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There Are Many Ways to Make People Translate for Free
Thread poster: LegalTransform

LegalTransform  Identity Verified
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Feb 22, 2016

From Steve Vitek's Blog:

https://patenttranslator.wordpress.com/2016/02/21/there-are-many-ways-to-make-people-work-for-free/

"...The push to reclassify translators as [machine translation] “post-processors” is thus nothing but a clever attempt at labor theft. Will translators fall for this trick just as they fell for the CAT trick?..."

[Edited at 2016-02-22 14:33 GMT]


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Cecile T.  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:13
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Brilliant article Feb 22, 2016

While I am quite new in this business (as a freelance translator), and would be the first to fall prey to unethical practices benefiting opportunistic agencies , a lot of what I read in this blog article sounds very pertinent and simply brilliantly put. It coincides with what I have heard in person by some translators I met.

It is also a bit worrying that if we are not careful, future software will replace paid human labour, unless unpredictability is high like in creative or fast-changing environments.


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Patrick Porter
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Another perspective Feb 22, 2016

LegalTransform wrote:

From Steve Vitek's Blog:

https://patenttranslator.wordpress.com/2016/02/21/there-are-many-ways-to-make-people-work-for-free/

"...The push to reclassify translators as [machine translation] “post-processors” is thus nothing but a clever attempt at labor theft. Will translators fall for this trick just as they fell for the CAT trick?..."

[Edited at 2016-02-22 14:33 GMT]


I think this is a weak analogy, because they are two completely separate things. Some translators would disagree, of course, but to me use of a CAT tool is not a "trick". And if I can save time, and the client is okay with me re-using previously translated content to save money, then it just makes good business sense to charge the most competitive fee possible while still remaining profitable. I happen to have had a successful career so far doing this.

But yes, the whole notion that translators will somehow be converted into something other than translators (i.e. "post-editors") is a bit grating when I hear it, which is not infrequently of late. This attitude seems to be wishful thinking on the part of LSPs.

For my own part, I have used machine translation as a productivity aid in my own work since as early as 2004. However, I am still a "translator" and my clients rely on me for my for my linguistic knowledge, innate translation ability, and subject-matter expertise. Any productivity gain from MT is already built-in to my fees, which are necessarily competitive.

So I am skeptical that a sea change is coming any time soon, unless you are talking specifically about unimportant volumes of internet-based social text, etc. for which no one cares how well it is translated. And in that case it represents a new market altogether. It's simply not the same thing to me as translating something into a document that reads like it was originally written in the target language and is an accurate rendering of the original.

Instead, I think LSPs and end clients are going to find out that high-end, expert translators will still be needed for translation from scratch (no matter what kind of computerized aids they use). Most of these translators are already quite business-savvy and aren't likely to work for less than their real value. Fees will continue to be what the market will bear and it escapes me to see how any translators are going to end up working for free.

Not that it's a bad idea to get the issue out there and discuss it, though...


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Nicholasl  Identity Verified
Canada
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Threat is Variable, but Still a Threat Feb 22, 2016

I think Patrick is probably right in that the 'leap of logic' from the 'evils' of CAT tools to full-on machine translation, as expressed by PatentTranslator, is a bit strained, although the lack of choice offered freelancers in terms of required translating environment can be aggravating.

That said, MT itself does present a real threat, although the juggernaut will probably move somewhat unevenly, in terms of how well it is able to 'digest' different source languages. The Romance languages are likely to be the first 'sacrificial victims' because of the relative affinity of their grammar and vocabulary with English, whereas even German, with its funny, 'backward' syntax may prove a bit more problematical for the MT surge. Russian, and the languages east or south of it, will probably be spared for a while longer as well.

But it's not a pretty picture, and we will all have to stand together if the post-editing scourge isn't going to be allowed to go on encroaching.


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Mirko Mainardi  Identity Verified
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Best case scenario Feb 22, 2016

Patrick Porter wrote:

Some translators would disagree, of course, but to me use of a CAT tool is not a "trick". And if I can save time, and the client is okay with me re-using previously translated content to save money, then it just makes good business sense to charge the most competitive fee possible while still remaining profitable. I happen to have had a successful career so far doing this.


Problem is that this is the "best case scenario": agency X pays you lower rates based on fuzzy matches calculated using a *good* TM, you save some time while translating and can actually call it even (perhaps). Unfortunately that is NOT always the case, and in addition to having to spend money on CAT licenses/subscriptions, you often run the risk of ending up being paid less to spend *more* time checking wrong, dubious (or however low quality) translations/terms. That's the "trick", IMO.


So I am skeptical that a sea change is coming any time soon, unless you are talking specifically about unimportant volumes of internet-based social text, etc. for which no one cares how well it is translated. And in that case it represents a new market altogether.


I'm afraid this is already happening, and what's more, that it's not in any way limited to "unimportant volumes of internet-based social text"... I know for a fact some agencies are also using MT-PE for very important end-customers, so not on such a small/insignificant scale and definitely not just for "internet-based social" copy, but also for technical/IT, tourism and retail copy, for instance...


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LegalTransform  Identity Verified
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There Are Many Ways to Make People Translate for Free Feb 22, 2016

This may make sense for direct clients, but the article is about agencies. Do agencies transfer this price savings on to the client or do they charge the client the full rate? And if they don't, why does the agency get all the benefit from the CAT Tool and not the translator (who is one who has purchased and is using the tool)? Shouldn't the savings at least be shared 50-50%?

USING a CAT is not the trick. The WAY the tool is being exploited is the "trick".

Patrick Porter wrote:

And if I can save time, and the client is okay with me re-using previously translated content to save money, then it just makes good business sense to charge the most competitive fee possible while still remaining profitable. I happen to have had a successful career so far doing this.

.


[Edited at 2016-02-22 17:48 GMT]

[Edited at 2016-02-22 17:49 GMT]


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Patrick Porter
United States
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..all good points... Feb 22, 2016

Ok. you guys are making some good points, but a few comments..

Mirko Mainardi wrote:

...Problem is that this is the "best case scenario": agency X pays you lower rates based on fuzzy matches calculated using a *good* TM, you save some time while translating and can actually call it even (perhaps). Unfortunately that is NOT always the case, and in addition to having to spend money on CAT licenses/subscriptions, you often run the risk of ending up being paid less to spend *more* time checking wrong, dubious (or however low quality) translations/terms. That's the "trick", IMO.

.....

I'm afraid this is already happening, and what's more, that it's not in any way limited to "unimportant volumes of internet-based social text"... I know for a fact some agencies are also using MT-PE for very important end-customers, so not on such a small/insignificant scale and definitely not just for "internet-based social" copy, but also for technical/IT, tourism and retail copy, for instance...


My prediction is that this approach will be unsustainable, because they won't be able to find good translators to work for nothing, and producing good output will require good translators. For my part, I simply reject work that is unprofitable at a level for me as a highly experienced professional running a service-oriented business. I recognize that there is a possible dystopic scenario (however remote) where all new translation graduates are conditioned into working as galley slaves, ultimately creating downward pressure on prices for the rest of us. But consider the possibility as well that this would create a disincentive for bright and talented people to continue entering the profession, thereby leading to a shortage of quality translators.


Nicholasl wrote:
... MT itself does present a real threat, although the juggernaut will probably move somewhat unevenly, in terms of how well it is able to 'digest' different source languages. The Romance languages are likely to be the first 'sacrificial victims' because of the relative affinity of their grammar and vocabulary with English...


In fact that is why I use MT in my work: because my language pairs are from Romance languages into English and MT is especially useful for these pairs. But it is still not clear to me how this will affect the demand for quality in some areas.


LegalTransform wrote:
This may make sense for direct clients, but the article is about agencies. Do agencies transfer this price savings on to the client or do they charge the client the full rate?


It is only a minor concern of mine what margins any agency clients are making, and only to the extent that I think it offers me room for negotiation. The only profit margin I really care about is my own. When I work for an agency, the agency is the client, full stop.

[Edited at 2016-02-22 21:42 GMT]


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Anton Konashenok  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
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MT vs. CAT Feb 22, 2016

One major conceptual difference between MT and CAT is that for a true professional (as opposed to a sciolist), the use of CAT tools improves the quality of the translation (at least in terms of consistency), while the use of MT tends to impair it (at least, it has done so for years, with no signs of improvement in sight). Make of it whatever you will.

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jyuan_us  Identity Verified
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A very good point Feb 23, 2016

Patrick Porter wrote:
It is only a minor concern of mine what margins any agency clients are making, and only to the extent that I think it offers me room for negotiation. The only profit margin I really care about is my own. When I work for an agency, the agency is the client, full stop.

[Edited at 2016-02-22 21:42 GMT]


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LegalTransform  Identity Verified
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It is not a good point Feb 23, 2016

If you do not know or care how much your "product" is being resold for, how can you possibly know what your product is worth or what your "profit margin" should be?

This is why some agencies are making $80,000,000 a year while most translators still do not even own a home.

jyuan_us wrote:

Patrick Porter wrote:
It is only a minor concern of mine what margins any agency clients are making, and only to the extent that I think it offers me room for negotiation. The only profit margin I really care about is my own. When I work for an agency, the agency is the client, full stop.

[Edited at 2016-02-22 21:42 GMT]


[Edited at 2016-02-23 14:32 GMT]

[Edited at 2016-02-23 14:50 GMT]


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Dan Lucas  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
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Large agencies have low profits Feb 23, 2016

LegalTransform wrote:
If you do not know or care how much your "product" is being resold for, how can you possibly know what your product is worth or what your "profit margin" should be?
This is why some agencies are making $80,000,000 a year while most translators still do not even own a home.

You make a point about margins - effectively a ratio - then you undermine yourself by getting excited about an absolute number i.e. by saying that some agencies are "making $80M a year".

Presumably you mean $80M a year in profit (gross, operating, net?) but on what revenue? That's what matters, right, the margin? If you make $80M in operating income on $200M in revenue, I'm impressed - 40% margin. Nice. I know a couple of companies that make close to that. You make $80M on $1,000M in revenue... Well, I find it hard to get excited about an 8% margin.

But more to the point, where does this $80M figure of yours come from? Consider this. Lionbridge claims that it's the largest LSP in the world. It reported 2015 results a couple of weeks back. The headline figures were $560M in revenue and $13.7M in operating income. That's a long way from $80M and represents an operating margin of a kingly 2.4%.

I looked at the financials of what LSPs I could find a few months ago. I came to the conclusion that it's a low-profit industry for the larger companies. Maybe over time consolidation will lead to higher returns but I've heard that story before and I'm skeptical.

Regards
Dan


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Texte Style
Local time: 11:13
French to English
with all due respect Feb 23, 2016

LegalTransform wrote:

This may make sense for direct clients, but the article is about agencies. Do agencies transfer this price savings on to the client or do they charge the client the full rate? And if they don't, why does the agency get all the benefit from the CAT Tool and not the translator (who is one who has purchased and is using the tool)? Shouldn't the savings at least be shared 50-50%?



In fact, agencies also have to buy the CAT tool and they get a more expensive version than the translator, so it stands to reason that they should try to recoup the investment.

I'm not condoning just explaining. I'm a translator so I'm on the translator's side every time especially when agencies start bullying tactics.


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LegalTransform  Identity Verified
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There Are Many Ways to Make People Translate for Free Feb 23, 2016

Does "operating income" include the salaries and bonuses of the CEO and owners or is profit considered what is left over after everyone takes their respective cut?

Dan Lucas wrote:

But more to the point, where does this $80M figure of yours come from? Consider this. Lionbridge claims that it's the largest LSP in the world. It reported 2015 results a couple of weeks back. The headline figures were $560M in revenue and $13.7M in operating income. That's a long way from $80M and represents an operating margin of a kingly 2.4%.

I looked at the financials of what LSPs I could find a few months ago. I came to the conclusion that it's a low-profit industry for the larger companies. Maybe over time consolidation will lead to higher returns but I've heard that story before and I'm skeptical.




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Dan Lucas  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
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OpEx includes salaries Feb 23, 2016

LegalTransform wrote:
Does "operating income" include the salaries and bonuses of the CEO and owners or is profit considered what is left over after everyone takes their respective cut?

Operating expenses would include salaries and bonuses for nearly all staff. The accounting treatment might be a little different if the bonuses were to consist of stock options or similar.

The owners of the company - shareholders - typically get paid dividends although it appears that Lionbridge hasn't paid one. They did authorize a share buyback, which is usually seen as positive for existing shareholders. Not an interesting stock from my perspective.

Regards
Dan


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Mirko Mainardi  Identity Verified
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Oh, but they already do... Feb 23, 2016

Texte Style wrote:

LegalTransform wrote:

This may make sense for direct clients, but the article is about agencies. Do agencies transfer this price savings on to the client or do they charge the client the full rate? And if they don't, why does the agency get all the benefit from the CAT Tool and not the translator (who is one who has purchased and is using the tool)? Shouldn't the savings at least be shared 50-50%?



In fact, agencies also have to buy the CAT tool and they get a more expensive version than the translator, so it stands to reason that they should try to recoup the investment.


What are fuzzy matches, or "internal homogeneity" for? Would you say that if I'm given a 11k source words to translate, and the CAT tool says it's 3k "weighted words", it's in my interest as a translator, or that it's yet another way for the agency to "recoup the investment" (theirs, not mine)?

MT-PE (as per OP) is only another arrow in their quiver, and I'm not so sure this is really about "recouping"...

[Edited at 2016-02-23 21:24 GMT]


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