Posted by: patenttranslator | January 19, 2013

The Question of Whether Translation Agencies Are LSPs (Language Service Providers) or LSRs (Language Service Resellers) Revisited Once Again

Every now and then somebody posts a link to an old article from my blog somewhere on a discussion forum and resurrects it for a while in this manner. I am grateful to these reposters because I obviously want people to think about the things that I am saying, crazy as they may seem sometime. The last one, linked on Proz, was my post called Are Translation Agencies Really LSPs (Language Service Providers) or LSRs (Language Services Resellers?) which was posted by Michelle Kusuda (thank you, Michelle).

I said in that post among other things the following:“Translation agencies purchase translations from translators and then sell them to direct clients. Ergo, translation agencies are not the providers of translation services either, they are resellers of translations that were already sold once to them by the translators. Perhaps a more honest abbreviation for a translation agency would be an LSR – Language Service Reseller, and the abbreviation LSP should be reserved only for translators who actually provide the translation service, which is often, but not always, sold first to an agency, and then resold by the agency to a direct client.” Somewhat to my surprise, most commenters on this Proz forum expressed mostly negative feelings about my post, which is now more than a year old. One translator called it “boring” and added: “I fail to see anything new or exciting in this”. Another one said: “I found it boring, too. We are all different, and there will always be different ways of assessing what is interesting and what isn’t.

I read the article and yawned a lot along the way. To be frank – who really cares about the LSP designation? As you say, only very few people know what it means, and those of us who do know what it means, don’t need to have a stupid made-up abbreviation that encompasses both agencies and translators. Let the agencies have the ‘title’. I sure don’t want it. I’m a translator, for goodness sake.”

It is true that a rose by any other name would still be a rose. As Juliet says to Romeo: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. But Juliet really said it because she had a big problem with Romeo’s last name, and since that problem with a name at the end of the play caused both Juliet and Romeo to commit suicide, at the end of the play the audience finds out how important names are.

Like Shakespeare, I too think that names are important. If an agency is the real Language Service Provider (LSP), than what is the translator who actually translated the damn thing from or into another language? Since translators are never referred to as Language Service Providers (LSPs) in the translation industry jargon (which nobody outside of the industry understands), although I was told that originally both translators and translation agencies were supposed to be called LSPs, they are nobodies.

They don’t really exist. They are doomed to remain invisible, forever and ever, as befits the proverbial role of an “invisible translator”.

Or if they do exist at all, they exist merely as little, unimportant and nameless hamsters busily pushing the wheel of the Translation Industry in their little cages to higher and higher speeds in the hope that peanuts will be thrown to them after a while so that they would have the strength for some more pushing of the profit wheel when the next translation needs to be done by a nameless, tireless, invisible hamster.

But it so happens that the world is not neatly divided between invisible translators and highly visible translation agencies. Some translators, many, in fact, are also translation agencies. I am one of them, which is one reason why I prefer to stay visible.

And there also used to be and perhaps still is a business model called “translation company”, as opposed to “translation agency”. I remember that when I referred to a business entity called Polyglot as “a translation agency” during a meeting of translators in San Francisco in the nineties, the owner of the company took offense at the designation and corrected me by saying: “We are a translation company, not a translation agency”. By that he meant that he was employing people who were commuting to Polyglot offices to translate there and be paid depending on their daily output.

I wonder whether this translation business model is still surviving and what would be a fitting acronym for it. Perhaps a “TC” would suffice?

Names are important. Had Romeo’s last name been Capulet instead of Montague, Shakespeare would have had to completely rewrite his play (and he would probably like it about as much as a translator would like having to rewrite a translation).

Names are important. And so are abbreviations, acronyms and symbols. Remember how the American singer Prince in the nineties changed his stage name to an unpronounceable symbol (which he dubbed “love symbol”) because he was mad at what he perceived as exploitation by Sony Records, and every DJ on every radio station had to start calling him “the artist formerly known as Prince”?

You can get mad and force the whole world to start calling you by a different name, no matter how absurd your demand is. But only if you care about names, and if you know how to get mad.

To make sure that this post is not too boring, I think it’s about time I ended it somehow because long posts are always boring.

So I will end by saying that I happen to know that unlike some translators on the Proz forum, quite a few people found my old post about the strange story of the acronym LSP and my suggested acronym LSR at least somewhat interesting. As of today, it has more than 1,000 views and 25 people tweeted it, which is a fairly good average as far as my posts go, although it lags far behind some of my best posts so far, such as Translator’s Dementia which already had more than 11,000 views and over 1,700 likes on Facebook.

 

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Responses

  1. “Since translators are not referred to as Language Service Providers (LSPs) in the translation industry jargon (which nobody outside of the industry understands), although I was told that originally both translators and translation agencies were supposed to be called LSPs, they are nobodies.”

    Steve, they are not nobodies. They are vendors, pretty much like those ones selling icecream or popsicles on the beach in summer or hot porridge in winter.

    No wonder that most commenters express mostly negative feelings about your post. It is after all a forum of a proZtitution site. You wouldn’t ever read anything new or exciting written by the one who fails to see anything new or exciting in your pondering over LSP or LSR, anyway. When people are busy trying to please big spenders, you just can’t expect them saying something nice about colleagues who philosophize a bit more than they do about their profession.

    However, you should have noticed the censored post immediately below the boring one and the posts by Phil, Giles and Lingua 5B. They are talking sense, hinting at something typical of that which sensible people cannot express directly.

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  2. Hi Wenjer:

    “However, you should have noticed the censored post immediately below the boring one and the posts by Phil, Giles and Lingua 5B. They are talking sense, hinting at something typical of that which sensible people cannot express directly.”

    I am not sure what you mean here, nor do I see any indication that something was censored in those comments.

    Like

    • Ah, you don’t see “Post removed: This post was hidden by a moderator or staff member because it was not in line with site rule.”

      And you surely have difficulty to understand what Phil means with “Giles – absolutely right, and number two is cursing those serpents whom we fail to charm! And my invective today is aimed at the censors, serpents among men that they are.”

      How lucky you are that you don’t need to experience things that would make you understand what it is all about with the censorship. But you will see that that forum discussion about LSP or LSR won’t go on longer. It is destined to fini and basta from the very beginning.

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      • I did not realize that my post was so subversive that the discussion needs to be censored or discontinued. But if that is the case (if my posts are subversive), it is probably a good thing.

        Based on what one translator who lives in China said in that discussion, I finally understood why my blog has no readers in China: blogs like mine are not accessible from China.

        Like

  3. As the owner of a Seattle-based “translation bureau” (we liked that better than “agency”) I am always amused by the indignation expressed by translators who “create” a product that, as you suggest, is then “re-sold” by agencies.

    Attention Translators: You are the worker bees; you are the production line employees; you perform the jobs that we find for you, and then we pay you an agreed upon price for your work. You make it sound like you found the document to translate, and then you found us to sell it for you!

    I spend thousands of dollars a year in advertising in order to have jobs to offer to you. I take all the risk that a customer will pay me once the job is done….even though I have already paid you for the work.

    Being a translator myself, I have great respect for you and the work you do, but you do not “create” anything. Stop being a prima dona, pull up your ‘jammies, and get back to work! (insert smiley face here!).

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    • What indigation, Natalya Goncharova from Washington Translation Bureau? I was just expressing my amazement at a certain abbreviation because I consider it inaccurate. How did you find indignation in that?

      By the way, your website is not exactly impressive, no wonder you have to spend thousands of dollars on additional advertising every year.

      Also, don’t bother to ask me to do a translation for you. Judging from your comment, you don’t really have any respect for translators, and I prefer to work for people who understand that it is the translator who creates the translation and people like you are merely brokers.

      There is nothing wrong with being a broker, but your contempt for people who make you money is typical of a certain type of broker in the translation industry, namely the smug, overbearing type that is best to avoid.

      Like

    • Natalya, being both a translator and an outsourcer, I do not share your opinion.

      I think there is room for both: agencies (translation resellers) and freelance translators.

      If all translators decided one day to refuse to work for agencies, the agencies would cease to exist and customers would be planting plenty of flowers to attract those “worker bees” you refer to.

      I am very grateful to my colleagues, my direct clients and the few great agencies I have had the privilege to work with.

      Like

      • Thank you for commenting.

        I hope you don’t mind that I linked to your profile on Proz on my blog.

        I would just like to add that the choice of the term “worker bees” used by Natalya to describe the role of translators is probably not very well thought out, because that would make her what?

        A queen bee, right? Who in their right mind would want to be a queen bee?

        Like

      • @patenttanslator: You are very welcome. No, I do not mind that you linked to my profile on proz.com Thank you for taking the time to write the blog. I find your articles very interesting and informative. Keep it up!

        @Natalya: I hope you realize that your “worker bees” put the “honey” in your tea!

        Like

  4. There is a translation ‘industry’ ( no language skills required) and there is a translation ‘profession’ (requiring talent, skill, experience and professionalism). An ‘agent/agency’ usually works for a principal on a commission basis.
    Thus ‘reseller of translation services’ seems a more accurate way to describe most agencies.
    Personally, I run a ‘professional practice’ and consider myself a Certified Practising Translator, taking full responsibility for the quality of my work.

    Like

  5. Yest, it works like this in many professions: actors, writers, hookers, temps and other people often, although not always, work for agencies. Some agencies, called employment agencies, will even handle all professions.

    To run an agency usually requires a different set of skills from those required to perform the services, although agency operators are often persons who formerly did at some point or still do perform the service in question, for instance a “madam” is often a former call girl.

    The interesting thing is that translation agencies need to pretend that they are the ones providing the actual service, which is in fact false. Hence the abbreviation LSP, which is in my opinion incorrect.

    Unlike translation agencies, agencies functioning in other professions don’t mind being clearly identified as brokers, probably because they perceive themselves as a necessary part of the business.

    Do you think that I should write another post on this subject or is it already getting tedious?

    Like

    • Steve, translation agencies can be very well a part of translation businesses. Otherwise we would be doing the same, functioning both as translators and agencies.

      “Do you think that I should write another post on this subject or is it already getting tedious?”

      I do think so. Maybe you would like to see the matter from various perspectives, so that the polemic of translators vs. agencies can be resolved.

      Running an agency requires a different set of skills other than being a translator. Good agencies know very well of what they are buying and selling. Push-over agencies do not know much about what they are buying and selling.

      BTW, have you noticed recent posts at Kevin Henzel’s and Vlerij Tomarenko’s, “The Future has an Ancient Heart: Why Predictions about the Future of Language Technology Always Go Hopelessly Awry” and “Something a-Changin’?” respectively? Beside the subject of LSP or LSR, these two are also interesting.

      Like

      • I read both posts.

        両方とも面白いだけどちょっと長い、ね。

        Like

  6. […] Every now and then somebody posts a link to an old article from my blog somewhere on a discussion forum and resurrects it for a while in this manner. I am grateful to these reposters because I obvi…  […]

    Like

  7. […] Every now and then somebody posts a link to an old article from my blog somewhere on a discussion forum and resurrects it for a while in this manner. I am grateful to these reposters because I obvi…  […]

    Like

  8. An old question and an odd one.

    As I understand the history of the term LSPs it was a compromise between companies and freelancers.

    I and other company representatives would prefer to use the term Language Service Companies or LSCs going forward.

    Freelance translators who wish to describe themselves as LSPs in lieu of the honorable and well understood term translators are welcome to it.

    Problem solved.

    @VictoratALS

    Like


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