A client sent me this recently:
We are trying to standardize our pricing and base everything on source words. I understand for into English documents, you usually charge based on the target English word count or based on a flat rate that is agreed upon in advance. Would you mind providing a per-character rate for into English translation based on the number of source characters? Assume this will only apply when we have an MS Word document or something with live, selectable text.
Here's what I wrote back:
There are a lot of extra issues with basing K>E jobs on a per-character rate. The first is simply that very few (perhaps just 10-20%) of K>E jobs come to me with editable source files; most everything is scanned from hardcopy, it seems. But beyond that, to count characters then counts numbers on a per digit basis, and also when English words are mixed it, it dramatically raises the character count. However, accommodating for this is an imprecise science and makes for a difficult process.
The other issue, which is also not negligible, is that the conversion rates between English and Korean are not stable and so to account for the extra risk factor in this would require a per-character Korean rate that would generally be higher than my current rates, since I do everything based on a per-target-word rate.
An alternative to this is to ask for a quote in advance on jobs where you/your client don’t want to take a word count risk. I could then give you a fixed price on which you could base your pricing to your client.
I hope this is helpful.
It follows then from the above that I am not generally willing to provide both a fixed-job quote AND a word count estimate on a Korean>English project. That's because in a situation where I don't know in advance what the final billable word count will be, by providing a fixed quote, I'm taking all of the word count risk and giving the client a fixed number they can base their decisions. On the other hand, if the client thinks my quote may be too high, I'm perfectly happy to quote a per-word rate too. In this case, they can choose before the project starts whether to go with the fixed price or the per-word rate.
Even after this, clients will sometimes still come back and ask for a word count estimate. But this a damned-if-you-do/damned-if-you-don't request, since the client isn't happy if they take the per-word rate and it turns out in the end that my word count estimate was significantly low, and vice versa if they take the fixed-quote rate. Still, I feel the need to give a number and so my response to this question always requires careful wording, such as the following:
I don't know what the English word count will be, especially from scanned Korean PDF files like this. However, instead of a fixed-quote price, I'd be glad to take the job at just a straight $.__/target word, if you decide before the project starts to choose that. From this calculation, you can see that the job would be about _,___ words before it reaches the $____ fixed-quote price I sent you.
As you can see, this message makes it clear that I'm not taking responsibility for a specific word count, either with the fixed-quote or the per-word price, but it does explain the linkage between these and the word count, whatever that may turn out to be.