Growth focused companies want to access new markets and attract new customers to experience greater returns. In order to achieve this, they must adapt their products and services to their target foreign markets, also known as localization. Some organizations choose to perform this task in-house, usually looking to take advantage of perceived cost savings.
The problem is, most companies only take into account direct costs that can be easily defined in their localization and translation projects, while not considering the indirect ‘other’ costs. When evaluating whether to keep localization and translations projects in-house, these ‘other’ costs should be carefully considered.
The purpose of this article is to help organizations consider the ‘other’ costs associated with localization and translation, and to help establish optimal resource allocation. It’s difficult to list all the costs that may contribute to an organization’s localization and translation processes, as these can vary depending on industry, company, and project complexity. This article looks to demonstrate what types of ‘other’ costs organizations should consider before deciding on an in-house or outsourced translation team.
When a company has identified content that needs to be translated, the task becomes trying to find the optimal price given the required time of delivery. Those organizations that have an in-house localization team will scope the project and determine whether part or all of the project can be completed internally. This will be determined largely by the complexity of the project (the number of languages, content type and subject matter) and the capabilities of the in-house team and comparing that with the costs of outsourcing the project to a translation agency.
To do so, a fictitious company called Global Worldwide will be used to exhibit these ‘other’ costs often involved in translation.
Global Worldwide needs to translate a user guide-book to one other language. This book is 600 pages long and has a total of 100,000 words. Of those 100,000 words, 80,000 are unique words and 20,000 are leveraged words, which means they have either already been translated or are used multiple times throughout the book. Translating this book from one language to another requires converting the source files, translating the text, proofreading that translation, converting and formatting those files, and then going through final quality assurance and formatting stages. To keep the project on track, a project manager must check in regularly.
The team handling translation consists of a translation project manager, a desktop publisher, a subject matter expert (SME), and of course, a translator. Each team member is a salaried employee with full benefits and performs their job at an average speed. In 2016, the average total cost of an employee included 68.6% in salaries/wages and 31.4% in benefits. Based on the average salary rate in 2016 and with benefits factored in, the total cost to the company for each position is as follows:
$53,992 Salary Cost
$24,715 Benefit Cost
$78,710 Total Cost
$37.84 per hour
Subject Matter Expert (SME)
$71,156 Salary Cost
$32,570 Benefit Cost
$103,726 Total Cost
$49.87 per hour
$45,210 Salary Cost
$20,694 Benefit Cost
$65,904 Total Cost
$31.68 per hour
$49,320 Salary Cost
$22,575 Benefit Cost
$71,895 Total Cost
$34.56 per hour
The initial stage of any translation project is setting up the source files so they work with the translator’s programs of choice. There are many translation programs available with different features and pricing. Though outdated, one of the most used translation tools is Trados Workbench, which currently costs around $2600 for a single user license. (We’ve developed UNIFY – The Translation Management Cloud, the most advanced translation management system that streamlines the translation process and helps organizations unify their translation process helping them save time and money). Adobe Framemaker is among the more common programs used to write up guidebooks.
Converting the source files so that they are compatible with the translation program is a relatively simple task that should take the desktop publisher an hour at most. 1 hour of work for a desktop publisher making $31.68 an hour comes out to a cost of $31.68.
The translation phase makes up the bulk of the project, and this is where the total cost and time can vary heavily depending on the translator’s speed and the languages involved. For this project and language, Global Worldwide’s translator is able to translate 2,000 unique words or 3,500 leveraged words per day. Both these rates are about average and a realistic amount when the translation involves two languages with some similarities (for example, English and German or English and Spanish). When the two languages differ drastically, such as English and Japanese or English and Mandarin, translation is significantly slower and more difficult. For these types of difficult translations, or if the subject matter is more complex, the translator may only be able to translate 1,500 unique words per day or less.
With 80,000 unique words to translate at 2,000 unique words per day, this part of the translation process takes the translator 40 days or 320 hours. At the translator’s rate of $34.56 per hour, the cost to translate the unique words is $11,059.20.
Translating the 20,000 leveraged words at 3,500 leveraged words per day takes the translator 5.71 days or 45.68 hours. That amount of hours at $34.68 per hour costs $1,584.18.
After the guidebook is translated, the SME needs to proofread it from front to back, ensuring that there aren’t any errors, such as spelling or grammar mistakes. An experienced proofreader should be able to read through about 5,000 words per day. Proofreading this 100,000-page book at 5,000 words per day takes 20 days or 160 hours. At the SME’s rate of $49.87 per hour, the proofreading cost is $7,979.20.
With the guidebook translated in Trados Workbench, the desktop publisher now has to convert the new files back so they’re compatible with Adobe Frame maker and format them correctly. Since formatting is a more time-intensive task, this takes much longer than it did to convert the files the first time. 20 pages per hour is a standard formatting speed, which means 600 pages would take 3.75 days or 30 hours. At the desktop publisher’s rate of $31.68 per hour, the cost is $950.40.
Once the guidebook is ready, it must go through quality assurance. Many companies have their translators handle quality assurance, including our hypothetical company, Global Worldwide. During the quality assurance process, the translator makes sure that both versions of the guidebook have the same design and layout, that words are hyphenated correctly, that the tables of contents and indexes are accurate (in terms of both translation and page numbers listed), and that all text in the book is translated correctly. This requires a thorough review of the book, but if the original translation job was done properly, there shouldn’t be many errors, and most translators can get through about 150 pages per day. For this 600-page book, quality assurance takes 4 days or 32 hours at $34.56 per hour, for a cost of $1,105.92.
Of course, the desktop publisher has to perform one final conversion and formatting process for any changes that were just made during quality assurance. It’s normal for this to take about 20 percent of the time it took for the previous formatting process. Since that took 32 hours, this stage would take 6.4 hours at $31.68 per hour, costing $202.75.
Throughout this entire process, the project manager would need to check in to keep the project on track and make sure everything was going according to plan. The amount of oversight needed depends heavily on the scope of the project. This project was one of the easier translation projects, as it was one guidebook being translated to one other language, so 5 percent of the project time is a reasonable estimate for the project manager’s hours. A more complicated project, with multiple languages or a complex type of software to translate, would require much more of the project manager’s time.
The project time was 595.08 hours, and 5 percent of that is 29.75 hours. At the project manager’s rate of $37.84 per hour, this costs $1,125.74.
The translation, proofreading, and quality assurance costs of this project come out to $21,728.50. The conversion and formatting costs are $1,184.83. The project management cost is the aforementioned $1,125.74.
This results in a total project cost of $24,039.07. The project takes 624.83 hours to complete, or just over 78 days. For a 5-day workweek, this project would be done in just over 15 weeks. Per-word rates are common for translation projects, so for comparison’s sake, this project comes in at a little over 24 cents per word.
While the per-word rate and total cost of this project isn’t terrible, it’s on the high side for a project of this nature. There are a large number of translation companies that charge much less per word than the above rate, at least for single-language translation tasks when the languages aren’t vastly different and the subject matter is not complex. For more complex subject matter and/or languages, the rate may be higher with a translation agency, but an internal translation team likewise would have to deal with the more complex translation, leading to increased project costs as well.
Ready to learn more about translation costs? Read our article, The ‘Other’ Costs of Translation
Employer Costs for Employee Compensation Summary: https://www.bls.gov/news.release/ecec.nr0.htm
Translation Project Manager Salary: https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Industry=Translation_Services/Salary
Desktop Publisher Salary: https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=Desktop_Publisher/Hourly_Rate
Subject Matter Expert Salary: https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/subject-matter-expert-salary-SRCH_KO0,21_SDAS.htm
Translator Salary: https://money.usnews.com/careers/best-jobs/interpreter-and-translator/salary