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July 4, 2016

Reduce translation costs with XML

$0.21 per word.

That’s the average cost in the US to translate content into another language according to Slator, a translation news and analytics site. That number is not speculative; they analyzed the costs per word from over 80 actual proposals gathered by the US General Services Administration (GSA). You can view the source proposals here.

Some languages are more expensive to translate into than others, but this average cost is compelling. Are you getting the maximum value for your translation spending?

Translation is not a necessary evil; it’s a vital step in the process of conducting business globally. You’ve invested in creating quality products and content, and you (hopefully!) want to extend that quality into other markets. While translation can be expensive, cutting corners can result in lost revenue.

Searching for the lowest translation prices is fiscally prudent, but it should never be to the detriment of quality. Cost should be secondary to the class of service you receive. Look for translators who meet your needs with regard to subject matter expertise, language fluency, and local market knowledge. If you find several who meet your needs, then by all means weigh them by cost of services.

Reduce your overhead

robotic arm lifting dice

(source: Flickr/druscoe)

The true “trick” to reducing translation spending is to remove as much overhead from the process as possible. Overhead is best reduced through consistency of content and efficiency in formatting.

While you can accomplish this through the use of style guides, thorough editorial passes, and rigid templates, the effort involved is tremendous unless you can automate the processes. This is why an increasing number of companies with multiple language requirements are moving to XML.

Writing your content in XML removes the presentation layer (how published content looks) from the authoring side, and allows for easier reuse of common blocks of content. Writers and translators do not need to spend time formatting documents, and the amount of unique text is significantly reduced through reuse.

An idealistic translation scenario

Consider a situation where two writers work on a new 500-page manual. This document then needs to be translated into 10 languages.

Assuming the old collegiate standard of 250 words per page and factoring in the average $0.21 per word, the translation budget for this 500 page manual is $262,500.

By removing the need to format the translated content, you may be able to haggle the translation costs down a bit. Let’s assume a modest 10% reduction in cost; a price reduction of $0.021 (yes, two pennies) will save you $26,250 on that 500 page manual.

If you can reduce the amount of content by 20% through reuse, you can save quite a bit on translation. You would essentially be removing 100 pages of content by reusing content from your other manuals, which could reduce translation costs by $52,500 using the average $0.21 rate.

Combining these approaches—20% reuse with a 10% rate reduction—your total translation cost for the same exact manual becomes $189,000. That is a savings of $73,500!

Make a realistic compelling case

The projected savings in the example above is certainly compelling, but the example uses basic math and makes some big assumptions. Savings can vary greatly based on the total amount of reuse, how reuse is employed, and whether or not you can bargain with your translation vendor.

For a more conservative, realistic estimate, try our XML business case calculator. This calculator does not assume a drop in translation word count from reuse, as it is hard to quantify how many times a particular chunk of content will get reused. Instead, it factors in the amount of authoring time saved (multiplied by writer wages) through reuse.

Using the same scenario in the XML business case calculator, but assuming it takes the writers 2 hours to author every page at a $50/hour wage, the annual total savings from switching to XML is $53,250. (Not too different from the idealistic scenario.)

Once you factor in more manuals and more writers, the return on the investment in XML authoring becomes quite compelling. Go on, give it a try yourself.