Premium Plugins and Free Translations: Why, oh Why?
Hold on, I have to pay $250 for your plugin and work my ass off to make sure it’s translated to my language, so that, you know, I can actually use it? And you can now use all of mine and others’ efforts as a selling point to make more money? What?
Why has the world of WordPress silently lived with this situation for such a long time? I think we can at least exclude that it might be a nefarious conspiracy to use free, volunteer work to add value to a commercial product; knowing how many developers and agencies work, and having worked with more than a few, I know that, in most cases, this approach has become established practice not for reasons of malice, but rather of complacency. There simply is no rule that says that translators have to be compensated for commercial work (nor should there be one; basic decency doesn’t need to be codified, as it would cheapen the very concept. Maybe.)
Way back when most plugins were free to the community (as still is WordPress itself), translating them felt like a noble and justified contribution; translations groups were born, whole communities, rules and glossaries were discussed and implemented, validators were put in place. We have languages packs now! Language variants! Whee!
However, the plugin space has evolved to a place where many of the most important plugins use the freemium model (which is fine by me), so it was only natural to assume that “translators will translate as they’ve done before”. And they did. When they had the time and inclination. Because they had to. For a while. And everyone seemed to forget that the translators’ core business isn’t translating, it’s some other operation that needs your plugin, and needs it in their own language. So when push comes to shove, they focus first on their business, not yours.
Also, since the premium part of your plugin doesn’t usually exist on the official translation platform, it’s not subject to the rules, glossaries and validation procedures that exist there, which in turn results in incomplete, incoherent and often horrid, incorrect translations. Not because the translators are bad or incompetent persons, but simply because, again, they are not linguists, not to mention the fact that the localization philosophy of many plugins is appallingly bad (we’ll leave that subject for another of these delightful conversations), which doesn’t make their task any easier.
“But at least it’s translated! Somewhat…?”, you say.
Well, I have some news for you: your plugin doesn’t live in a vacuum, it shares bed and board with a whole WordPress installation; for a user to see “Post” or “Batch” or anything else translated ten different ways by ten different plugins is annoying and confusing. For me, it’s infuriating. To see some strings translated, and others not, screams “I’ve paid $250 for a plugin that, yes, works, but looks like amateur hour. Am I going to recommend it to a client? Use it myself? I’d have to make sure the translation is complete and correct first, and if I do that, what is the incentive to share the translations back to the developer, when I don’t even know who will validate them (or how), or if they are validated at all? What if someone else decides that “Batch” is actually translated to “Fornada” in Portuguese (which is technically correct, but means “a batch of things going into a literal oven, at the same time”, hence contextually incorrect) at some point in time?
What I mean to say with all this, is that, much like a new feature of your premium plugin has cost developers’ time, and your money to implement, translations are exactly that: a feature. One that costs translators’ time and money.
“Sure, but how do I do this without having to create a feral-cat-herding department for managing dozens of reliable translators”, you ask?
- The easiest option would be to use a service like WP-Translations’ TranslationsPress (I am not affiliated with them, do not work for them, nor do they sponsor me in any way), which seems to rely on a similar meticulousness as the official translation platform for free (and free parts of) plugins. The concept is simple enough: you pay them, they pay the translators. Also, from my years with the Polyglots team, I can more or less determine that most people on their language teams are also bona fide, official validators on WordPress.org. There’s no mention of that connection on their website, but if it exists, it should be there. In bold letters at 120px font size.
- You could choose the feral-cat-herding route, making sure you implement that same level of thoroughness as both the aforementioned platform and the official one. Some plugin authors do, and it seems to work for them. What they most definitely do not do, is compensate translators. Look, you don’t necessarily need to disburse actual cash, the very least you could do is give your reliable translators a free license to your product, on the highest plan level, for at least as long as they keep translating. It’s not like it’s an actual expense, it’s much more of an investment, and a good one at that.
- There’s is an “intermediate level”, where you don’t have to implement a platform at all, and just use the official one, with its translators, validators, rules and glossaries, but don’t even think of using it as a justification for not compensating translators for work on premium plugins.
- Finally, you can just ignore all this and carry on like before. There’s just one tiny little difference now: this very post didn’t exist on the internet before, and now it does.
Bom dia e obrigado.
Update #2: Simon was so kind as to translate this post to German, which is uhr leiwand.
Update #1: this isn’t a new subject (and right on cue, the AI bros are making it worse). Make sure to read tweets before and after this one.