Is cheap always the best?

Translation: Agency vs Crowd vs Freelance

Thanks to the internet, hiring translators has become easier and cheaper than ever before. In the early 2000s, independent mobile app developers could not easily have their apps and websites translated into many languages. In 2016, with remote work environments such as crowdsourcing, cloud application, and cloud CAT (Computer Assisted Translation) tools, small companies like Todoist can hire freelance translators across time zones to efficiently have their services and websites translated.

But having too many options can also be exhausting. 58064 agencies are registered to proz, and that’s only agencies. There are perhaps more freelancers and many other crowd translation services such as gengo.

The price gap of translation services is unreasonably large. I know that some translation agencies charge 0.5 USD per English word to Japanese word. I charge 0.12 USD, and that’s the average price for freelancers according to proz. Some agencies charge 0.01 USD per word, of course, there is no doubt that they use Google Translate, because the average speed is 300-700 word per hour,depending on the format and topic. So that agency is making a maximum of 7 dollars an hour and their Japanese translators are making even less before tax, insurance and other miscellaneous costs.

Having too many options is not very convenient when you are not fully informed as to what you are getting and you have to take the time to choose. In this article, I will explain the pros and cons of hiring a freelance translator, translation agencies, and crowd translation.

Freelance for small projects, agencies for big projects, and never use crowd translation.

In a nutshell when your translation needs match the description below, it’s always good to hire freelance translators.

  • Less than 3000 -5000 words a day
  • to 3-5 languages

When your translation project is big, translation agencies are eventually cheaper because coordinating several translators is a lot of work.

Big translation is

  • bigger than 10,000 words a day
  • translation to multiple languages

When you seek the cheapest and quickest translation, regardless of quality, then you may want to consider using a crowd translation service like gengo. However you might end up proofreading or correcting the entire translation.

Why a Freelance translator is better and cheaper

Insider tip: freelance translators always offer cheaper per-word rate and often better quality. I cannot stress this enough.

The reason for lower prices is quite obvious; you pay only translators when you hire a freelancer whereas if you contract an agency you are paying a high earning CEO, along with human resources staff, trainees, their office staff and their capital investors. Contrary to what many may think translation agencies don’t have the advantage of volume  over freelancers. Translation is a labour intensive service, and the size of a company has very little impact on the productivity of each translator. It’s not like one translator in a company of 1,000 translators can translate more words per an hour than a freelance translator.

You can also assume the quality of professional freelance translators is constant. If you work with an agency, they don’t always assign the same translator to you. It is much smarter for them to assign the best translator for new clients or very big clients, and assign trainees to small existing clients.

You hire translation agencies for coordination and consulting

Managing is not an easy job. Managing a translation project is no exception. Coordinating a team of translators for different languages and different cultural backgrounds requires project management skills and intercultural communication skills. You can enjoy the simplicity of having only one contact point if you hire a translation agency. If you hire translators of different languages, you will end up spending all day just communicating with them about context of texts, arranging payment, negotiating over per-word rate, and you also need to make sure that all of them are professional.

While translation agencies don’t have an advantage in productivity over freelancers, they have a huge advantage in availability. Freelancers are not always available. They get sick, they have vacation, they might pick better clients over you, but translation agencies have many translators so chances are they’ll be able to work with you as soon as you need them.

Don’t use crowd translation unless you have proofreaders.

Crowd translation services like the Japanese  startup Gengo has a very different approach from crowdsourcing services like, Proz, and Upwork. While those crowdsourcing services do not play any part in the actual translation process, crowd translation acts as intermediary platform in which customers upload texts to the platform and pre-qualified translators carry out the translation and then submit the translated text back to the platform.

Price per word is fixed so that customers can save time from various back-and-forth correspondence, agreeing on prices, delivery deadlines, etc, which you would have if you hired translation agencies or freelance translators. Insider tip: the seemingly tedious correspondence will often include some consultation from which clients can largely benefit. I often advise clients to change font setting on a localized web page in order to make text both more readable and aesthetically appealing. I have translated web pages for many American and European startup companies. I exchanged more than 20 emails or 100 comments on Google Docs over the course of the projects, in order to ensure that the landing page is optimized in search engines, complied to Act against Unjustifiable Premiums and Misleading Representations laws , converting the audience into paying customers, and adjusting typographic designs to better fit the aesthetic of the Japanese audience. It is hard to see how this kind of care can be ensured when crowd translation, especially when price per word, is fixed.

Furthermore, crowd translation platforms won’t waste their time making sure your final translation is anything more than just translated properly.They can’t be bothered to create beautiful copy by being creative because they get paid for the number of words they translate. It is economically rational for them to translate, not localize, because creative translation will raise questions from customers, wasting the translators time. If customers check the finished job using Google translate, they will find that the translated text is different from source text.

I like AirBnB. It’s cheaper because it’s a done without a middleman. I can directly communicate with the hosts and not sales representatives or customer support, who doesn’t actually offer me services.

Translation is the same. Thanks to and other crowdsourcing services, you can directly work and communicate with your translator and pay less for the service than when you hire translation agencies.

If you want to have your work translated but don’t have enough money or knowledge, freelance translation is definitely worth trying.

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