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Turning Things Around

Professional linguists are, according to Jack Welde from Smartling, a backbone of the translation company. That’s undeniably true. However, as you probably know, no one really treats translators as people. Instead, companies prefer to treat them as large, undefined, homogeneous crowd (this is where language crowdsourcing comes from) of labor. Bid on this, bid on that. “Oh, your rates are too high. Can you lower them?” All of that is a daily routine we are living in. Even I, myself, was a victim of this faltering thinking back in 2011 when I got really excited with “cloud things” and thought that cheap, middle-level pricing approach was a way to satisfy both markets. Wrong. It doesn’t work like that. Ask any MBA student whether it is a good tactics to position a firm in the middle of the spectrum. You will get a straight response: “Hell, no”. It is not wise to do so. If you play in the machine translation market, do it free as Google Translate. If hope to attract business clients, position it differently. No one likes the middle. The quote “Those who stand for nothing fall for anything” – Alexander Hamilton, loosely confirms this point.

So, what are we doing differently at Ackuna? First of all, I don’t like an idea of paying translators peanuts for high quality translation jobs. How companies end up doing it? Bidding. By eliminating a need from freelancers to bid on the jobs, we will simply be able to raise the minimum pay and attract the best candidates. This idea comes from game theory and Nash Equilibrium. The bidding wars have the Nash equilibrium price set to $0.01 (one cent), the lowest price per word that is physically possible to charge using US currency. Why is that? In the competitive bidding, all jobs go not to a highest rated vendor, they go to a lowest bidder. It is a fact. The only way to win a job is to bid the lowest price; thus, the price quickly drops to $0.01, its theoretical floor. And, as you know, working for such rate is a poverty line. This is unethical for any US based business to force your backbone people to live on welfare and struggle for existence, isn’t it? Thus, we are taking a deontological stance on it. Translators are people and they have inalienable rights.

Today, competing of prices is a faulty idea. By lowering your rates, your firm inadvertently slips into “no mans” land of a middle territory. It won’t get any work there, surprisingly. Instead, firms compete now on the size and quality of their linguistic pool. Yes, every firm rants they have billions of freelancers translators. But in reality, if they can find at least one sucker who can accept a sub-standard wage, they call the day a success. Turning things around. That’s what we do at Ackuna.

Alex Buran

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