How Discounts are Supposed to Work
Having been in the business a while, how many times have you heard: "This is a huge job. We would like your best price"? I get this all the time. But why is this wrong, you would ask? Isn't it natural that when people buy a lot from you they expect to get discounts? It is... but.

It is natural to expect and give discounts if you are trading in something that you have sitting in inventory somewhere, and you can pull it out and deliver it. There are two reasons for discounts in this situation: with a smaller profit margin, the seller can make up the money by selling a greater number of individual items, and inventory costs money to store, so, if the discount given is less than the cost of keeping an inventory, it makes very good sense to get rid of it.

In the translation business, however, there is no inventory (unless someone would like to buy a translation I did for another client in a different field 5 years ago). If we were to compare our business with other fields of human endeavor, the closest would be manufacturing. We receive an order, we manufacture the translation, and we deliver to the customer by a certain deadline.

Let us look at how discounts work in manufacturing. If you order a batch of product, you factor in standard lead times which the manufacturer gives you as well as the price for the product (either unit or the entire batch) which you also get from the manufacturer. If you wish to avail yourself of the advantages of modern capitalism and you do not have a friendly manufacturer that you have worked with before and trust, you request offers from several manufacturers and select the one that appears to have the best price-to-value ratio. What manufacturers are looking for is capacity utilization. If you are able to keep their machinery and employees busy a certain percentage of the time without putting too much strain on the system, the manufacturer is likely to offer you a discount because he or she is able to make long-term and, usually, less expensive arrangements with suppliers and employees. If, on the other hand, you wish to shorten the lead time (or increase product quantity, which ultimately amounts to the same thing), you ask the manufacturer if it is feasible at all, and if it is, you pay a premium on the standard price.

In the translation industry, if you work with agencies, what seems to happen most often is the agency and the end customer agree on a budget and the deadlines without first asking the actual manufacturer (language professional) and, if the job happens to be large, expect a discount to boot. However, larger jobs with shorter deadlines require more effort all around: in coordination, translation, and post-translation assembly. Hence, they should cost more, not less. Even for an individual translator, a job that requires longer hours and more work per hour should be more expensive, not cheaper.

For myself, I would be more inclined to come down on my price if offered small amounts of work on a regular basis that I can put down when something more lucrative comes along and resume once the higher-paying job is done.