Translator and Interpreter according to economic theory
Thread poster: Williamson

Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 03:55
Flemish to English
+ ...
Feb 19, 2005

As a translator you find yourself in a situation of monopolistic competition: Many suppliers of an identical product, who offer slightly different services (according to language combination).
Nowadays, everybody (with a pc and an internet connection) can be(come) a supplier of translation services.
A translator is a price-taker and can not influence the price.

As an interpreter, you find yourself in an oligopolistic market:
A limited number of suppliers, who have at least gone through some form of training to be able to exercise their profession.
More or less fixed rates and you are more or less a price-setter. No big discussions over rates or payment-terms and no export to low-rate countries.


[Edited at 2005-02-19 13:35]


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xxxMihai Badea  Identity Verified
Luxembourg
Member (2004)
English to Romanian
+ ...
Translation market – a monopolistic one?! Feb 19, 2005

Hi!

I’m not sure I understand why you say the translation market is a monopolistic one. As far as I know, we can speak about a monopoly when there is one supplier who has an exclusive control of a certain commodity or service. I don’t think this is the case with the translators. But maybe I have just misunderstood your idea and you would be so kind to help me understand what you actually meant.


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Horst2  Identity Verified
Local time: 04:55
English to German
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Highly personalized Services Feb 19, 2005

Hello Williamson,

I do not share your view. Translating is a service that can be highly personalized. I follow proz.com since maybe 2 years and I think, if I would be an agency looking for translators, I would know exactly whom to pick for what subject by now. The more I learn, the more I understand how individual services are or might be. Personalized services give space for adequate compensation.

Regards,
Horst


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Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 03:55
Flemish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Difference between monopoly and monopolistic competiton Feb 19, 2005

There is a difference between a monopoly: one supplier, who is a price-setter and monopolistic competition: many suppliers who do not influence the price and are price-takers. An example: Pubs in a touristic city: they all more or less sell the same product with a slight variation and cannot influence the price.
What I meant is that nowadays anybody with a computer and with or without the proper translation training can access the translation market and that nobody can influence the price of the service offered: in that case you have a market situation of monopolistic-competition.
With regard to interpreting: prices are more or less fixed: they start at £350/day and top-interpreters command top-rates.


[Edited at 2005-02-19 14:46]


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xxxMihai Badea  Identity Verified
Luxembourg
Member (2004)
English to Romanian
+ ...
You'are right Feb 19, 2005

Thanks for the explanation.

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RobinB  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 04:55
German to English
Price influences Feb 19, 2005


many suppliers who do not influence the price and are price-takers.


That's a very sweeping statement indeed. Prices may sometimes be range-bound, but they can certainly also be influenced by suppliers.


What I meant is that nowadays anybody with a computer and with or without the proper translation training can access the translation market


Is that a bad thing? Does it affect prices at all?


and that nobody can influence the price of the service offered:


Suppliers can certainly influence the price of their services in the translation market.

And as far as interpreters are concerned, I think you'll find that the rates you cited apply only to the (?higher end of the?) conference interpreting segment. Public service and court interpreters probably earn substantially less. In addition, I do have the feeling that there are (proportionately) many more struggling interpreters than there are struggling translators; while rates may be more stable for interpreters (or even stipulated by law), there's a lot of competition to get the work. That's why a lot of interpreters also work (generally not particularly successfully) as translators.


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Robert Zawadzki  Identity Verified
Local time: 04:55
English to Polish
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Yes, but... Feb 19, 2005

"What I meant is that nowadays anybody with a computer and with or without the proper translation training can access the translation market"

Do you mean that one does not have to know a language? On a basis of some translations I had to "proofread" (meaning
'redo') I'm afraid some people think so.


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Victor Potapov
Russian Federation
Local time: 05:55
English to Russian
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Is it really monopolistic? (Answer: to become a monopoly, specialize!) Feb 19, 2005

Hi.

I agree with the point made - it is easier to explain higher price (or price increase or give reasons why your prices are at above-average-market levels) in interpreting (simultaneous) than in translation.

I have two points to make:

1. Is a situation where "...Many suppliers of an identical product, who offer slightly different services..." a monopolistic competition? My copy of McConnell & Brue's "Economics" is on the top shelf and I'm too lazy to open it, so I went to

http://dl.ccc.cccd.edu/classes/internet/economics185/h.htm

and got the following excerpt:

"...MONOPOLISTIC COMPETITION is a market in which many firms produce similar goods or services but each maintains some independent control of its own price.

A distinguishing structural characteristic of monopolistic competition is that there are “many” firms in the industry. “Many” is somewhere between the “few” of oligopolies or the “hordes” that characterize perfect competition.

(Table 11.1, Page 242)

LOW CONCENTATION

Concentration Ratio is the proportion of total industry output produced by the largest firms (usually the four largest).

Low concentration ratios are common in monopolistic competition.

Examples of monopolistic competition include banks, radio stations, health spas, apparel stores, and convenience stores.

MARKET POWER

Each producer in monopolistic competition is large enough to have some market power (the ability to alter the market price of a good or service)..."

Another definition is at
http://www.advfn.com/money-words_term_3111_monopolistic_competition.html

"...Monopolistic competition -
A market structure in which several or many sellers each produce similar, but slightly differentiated products. Each producer can set its price and quantity without affecting the marketplace as a whole."

To me translators' (and interpreters') competition is pure competition (hordes of sellers, similar product, price controlled/set by buyers, not by sellers), and not monopolistic. But again, I might be mistaken.

2. You don't have to be a humble price-taker. Specialize! Sit down for a while with a sheet of paper and a pencil and find (with a fresh eye) what are your competitive advantages. You like golf? you're an expert in DIY? you have been working at an international investment bank as an analyst for the past 15 years?

Why, you can easily become your country's best translator for golf/golfing products/golf tournaments/magazines etc. Or the DIY.. Imagine all the Home Depots of this world coming to your doorstep to beg for translation of their materials!

I leave the investment banking case to the powers of your imagination.)

Believe me - it IS possible if you really apply yourself AFTER finding out what you are good and "special" at, what you REALLY like to do in this world.

And when you find this, you are changing the rules of the game: you are suddenly "not like the others". Different. Unique, actually. Sought after. Valuable. And pricey.

Specialization indeed turns translators into monopolists. This is what I love about specialization.

I once read a book by (and on) Jack Welch, the legendary CEO of General Electric. The guy actually hates competition saying "there's no money to be made in competition". And he's right (but you know this already, right?)

He ordered GE divisions to become the "No.1 or No.2 in their respective field - or be sold, or closed down" within one (or two, or three - I don't remember, but no more than 3) year(s).

For one simple reason - they do not like competition. People with good business sense love monopoly, that's how the exclusive dealership agreement for an area was born.

To do this GE had to redefine its markets (e.g. their aircraft engine division is now selling the engines AND servicing them on the ground - see the change and added convenience/value?) This is what we all can do - change the rules of the game, redefine our markets, become #1 or #2 in our chosen field.

To do this, do just one thing - specialize!


Best luck in specializing,

Victor Potapov, CMA (Certified management accountant), CFM (Certified in financial management), SPE (Society of petroleum engineers), 8 years of IT & finance experience at Ernst&Young, Tetra Pak and Accenture, specializing in... you guessed it right: English>Russian and Russian>English financial, legal, IT and oil & gas translations and simultaneous interpreting.


Williamson wrote:

As a translator you find yourself in a situation of monopolistic competition: Many suppliers of an identical product, who offer slightly different services (according to language combination).



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BrigitteHilgner  Identity Verified
Austria
Local time: 04:55
German to English
+ ...
Understand economics Feb 20, 2005

Dear Williamson, since I am just in the middle of reworking/ translating the 18th edition of Samuelson's "Economics" into German, may I suggest you read up on monopolies, oligopolies, and competition? I think you might be confusing certain things. (No, I am not "just" the translator of the book, I also hold a degree in business economics and know what I am writing about.)
My view to the rest of the comments: Unfortunately, many clients have no clue what a good translation looks like or they do not care ("We don't want it good, we want it by Friday/cheap.") And it is certainly true that is is far easier to impress clients with simultaneous translations than with any written translation - but such is life. We won't be able to stop the housewife with no training who has had to follow her husband into a foreign country and - to make some pocket money - calls herself a translator and sells her services at a cheap, cheap rate.


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Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 03:55
Flemish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Chapter 17 Feb 21, 2005

Oeps, I guess, I did not read chapter 17 of "Principles of Economics", Monopolistic competition (second edition, 2001) by N.Gregory Mankiw very well.
The definition of monopolistic competition:
"Monopolistic competition consists of many companies who offer the same product, which slightly differs according to offeror.
Every company determines the price it asks the consumer for his product/service, depending on the properties of its product.
It is easy for a new company to access the market".
By the way, I did study economics/management/marketing/finance.
--
Samuelson is a classical handbook; just a Kotler is a classical handbook. After decades of using the same books some bizschools opt for other authors. In the above-mentioned text-book, a distinction is made between total competition, monopoly, oligopoly and monopolistic competition.
--
I am aware that translation is not well regarded by many.
A task for the management-assistant or indeed for the housewife, who wants to earn an extra. Why the heck did I ever bother to go to a school for translators and interpreters, where they did not only taught two foreign languages, but also economics, economic doctrines, economic geography, finance, sociology, art and some 15 other courses? Shouldn't those institutes be abolished? At least the translation department.
--
I suggest that you visit the University of Vienna and ask to attend an interpreting class.
It is a bit more difficult than translation and you can not become conference interpreter with at least two foreign languages overnight. Being able to impress is the result of arduous training. One day of interpreting equals quite a number of pages of Samuelson's book. The supply of interpreters is less than the supply of translators.
Hence according to economic theory, the price is higher.


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RobinB  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 04:55
German to English
The difficulty of translation Feb 21, 2005

I suggest that you visit the University of Vienna and ask to attend an interpreting class.
It is a bit more difficult than translation and you can not become conference interpreter with at least two foreign languages overnight.


The same applies to translation. The notion that interpreting is "more difficult" than translation is ridiculous, it's just "differently difficult". It's just as easy to be a bad interpreter as it is to be a bad translator. It's just as difficult to be a good translator as it is to be a good interpreter. The only difference, I suppose, is that there are a lot more bad translators than there are bad interpreters, but in my experience that has nothing - absolutely nothing - to do with whether somebody has studied translation or not. It's simply because demand is so high that quality isn't an issue for most of the market.

Being able to impress is the result of arduous training.


Indeed. And I don't know about interpreters, but translators have to keep on learning, day in, day out.

The supply of interpreters is less than the supply of translators. Hence according to economic theory, the price is higher.


Not so. The supply of *good* translators is no greater than the supply of *good* interpreters. And that's why *good* translators earn just as much - or even more than - *good* interpreters.


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Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 03:55
Flemish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Not so Feb 22, 2005

Number of graduates from institutes for translators and interpreters:
Translators: 40 on an average.
Add to that number the self-anointed translators who enter the market overnight each year.
Interpreters: from 3-15,maximum 20 covering all the languages of a particular institute. Less self-anointed interpreters, because for high level simultaneous and consecutive interpreting; you need the proper training.
Interpreting demands other skills than being able to transcribe the content of one language into another language using the correct terminology,background knowledge and tools (electronic dicos and TMs).
It is a more cognitive activity. In a booth there are no dicos available. Almost no self-annointed conference interpreters.
Of course, there are exceptions to the rule.


[Edited at 2005-02-22 14:44]


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RobinB  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 04:55
German to English
Juvenile elitism Feb 23, 2005

Sorry, but this "self-anointed" elitism is silly, juvenile and unnecessary. It's really no more adult than the "mine is longer than yours" level. The skill sets required for translators and interpreters are entirely different. For example, my AIIC friends shiver with horror when they see what's needed to produce a first-class translation. They don't want to get involved in that level of detail.

Interpreting demands other skills than being able to transcribe the content of one language into another language using the correct terminology,background knowledge and tools (electronic dicos and TMs).


You might equally say that translation demands skills other than being able to paraphrase the content of one language into another, missing out much of the content and the message, and often getting the terminology wrong!

Translation demands a level of accuracy and background (subject area) knowledge far in excess of interpreting, and apart from sheer talent, it's having that deep level of subject area knowledge, and bringing it to bear effectively in your work, that is the mark of the first-rate translator.

Another point to consider: it's actually far easier to teach interpreting than translation, according to the T&I teachers I know, provided you do rigorous preselection of the students. And thereby lies the crunch: applicants for interpreting courses tend to be very thoroughly vetted (and a good thing too!), while in most cases, more or less anybody with a rudimentary knowledge of one or more foreign languages can start a translation degree course. If the same criteria were applied to translation students as to interpreting students, I think we'd see far fewer translation graduates. There are very few establishments indeed that actually train translators, rather than offering courses in "translation studies" or "applied languages".

That brings me on to my next point: I have been unable to find any *objective* evidence whatsoever to indicate that translators with some sort of qualification (graduates or not) are any better (or worse) than those translators (like myself) without any formal translation qualifications. So if, as you claim, interpreters are "better" than translators, it may well be because they receive better training.


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Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 03:55
Flemish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Not better, different. Mar 6, 2005

Juvenile: that is a complement indeed. I am middle-aged.
Interpreters are not better than translators. They do a different job for a different market, a market not prone to the pennypinching Trados matches logic of the translation market.
For that job, they need a more profound cognitive knowledge of the target-language.


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Translator and Interpreter according to economic theory

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