll spend working on it. Our latest update to this article also explored the topic of video translation and how to quote to translate a video when you don't have a script to provide the word count.
Ultimately, deciding on the best pricing method for you will depend on the sort of clients you work with, the languages you translate from and the content you’re familiar with translating. Hopefully this post will help you to make an informed decision. Leave a comment below to let us know which you opted for and why!