ProZ.com claims that it "serv[es] the world's largest community of translators..., deliver[ing] a comprehensive network of essential services, resources and experiences that enhance the lives of its members."
For thousands of translators, however, the only thing ProZ is "enhancing" are the profits of its founder, Henry Dotterer.
In fact, in recent years, ProZ has earned itself a reputation as the go-to site for dumping, the predatory pricing practices that disadvantage workers--like translators--who have no union or other protection in the so-called "free market." (Which is just another way of saying that translators are being allowed to finance the market so that others can profit -- the "free market," that is, doesn't actually exist; someone always pays for it.)
Though ProZ makes no effort to reduce, if not eliminate, jobs offered at rates so low they deny translators the possibility to earn a living wage, it has become the industry leader in another nefarious and damaging practice: permitting clients to indicate beforehand what they intend to pay and, in so doing, to establish pricing practices.
Translators are service providers. They alone must set their minimum rates based upon the economy in which they live, buy food, pay rent and taxes, and so on. ProZ, instead, allows job posters to dictate the price of a job to translators.
The practice is unacceptable, but ProZ refuses to concede the point. Their weak argument--which, sadly, many ignorant, self-injuring translators parrot--is that anyone can refuse a job if the rates are too low.
After years of handing their enormous forum directly over to low-rate clients, however, ProZ has helped make it virtually impossible for translators to command higher rates. The choice is not--as ProZ would have it--between turning down a low-rate job in favor of one that pays your normal rate. The choice is between accepting a low-rate job and not working.
Here's the correct analogy, meanwhile: You take your car to the mechanic. Before he starts work, you tell him, "This job is worth a hundred bucks, and that's what I intend to pay." And the mechanic -- because the market has been so utterly and thoroughly distorted by entities like ProZ -- has no choice but to accept.
Alternately: You sit down to eat in a restaurant. After consulting the menu, you call the owner over to your table. "This steak is overpriced," you say. "I'll pay half, and I want you to throw in a bottle of wine with that. If you don't get everything on my table within ten minutes, though, the deal's off." And here again, the restaurateur has no recourse: he must accept or lose the chance to earn even 50% of what the meal actually costs.
For ProZ, all that's A-OK.
Here are a few examples--taken from this week's job postings in the Italian->English combination--of the dumping that is now standard operating procedure on ProZ:
(1) Wolfestone Translation Ltd
The Language Centre
Roy Allkin, Anna Milkowska
57 Walter Road, Swansea, SA1 5PZ
Ital>Engl: €0.04/word; $0.05/word
Note: in a European context (European-based client; European-based translator), anything less than €0.08/word is unacceptable. Especially for a job that requires--as this one does--same-day turnaround.
(2) Business Voice
Viale Trieste 2, Manzano, Udine 33044
5 files, financial statements and budget reports, URGENT.
Ital>Engl: €0.03 gross/word, maximum of €0.04 gross/word.
Note: A freelancer who pays taxes in Italy turns over 40% or more of his or her gross to the government in taxes and other contributions. In actual terms, then, this rate is equivalent to €0.018/word $0.013/word. "Welcome to your Future" says Business Voice on its website: a future in which the professional translator has been annihilated.
(3) Servicio de Traducción KOMA
Ital>Engl: €0.05/word. TECHNICAL translation. URGENT.
Note: Technical translations require just what you'd suppose: technical knowledge and the ability to use sector-specific terminology correctly. In a normal world, translators are paid more for this--perhaps that's why Komalingua was so generous as to offer €0.01/word more than many of this week's job posters. Normally, however, when you call a plumber to come to your house immediately because of an emergency, you expect to pay more for the service. The same goes for translation. Just not on ProZ.
(4) Dave Girotto
Holeckova 25, Prague, 15000
Engl>Ital: €0.035/word (=$0.048/word)
Note: Fifteen pages (actually, roughly seventeen, based on 4000 Italian words), 42-hour turnaround. Even in the Czech Republic, Italian translators get paid badly.
(5) Orit Helzer
(no company listed)
Ital>Engl: $0.056/word (=€0.04/word)
Note: Mx. Helzer demands: a) that the translation begin very soon; b) that the translator use Helzer's proprietary translation software; c) that candidates show proof of academic translation/language studies); and d) that candidates complete a translation test. All that for a 4,700-word job that pays $263.20 (€190.72) before taxes. (By comparison, I wouldn't consider a job like this for less than €380 or twice what Helzer is offering--and my rates, for someone with my experience, aren't especially high). Perhaps Orit Helzer would also like fries with that.