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Rarity rule and cost per word

The first thought you come up with when you want to buy a good or a service is about the pricing: how much is it? For the translation and localisation industry it is the same. So, when a project is given to be translated, it really has a cost. However, what are the rules for pricing this service?

There are actually many factors for the pricing of the translation services depending on the localisation provider such as language pair, deadlines, content complexity, work volumes, quality assurance, translation technologies, etc.

In this article, we are focusing on the “rarity rule“, one of the most common rules that is driving the pricing in the localisation industry. But what does it consist of? A rare language is a language with less native speakers, so less available linguists that can work on it. For that reason, we can consider as rare all the languages in which we can find a scarce supply of translators.

This industry is ruled by the “Demand & Supply Law”, as more linguists are available for one language, the cheaper it will be to translate into the target language. Inversely, as less linguists are available for one language, the more expensive it will be to translate into the target language.

Explaining it in a simpler manner, just think about the differences in terms of Spanish speaking population and Finnish speaking population. If we want to translate from these languages to a common one, let’s say Swahili (which is actually a rare language), which one would be cheaper?

Taking into account that more than 570 millions of people are Spanish native speakers and that only 5 millions of people are Finnish native speakers, we would allege that there are more possibilities to find a Swahili translator from the Spanish speaker population rather than from the Finnish speaker population.

In the previous example, we have indirectly already reflected the effect of the language pairing into the pricing of translation. It is not the same price for common to common language translation and for common to rare language translation. As stated before, it would be cheaper to translate from common to common languages rather than from rare to rare languages.

Now, concerning the pricing strategies used by language service providers, there are also several ways to compute the final price of the service (per line, per page, per hour of work, flat fee, customized, etc.). In terms of communality, the most used strategy in the translation and localization industry is per word pricing, as it is the most straightforward pricing strategy too.

To sum up, on the one hand, the cheapest ones would be English, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, Italian and French due to the abundance of specialized linguists available in the market. However, on the other hand, the most expensive languages for translating would be Scandinavian and African languages among others because of the rarity and the scarcity of population of speakers.