Charging for Subtitle Translations

This post is happening because of L’s question in an earlier post on how I charge for Japanese to English subtitle translations and due to the complexity of it, I had to dedicate a post to it.

Translating a text document and translating subtitles are totally different requests as the latter depends on a lot of factors. In general, there are two main different ways to charge clients for translation work:

1) Per source character
2) Per target word

The market standard is now #1 as clients can control their expenses. Otherwise, charging by per target word means the translator can choose to use long sentences just to make a bit more money. In the case of charging by per source word, there is, however, one issue which is that if the document is highly complex with lots of formatting or it has text in images (or image PDFs) or that some parts of it do not require translation, counting the number of source characters is a chore if clients do not tell you the total, which they usually don’t.

In general, if you’re getting paid in JPY, I would suggest charging at least 8 yen per source character even for new translators. However, if you’re getting work from agencies, you would probably find that they pay much less but I wouldn’t suggest going under 6 yen. Of course, the higher you can charge, the better.

For me, I charge about 12 to 15 yen per source character depending on the kind of work, as not all translation jobs are made equal. But as mentioned in an earlier comment, some of the things to consider when taking on subtitle translation jobs are:

– Is the script available?
If it is available, it will be easy to work on as it would mostly be like regular document translations and you have additional reference material (i.e. the video) to see the context in which words and phrases are being used. If not, you can charge more.

– Is transcription required?
It is very tough work to listen to every word in the video and reproduce it on paper, so I really dislike transcribing. But some clients may want you to do it. Which means, this is double the work you have to do since you have to scribe out the original Japanese content and then translate them. But the benefit of having transcribed text is that it makes your translation process easier since you won’t have to rewind and forward and rewind and forward to hear what is being said. If they want you to transcribe, you can either charge additional fees or negotiate for them to reduce other requirements to make your work easier (i.e. not mark time code, not have character limits, not being particular about 送り仮名 like you can type 翻訳する as ほんやくする so you don’t have to spend time finding the right form, etc.).

– Do I have to mark time code?
This can get very time consuming depending on how detailed they want your time-code to be as clients may request you to fill in the start and end time for when the subtitles should appear. Sometimes, they only require you to fill in the start time.

– Is there character limit per line of English text?
Because of space constraints on screen, there is usually a limit to the number of characters that can be displayed (including spaces) and they more often than not, would want you to help break up the sentences so that they can just copy and paste.

– How many lines per block of text can I break it into?
Some people may not think this is a big issue, but allowing 2 lines per subtitle block actually reduces your workload by a lot since the amount of time-codes you need to mark is reduced by half. So if they say 3 lines, even better.

– What’s the turnaround time?
Logically, the tighter the schedule, the higher you can charge because they are in need of the documents and you have to open up your schedule for it.

– If there is an external checker, do I have to respond to that and do the final edit?
If they do not have an editor, they may request for you to respond to checker’s comments and do a final edit. I don’t usually charge for this but some people may not like it and say, “No, I only do translations. No editing.”

Now even though I’ve said this much, you probably still need more ideas on how to charge. So first, if they do provide the script, you can charge it as with regular document translations, i.e. by per source character, and then add whatever amount based on the detailed requirements and how much you want to receive in order to do it. That is the easy part.

But the truth is, a lot of clients have no clue about how translation works, so all the information you can get will usually be, “I have a 10-minute video to translate. How much do you charge?” And that is the only information they give you. Based on a regularly paced speech, a Japanese person typically produces between 220 to 250 characters a minute if they talk continuously. So, if that’s the only information they give you, don’t be afraid to quote higher. In this case, take 250 characters per minute x 10 minutes = 2,500 characters. And if you decide to charge 8 yen per source character, that will be 20,000 yen for the job. If they request for all of the above, I would probably just add 10 percent (arbitrary figure) to make it 22,000 excluding transcription. But you can add any amount that you feel would be worth your time and effort to take on the assignment.

The reason why I excluded transcription is because I typically decline all requests for transcription because it is very tedious work. But if you like to do it, then go ahead. Do take note that transcription typically doesn’t pay a lot since it’s just typing what you hear, so you likely won’t be able to get much extra out of it.

Hope this is enough information.

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