Price per words is commonly used by the translation industry.Translators and translation agencies often use price per word as their pricing model. This means that they set their price based on the amount of words in the original document. Pricing based on words is a very simple pricing method but it can be also an unfair and unrealistic one.

There are plenty of translators who have spent more time on a project than they originally planned. Price per word pricing method won’t take these items into account well enough:

  • Some texts are complex and short while some others are simple and long.
  • Some languages use more words than others to say the same thing.
  • Some topics have more difficult vocabulary and terms than other topics.
  • Some text types need more polished style than others.
  • Some translation tasks require using unfamiliar technology.
  • Some small items like articles and prepositions affect the word count in some languages. (For example “We are sitting in the car” has only 2 words in Finnish: “Istumme autossa”.)

Pricing is all about psychology. Price acts also as an indicator of the difficulty or quality of the job. Too quick delivery makes the customer think that they paid too much for such a simple task. Too slow delivery on the other hand can be a sign of an unprofessional translator or an unimportant customer. These assumptions and interpretations may or may not be rational. However, they are unpleasant for sure. Because the quote sets such expectations, it should be correct and reflect the reality.

Sometimes translators complain about customers who try to bargain their prices. But it’s good to keep in mind that there is always an alternative. One can choose to left it untranslated or use machine translation or find a linguistic student to do the job for less money. If the potential customer thinks the quote is unfair he won’t accept it.

The problem is that it requires time for a translator to make a quote which would reflect the real work load. Going through the material and analyzing how difficult it is to translate can take a lot of time — especially if the project is large. In addition, all this effort would have to be made before any contract or deal. It all may turn into sunk costs. The time spent on something is always away from some other thing.

Price per word is a simple pricing model but it isn’t perfect. Word count is easy to get but it tells very little about the text. The other commonly used pricing model, price per hour, is not better either. It is easy to under- or overestimate time as well as difficulty or size. Words are easy to calculate but all words aren’t equal.

What do you think? Is price per word an unfair pricing model?


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