On March 22-24 (2017), fifty people came together in a former clandestine church in Amsterdam to break their heads on the question how the translation industry will have changed in 2022. The story that came out can be read as an ordinary battle between man and machine, with a victory for the latter. But at a deeper layer, there is a fascinating intrigue with many threads about game-changing technologies and trends and an outcome that is perplexing even for all of us who think that they are behind the wheel today. Be careful what you wish for.
The translation companies of today will not be the same in 2022. We’ll see a split in translation tech and the creative networks, the data factories and the storytelling, the platforms and the boutiques, perhaps sometimes still operating under the same umbrella, but clearly separated in functions. Sounds familiar, this story? Perhaps you are thinking about the paradigm shift in the advertising and marketing industry. Once thought to be so creative, it had its own unique place in an environment of factory and office automation. But now, after a few decades of data storms, the business of the prestigious advertising agencies has changed, fundamentally.
Marketing is automated and driven by data and clicks. The incredibly rapid rise of online ads, razor-sharp marketing, and pay-per-view through companies like Google and Facebook has turned the landscape upside down. Legendary names like Saatchi and Saatchi, McCann Erickson, J. Walter Thompson give us sweet memories of the days of Mad Men, but the creative directors now all report to giant holding companies acting under dull names like Omnicon, WPP, Interpublic and Publicis.
Similar mergers and acquisitions are likely to happen in the relative small translation industry in the coming five years and a convergence with that other creative sector that has fallen victim to data storms – the advertising and marketing industry – would make a lot of sense.
But before we get there, let’s look at the story that developed in Amsterdam just a few weeks ago. The story is broken down into ten chapters, all interconnected, like in every good novel.