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How are things changing for translation companies?
Thread poster: Henry Dotterer

Henry Dotterer
Local time: 15:14
SITE FOUNDER
May 17, 2016

Hi all,

I have been invited to give a presentation at the University of Portsmouth (UK), with the title "The respective roles of ProZ.com (and other translator forums) and LSPs in the modern translation world." I am very appreciative of the invitation, I am looking forward to the conference, and I want to make sure that the information I bring is relevant and useful to the translation companies that attend. To that end, I feel the need to do some research! I am hoping that some of you here will be willing to help me.

First of all, I have prepared a survey for translation companies. We are inviting translation companies to that survey via other channels, but if you run a translation company or work in one and happen to be reading this, and you are willing to respond to the survey, please let me know so that I can send the link. It is about 20 questions. I'll give access to the responses to anyone who completes it.

Secondly -- and this is an indirect form of research -- I would like to hear from translators about how things are changing for translation companies. In other words, based on what you are experiencing with your translation company clients, how do you see their situation changing in recent years? How do you expect things to change further in the future? Obviously your responding to these questions would involve a degree of speculation. That is what I am looking for.

If you are willing to comment on this topic, feel free to either comment here, or to complete the survey that I have set up. (This one has ten questions.)

Thank you in advance!

Henry


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Henry Dotterer
Local time: 15:14
SITE FOUNDER
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks for the survey responses! May 17, 2016

Thanks to those who responded quickly.

Those responding:

- Have between 10 and 29 years of experience
- Are currently working with between 5 and 20 translation companies

As you might expect, we are hearing about increased pressure on productivity and rates, greater awareness of MT (and use of PEMT) and so on.

There are also some interesting observations and predictions. For example:

"...they (translation agency personnel) seem to be leaving the office later so I am getting more [and] more emails later on the day."

"The number of translation companies seems to have exploded over the last 5 years or so. There might be a bit of 'clearing out' with translation companies merging and/or disappearing and fewer big companies as well as some small, highly specialised and [quality-focused] companies surviving."

Please add your observations and predictions to the survey if you have time!


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:14
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Survey May 17, 2016

Is there any way we can view the results of the survey?

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Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 21:14
English to Polish
+ ...
Hi, Henry. Well: May 17, 2016

1. Increasing deprofessionalization of translators and PMs working with agencies. The job is getting deskilled, with emphasis on low wage and application of TMs from previous translation projects, often badly translated. Also job descriptions are telling when agencies are recruiting. Deskilling makes it easier to reduce wages, which may be the explanation here. On the other hand, it may be the CAT mentality or even a sign of impending attempted switch from computer-assisted human translation to human-assisted computer translation by some agencies.

2. Financially, the race to the bottom goes on. Agencies seem to be unable and in many cases even unwilling to get the client interested in anything else than the benefit of a low price and fast turnover. Rates are falling, not rising. The ship is sinking, and nobody is trying to save it. Big corporate clients don't seem to care either. Some companies and authors refuse to work with agencies any more for this reason, though, so perhaps things may improve on one or two fronts.

3. The role of fast turnover is increasing, probably largely because of prices already being so low that there is simply not much left to give. This leads to dividing files among multiple translators. Clients either don't know how it affects quality, or they don't care.

4. Agencies are becoming increasingly soft in the knees, spineless and uninterested in standing up for ethics and for correct translation. They will knowingly and willingly introduce error into their translations simply because the client wants it. They will allow unqualified client personnel to revise and review translations and request changes and rather than defending the translation and simply helping the client arrive at the best result, agencies seem to prefer to score brownie points by being obedient little lapdogs that wag their tales when commanded to.

5. Contracts proposed by agencies are increasing large, increasingly technical, increasingly one-sided and increasingly rude. They are packed to the brim with risk management, which I say as a lawyer, not solely a translator. Agencies are not prepared to negotiate — you are expected to print, sign, scand and send back 10 pages of smallprint without asking for a single change. This is sufficient indication of how they view translators.

***

In the long term I predict escalation of agencies' already existing sourcing problems. Translators will be increasingly forced to seek out and compete for direct clients, and some will quit the profession. The trend for companies and authors to disintermediate due to agencies' collective bad rep will grow. Some agencies may go bankrupt due to contractual penalties and lost pay due to being unable to source translators within rates already promised to clients, as well as when they get called out on the bad quality.

On the other hand, zombie production lines will be more aggressively formed and expanded by agencies. Deskilled obedient TM/CAT operators will be sought, as well as PEMT-ors, for unnecessarily tech-heavy projects, usually in the name of cost savings but also because they have to actually use the aggressively marketed tech they paid for (and with which the market is oversaturated right now). More and more translators will become like orcs and will give up their dignity and their professional ethos and agree to work for close to minimal wage.

Clients will be disoriented (used cars/lemons), and it will be hard to explain what real translation is and why it shouldn't be close to free of charge.


***

My message to agencies: Enough with this bullshit. Everybody and his dog has noticed by now. It doesn't work. Quit it. Put some work in your marketing and grow a spine rather than continually dropping the prices and hoping to gain the clients' respect by not respecting yourselves. Or us. Also, the shareholders' dividens and the managers' bonuses simply need not be as large as they currently are, and enabling them to stay where they are or grow is definitely not a cause that would motivate a translator to accept decreasing wages and embrace poverty. For my country? Maybe. For cancer cure? Perhaps. But not for your margin. Especially if you don't even care to manage the company well and put up a decent fight on the client front. Stop being predatorial and quit the careless free-riding. Take responsibility. Get some dignity.


***

Regarding Proz.com specifically, I regret to say I don't have good news. On the one hand it does a relatively good job of being a place to chat in, get in touch with people, exchange experience and views, if a bit slow and stale (which is the usual fate of community portals after a couple of years). However, even more importantly than being a translator community, it seems to be a channel for competitive low-rate translator sourcing for LSPs, many of whom already are Indian or Chinese companies with global reach.

Right now, the job system is full of small jobs that usually have long quoting deadlines and short completion deadlines. Sometimes a bit larger texts, e.g. 5000 words, but still four days out of a business week to select the cheapest vendor and the fifth day for the poor bloody bastard to do the work. Either that or recruitment ads predicated on 'best rates'.

A lot could be done in order to increase the profile of the participating translators, inspire respect for the profession and teach companies better habits. Where there's will, there's a way. Based on my experience so far there's no will, not even if a way shows up. For example when I made a threat in the private forum of the Certified Pro Network, discussing some tweaks to the Guidelines. There was a lot of interest from fellow members and a relatively vigorous discussion of the proposals, which met with understanding and agreement. However, there was zero staff interest, just like in many other areas when suggestions are made (e.g. KudoZ, which should be renamed to CompleteAmateurZ for the PLEN pair). I was also put on moderation for criticizing the low quality of contest entries and contest grading, even though the winners had already been declared, so I had no way of influencing the results, it was a pure show of force.

Overall, I'm inclined to believe that portals of this kind have contributed (among other factors, of course) to decreasing our rates and lowering our profile, and the overall impact may be negative on the balance of pros and cons. It's a sad thing many of us (below 10–15 years of experience) don't know any other reality to compare this reality to.

It's very, very hard for me personally to think about Proz.com without immediately invoking mental images of 'best rates' recruitment ads, competitive sourcing for 200-word jobs, translation industry's general move to Asia, and CAT ads, where CATs are a powerful parallel factor contributing to our misery, and finally the one thing that's really, really bad: the extremely low quality of KudoZ questions that shows what kind of ignorant people who struggle with intermediate-level English are hired for challenging, complex legal translation. They shouldn't even be translating at all anyway. Answerers are often not much better. It's depressing.

EDIT: Like I said, I don't blame translation marketplaces for the prevalence of piss-poor rates right now. We have governments to thank — that's what the EU and to some extent the US application of anti-trust laws and related mindset leads to: put pressure on the guy at the start of the supply chain and consequences be damned. Then there's the culture of rewarding managers for any cost cuts without punishing them for those that didn't work or are too risky. Declining education system leads to a less educated citizen base, less well-read, less capable of critical thinking, and managers who hire translators or buy translation services will display the same characteristic. To understand what translation is and what it is not and what it is about and what it is not about requires some intelligence and a minimum of good breeding, which many corporate managers, agency owners and PMs (and anti-trust officials and judges) unfortunately lack. All of this is not the fault of translation portals.

[Edited at 2016-05-17 22:43 GMT]


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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 21:14
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
Translators and companies definitely need to keep fighting May 17, 2016

Hello Henry
Greetings and best wishes - I am sure you will make an impression!

Comments like Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz' above make me so sad, because unfortunately he is right.

From my privileged position, I have always stood on the shoulders of pioneers and giants who struggled, but were respected for it. I knew about Bible translators who wrote the dictionaries, and perhaps even were the first to introduce writing to languages before they could start translating. They translated far more than the Bible - they paved the way for trade, health services and education in the communities where they worked.

With that tradition to inspire me, I trained in languages myself because that was the one thing I was good at, and my one chance of making a real contribution that I could be proud of.

I started in house, in a company where we spent time on our work and aimed to be the best in our field. When the company had to downsize, it was still my best client as I started freelancing, and I found Proz.com, so I had the best of both worlds.

Now the protected title of State Authorized Translator is actually being phased out in Denmark, and all too often the attitude seems to be that 'everyone can English, and the machines will take over soon anyway'.

In my in-house days, clients were pleased and impressed if they questioned a translation that was not as they expected, but the Quality Manager was able to explain why it was correct. Clients were happy to know that we knew more about the target language than they did, and were good at our profession as they were good at theirs. As Łukasz mentions, these days clients get their own way, even when they don't know what they are talking about.
___________________

Now some people think anyone can interpret in court or for the health services - 'just bring a relative'. Innocent tourists who are victims of accidents or crime, witnesses, and others are conveniently forgotten, and even criminals are in fact entitled to understand the proceedings against them.

The situation for court interpreters in the UK is another tragedy. Agencies should be standing up for the rights of people in court who depend on interpreters, and for proper pay and working conditions for interpreters - qualified, impartial interpreters, not just any bilingual who happens to be in town. Not saving a few pounds here and there on interpreting, only to pay out far more in retrials and delays, not to mention the injustice and misery that cannot be paid for in money.
___________________

On the positive side, Proz.com is also a platform where we can meet, cry on each other's shoulders, and then work together to find positve solutions. Or build support each other and the companies who still keep up standards and pay rates a translator can live on. They do exist!

In a fragmented profession, where most of us are very isolated, a virtual platform that enables us to stand together nevertheless is absolutely invaluable.

I hope you get some positive responses to the survey as well, and that we can turn the tide. Somehow we need to bring back the skill and respect for the profession before it breaks down completely.


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Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 21:14
English to Polish
+ ...
... May 17, 2016

Christine Andersen wrote:

On the positive side, Proz.com is also a platform where we can meet, cry on each other's shoulders, and then work together to find positve solutions. Or build support each other and the companies who still keep up standards and pay rates a translator can live on. They do exist!


The tragedy is that isolation allows us to remain islands and be only vaguely compared to one another and certainly not pitted against one another. On the other hand, translator databases effectively serve as a loose equivalent of price comparators, and job-posting systems as the translation E-bay. We are brought together and can share a laugh or cry, but we can also be lined up and polled for who will do the same job cheaper. Rinse and repeat*.

* Broader market context:

Demand exceeds supply, but due to the sheer size of either makes it possible for demand to be leveraged by forcing multiple translators to compete, so even 20 jobs for 10 eligible translators will still go through an auction where those 10 translators end up competing for the jobs.

This is connected with how agencies artificially refuse to recognize the impact of a translator's market advantages such as higher or rare qualifications, forcing everyone — including recipients of bulk mail about speculative jobs and 'expanding databases' — to accept ideally the same flat rate for every translator and every type of translation work. Which is obviously a trade war on freelance translators. It's not just about prices per se, it's also about power and dignity, all of which the ideal agency translator would have only very little of because little people with little power and dignity and living in poverty are easier to control and that's what agencies seem to be after, ultimately. At least those that play the game a bit more seriously than the usual Joe Agency Owner who's simply clueless and believes in having the 'best prices' around.

However, it's the type of move that anti-trust law doesn't apply to as long as agencies don't form explicit cartels to do this.

[Edited at 2016-05-17 22:59 GMT]


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Soonthon LUPKITARO(Ph.D.)  Identity Verified
Thailand
Local time: 03:14
Member (2004)
English to Thai
+ ...
I love these words May 17, 2016

"it seems to be a channel for competitive low-rate translator sourcing for LSPs, many of whom already are Indian or Chinese companies with global reach."

I love these words.
From my past experience with the biggest translation agency (we know whom I am speaking about), they move to give more pressure to both their employees and translators e.g. longer working hours, paying less, quicker delivery time, unfriendly action toward requests of global translators working for them, taking more jobs and projects from other translators, more serious on translation quality and new translation technology.

I am sorry I cannot reply to your survey since I want more linguists to know/read.

Best regards,

Soonthon L.


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The Misha
Local time: 15:14
Russian to English
+ ...
I hear your pain, Łukasz, but... May 17, 2016

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz wrote:

It's very, very hard for me personally to think about Proz.com without immediately invoking mental images of 'best rates' recruitment ads, competitive sourcing for 200-word jobs, translation industry's general move to Asia, and CAT ads, where CATs are a powerful parallel factor contributing to our misery, and finally the one thing that's really, really bad: the extremely low quality of KudoZ questions that shows what kind of ignorant people who struggle with intermediate-level English are hired for challenging, complex legal translation. They shouldn't even be translating at all anyway. Answerers are often not much better. It's depressing.


... what you are saying once again confirms my old conviction that there is no such thing as THE "translation industry". Instead, there is a myriad small, geographically and thematically diverse operators that have little if anything in common (think long haul truckers vs. NASDAQ drivers: both sets drive, but do they mingle much?) even within a single pair, let alone across different pairs. There is just as much of a gap between the qualifications these people possess and their skills managing their respective businesses. Regardless, I imagine there may be lots of situations out there where NONE of these people, irrespective of all other factors, should have any business being in that line of business (no pun intended) to begin with, either because the demand or the economic conditions in their niche are simply not good enough to justify anyone trying to be a full-time translator or for other geographic, regulatory of demographic reasons (which I suspect might be your case).

Where I do agree with you is that the quality of KudoZ questions in the past couple of years has become truly abysmal and the people who ask them are, for the most part, the same tired old bunch of lame-o's (which, incidentally, drastically reduced this site's appeal as an alternative to mainstream entertainment that I have always believed to be its most important selling proposition). Where I disagree is in that "They shouldn't even be translating at all anyway." Who are we to tell other people what they should or should not do? I say let them knock themselves out. In my experience, hiring "ignorant people who struggle with intermediate-level English for challenging, complex legal translation" has never been a winning proposition and in the end costs more than doing the job right the first time.

Disclaimer: all of the above is based on my personal experience as an individual operator in one of those countless disjointed niches. Your experience may (and apparently does) differ.


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Henry Dotterer
Local time: 15:14
SITE FOUNDER
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks! May 18, 2016

Thanks for the feedback here in the thread.

What is of particular interest to me right now is emerging trends. One survey respondent wrote:
Smaller, specialized LSPs are [gaining] ground in my specialty fields. Big players are [losing] market share.

Does anyone else see this?


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RobinB  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 21:14
German to English
Specialization is the key May 18, 2016

Henry Dotterer wrote:

Thanks for the feedback here in the thread.

What is of particular interest to me right now is emerging trends. One survey respondent wrote:
Smaller, specialized LSPs are [gaining] ground in my specialty fields. Big players are [losing] market share.

Does anyone else see this?


Yes Henry, definitely. Small boutiques and mid-sized specialists have a secure future, provided (among other factors) they can find and retain the translators with the necessary expertise. In fact, the growing skills gap among translators is one of the biggest risks, and it's being exacerbated by the inability of many younger translators to gain experience and subject area expertise while still making a sufficient good living.

We can talk about this offline sometime if you want.

Regards,
Robin


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Jo Macdonald  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 21:14
Member (2005)
Italian to English
+ ...
Small agencies getting bog clients May 18, 2016

I've seen several small agencies I almost stopped working with because they couldn't keep pace with my rates increases start giving me lots of work from big clients at good rates. Some tend not to even use a CAT.

You seem to be very focused on MT Henry but imo agencies after the initial "Yeah let's do everything for free" drive seem to be moving away from post-editing MT and settling down into decent jobs using a good CAT, letting the translator do their job.

I'd say the market is healthier now than a few years ago, more work, less silliness, more respect.


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Matthias Brombach  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 21:14
Member (2007)
English to German
+ ...
Good opportunity and location ... May 18, 2016

Henry Dotterer wrote:

I have been invited to give a presentation at the University of Portsmouth (UK), with the title "The respective roles of ProZ.com (and other translator forums) and LSPs in the modern translation world."

Henry


...to tell the young students where the use of their academic training ends (with their diplomas) and the wonderful world of "KudoZ" begins


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Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 21:14
English to Polish
+ ...
... May 18, 2016

Soonthon LUPKITARO(Ph.D.) wrote:

"it seems to be a channel for competitive low-rate translator sourcing for LSPs, many of whom already are Indian or Chinese companies with global reach."

I love these words.
From my past experience with the biggest translation agency (we know whom I am speaking about), they move to give more pressure to both their employees and translators e.g. longer working hours, paying less, quicker delivery time, unfriendly action toward requests of global translators working for them, taking more jobs and projects from other translators, more serious on translation quality and new translation technology.


Thank you. For what it's worth, Poland also is struggling with its perception as a relatively good market for cheap labour, and I'm pretty sure Polish agencies are playing a similar role. After all, we're a bit of a hub for translation between Western languages, both source and target foreign to the translator. Obviously because of money, what else?

What is curious is that Indian agencies seem to be inclined to pay Polish translators more than Polish agencies would — perhaps, for cultural reasons, they have more appreciation for good education and the hard work it takes to get it, something which is lost on Polish agencies massively staffed by young millennials.

... what you are saying once again confirms my old conviction that there is no such thing as THE "translation industry".


That depends. 'Industry' is a particularly vulgar word to describe a profession or a network of professionals, but it fits agencies and their chosen business models usually quite nicely.

The big players definitely form an industry that has close capital and personal ties to the IT industry. Look how the IT industry has managed to redefine the way we look at translation, despite the IT engineers who design CAT tools being markedly clueless about any translation other than between the various versions of English, or at the very best translation between uninflected languages. It's obvious fuzzies just simply don't work with inflected languages (Why your $variable will not work in Polish), and yet our local small fries are usually utterly powerless — and perhaps even have no motivation themselves — to change anything about it. This testifies to the dominance of IT industry in the translation world. Where they might have been no translation industry but isolated islands of translation services, right now the IT industry is acting as a centralizing factor in translation industry. And it ain't pretty.

Even reducing translators to the position of obedient, passive clones — perfectly interchangeable CAT/TM operators who don't have any decision-making power and are as low in the pecking order as one can be is something that smacks of an IT mindset. Except my grey-haired step-father, who is an AS400/COBOL/PC workstation veteran (myself, I've coded since age 13) has more respect for translation than is currently paid by younger people with the industry mentality.

Instead, there is a myriad small, geographically and thematically diverse operators that have little if anything in common (think long haul truckers vs. NASDAQ drivers: both sets drive, but do they mingle much?) even within a single pair, let alone across different pairs. There is just as much of a gap between the qualifications these people possess and their skills managing their respective businesses. Regardless, I imagine there may be lots of situations out there where NONE of these people, irrespective of all other factors, should have any business being in that line of business (no pun intended) to begin with, either because the demand or the economic conditions in their niche are simply not good enough to justify anyone trying to be a full-time translator or for other geographic, regulatory of demographic reasons (which I suspect might be your case).


For all the crowds of English-studies grads and English translators in Poland, there is a lot of demand for PLEN. It only happens to be artificially manipulated toward as low prices as possible in B2B translation.

Myself, I have no problem with demand locally, but there are hordes of desperate people often without much in the way of specific qualifications, who will agree to any rates, any terms. The 'industry', i.e. the agency segment, is teeming with semi-professionals and Sunday translators, who don't have to make a living translating, so they offer more flexible rates despite not quite having the skill to do it right. The average English translator's command of the language tends to be quite poor, and the result is that respect for the professional may be lacking in some circles, which makes it difficult to find respect even if your own skill level is much higher; business clients try to game the system and play us, too. On the other hand, educated people know the difference and hold professional translation in high regard.

Where I do agree with you is that the quality of KudoZ questions in the past couple of years has become truly abysmal and the people who ask them are, for the most part, the same tired old bunch of lame-o's (which, incidentally, drastically reduced this site's appeal as an alternative to mainstream entertainment that I have always believed to be its most important selling proposition). Where I disagree is in that "They shouldn't even be translating at all anyway." Who are we to tell other people what they should or should not do?


If you don't know the law or have a particularly strong intuitive sense of justice, you shouldn't be on the bench or advising people. If you don't know a dime about surgery, you shouldn't be operating on people. If you've only just learned English to an intermediate level as a foreign language, you have no business translating into English. Or, worse, out of it. (Contrary to the mainstream view in the Anglosphere, miscomprehension is a worse danger than aesthetic flaws.)

I say let them knock themselves out. In my experience, hiring "ignorant people who struggle with intermediate-level English for challenging, complex legal translation" has never been a winning proposition and in the end costs more than doing the job right the first time.


That depends. In some cases they never get caught, and there's often someone who will take the 'proof job' and salvage the mess or essentially retranslate at a fraction of the rate because the label of 'proofreading/editing' did its task well as a cognitive reframe.

Disclaimer: all of the above is based on my personal experience as an individual operator in one of those countless disjointed niches. Your experience may (and apparently does) differ.


I actually fail to see where.

Henry Dotterer wrote:

Thanks for the feedback here in the thread.

What is of particular interest to me right now is emerging trends. One survey respondent wrote:
Smaller, specialized LSPs are [gaining] ground in my specialty fields. Big players are [losing] market share.

Does anyone else see this?


To an extent. It actually correlates with what I said about sophisticated buyers turning away from agencies. For example, a while ago I had a phone chat with one of the leading law professors and judges in one of the branches of Polish law, who practically laughed into the phone at the idea of working with any sort of translation agency.

The funny thing is, taking my rate and slapping some markup on it works for those agencies that are willing to try. They have a perfect tool in the form of my CV (sans the name and anything else that gives away too much), and lawyers are ready to pay more if they know one of their own kind is going to be translating. However, zombie agencies are not prepared to do it this way because of cultural differences; it simply conflicts with their idea of every translator having the same rade and low, as well as pretending the agency translates (as a company) rather than individual human translators. Their ideal of One Flat Rate is simply too dear to them, they can't break out of its spell.

So I'm basically giving them an opportunity to make some serious money compared to working with the average unqualified or barely qualified translator, and they aren't taking it. But some are. And perhaps those are the ones to whom the altogether unimpressive 'big players' (unless one gets off on balance sheets) are losing their market share (as well they should).

Large players would be losing even more market share compared to boutiques if clients had better access to information. If clients knew that what is a comfortable standard job with a long deadline and a fat rate ends up trickling down the pipeline of 5 subcontractors and eventually being done as a rush job sans rush fee by some random guy from a database or a semi-professional found through an auction, if they knew all that, they obviously wouldn't be giving their business to the 'big players'. Also if they knew that paying 40 cents to a big player nets them a 7-cent translator.

Large players use deceptive marketing and play dirty with their translators, so they deserve to lose market share. Frankly, they should be out of business for what they do. By this I mean chiefly their auction systems that assign jobs to the lowest bidder or on a first-come-first served basis but also the wasteful subcontracting. The problem is that clients think the high rates they pay to the big players correspond to quality and the big players are content to sustain and feed that impression, as it benefits them and perhaps in their own corporate pride they actually believe that having been outsourced by [InsertBigName] somehow factors into the quality of the translation; but in reality they end up hiring subpar translators on subpar terms, leading to crappy translation. Which is basically fraud.

[Edited at 2016-05-18 10:54 GMT]

RobinB wrote:

Yes Henry, definitely. Small boutiques and mid-sized specialists have a secure future, provided (among other factors) they can find and retain the translators with the necessary expertise. In fact, the growing skills gap among translators is one of the biggest risks, and it's being exacerbated by the inability of many younger translators to gain experience and subject area expertise while still making a sufficient good living.


The skill gap has probably always been there but is only slowly getting noticed again after the large waves of deskilled, tech-heavy cheap translation we've been experiencing over the last couple of years (up to two decades, I guess).

I think some agency owners feel forced to move upmarket and have the structural flexibility (i.e. lean structure, not too many high-volume restrictive contracts tying them down to a specific pair, field and rate) and the spirit to do it. Thus they inevitably turn to better-than-average translators. In many situations they may still be unable to pay what I would call attractive fees but still making some headway.

This may be due to a new wave of managers, not tied up in a cost-leadership mindset, not remunerated for cost savings if they aren't owners, thinking sustainably if they are.

Re: young translators unable to gain experience, I tend to agree. And even if they do gain experience, they will have gained it translating super high volumes super fast for super low rates as opposed to a culture of constructive peer review and feedback and focus on quality. In this, the 'industry' is basically killing off its own future generation, which means that active translators may well end up being unable to meet the demand at some point, due to a lack of fresh blood. This is compounded by the exodus of particularly talented translators to other professions and especially to management and own consulting microfirms. However, I'm not sure rates will go up as a result, for the same reasons I've already written so much in my previous posts in this thread. By that time prices will have been compressed/depreciated to such a point that it will be difficult to bring them back to a decent level simply because translators will be viewed on par with entry-level retail employees. The future is in the hands of those who fight to raise the profile of the profession and get the industry to back off.

[Edited at 2016-05-18 14:56 GMT]


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:14
Member (2008)
Italian to English
In my exp May 18, 2016

In my experience each translator has to create their own niche, with an established portfolio of agencies, and just quietly get on with their work which, hopefully, has become established as a reasonably steady flow.

Once a translator has succeeded in doing that, it hardly matters what happens out there in the (supposedly) big bad world of rip-off merchants and exploitative people.

IMHO there are some very good agencies. Let's hear it for the clients we love !

[Edited at 2016-05-18 11:53 GMT]


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Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 21:14
English to Polish
+ ...
... May 18, 2016

Jo Macdonald wrote:

I've seen several small agencies I almost stopped working with because they couldn't keep pace with my rates increases start giving me lots of work from big clients at good rates. Some tend not to even use a CAT.


They may be only just moving away from in-house translation. Perhaps it won't take long till they cave in to the sales rep who's probably already courting them. Business companies do end up purchasing CAT tools or at least citing CAT use as a reason for discounts or lower prices, whether or not the relevant texts actually have any fuzzy leverage.

This said, even CAT manufacturers say agencies have taken the CAT craze too far (link). Perhaps there is still a chance agency management will come round and eventually focus on making segments context-specific and context-appropriate as opposed to 1) discounted and 2) non-editable (or even locked).

After all, anyone who is not clinically retarted should be able to realize the savings are just not worth it — they're likely even worth less than employee time invested in them, not to mention the quality loss, while translators can't be expected to continue to fix them free of charge and defend the changes against hostile scrutiny (preferably in writing). Every madness has its end, eventually. (Unfortunately, though, sometimes only in death.)


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