Bitter complaining about the evil and devious practices of the modern type of large translation agencies as representatives of so called “translation industry” is a favorite sport of many a freelance translator, including this one.
Whenever I write my trademark dark, plaintive, accusatory posts on this popular subject, they always get a lot of tweets and likes. Which is obviously one reason why I do that – addiction to tweets, likes and reprints is tough to beat. If so many people seem to appreciate what I am saying, I feel that I am no longer a “vox clamanti in deserto” (a voice crying out in the wilderness).
But the fact is, the typical translation agency model is really typical for only a very small segment of the entire translation industry market. Think about it – there must be hundreds of thousands of translators on this planet, or at least people who make a living translating. How many of them can possibly work for a typical translation agency of the kind that translators such as myself love to deconstruct, despise and bash on our blogs and on Twitter and LinkedIn?
Probably not that many out of the total number of translators. Even if you are a freelance translator who is partially or mostly locked into their business model, you must also have worked for other clients who belong to a completely different model.
It is also true that only some translation agencies operate based on the predatory corporate model that is based on incredibly demeaning “Confidentiality Agreements”, coupled with demands for automatic discounts for “fuzzy and full matches” (repeated words), which is a determination made by the agency in its wisdom, with payment terms of more than 30 days, sometime even two months or more.
Most translation agencies are small, and it has been my experience that many small and smallish translation agencies operate according to a different model. Instead of asking translators to fill out a very detailed questionnaire online, some agency operators are in fact able to tell based on a translator’s résumé whether he or she looks like a suitable person for the task at hand because they themselves know a few languages and understand the underlying problems and issues.
As a translator/translation agency hybrid myself, I am deluged by résumés from translators every day. For every 100 e-mails from translators that I delete without reading them, I probably look at 1 of them quite carefully and sometime I even save it, because as we know, a good translator is hard to find.
Translation agencies are not a monolithic, evil beast.
In my role as a translator, I noticed that some agencies pay much faster than within the standard 30 or even 60 day period, which is what we have come to expect from a typical translation agency. And of course, whether I use or don’t use a CAT is of interest only to the kind of translation agency that I avoid like a plague (regular readers of my blog will know that I am quite allergic to CATs).
Over the years I myself have received a lot of work from many types of non-agencies, such as individual translators who are not really translation agencies at all. I remember that I used to translate Japanese patents for quite a few years for a German patent translator, his name was Hans, who once said these surprising words to me: “I never had to work for translation agencies”. He must be retired by now because Google does not know anything about him. A Russian interpreter told me the same thing when I asked her which agencies she worked for.
There are different organizations regularly needing translators, such as departments of universities, government organizations, NGOs and other organizations with people in them who are smart enough to look for individual translators instead of going to an agency website when they need to have something translated.
Of course, since I mostly translate patents, most of my customers are patent law firms. But I also frequently work for sole practitioners who happen to be patent agents or patent lawyers, inventors, investors (people who buy and sell patent portfolios), law librarians.
It is of course in the interest of the large translation agencies to perpetuate the myth that their model is the only legitimate business model in what is called “translation industry”, although nothing can be farther from the truth. Their business model is only one of many possible and existing business models for delivery of translation services.
There are many other models as well. While their model may be suitable for some types of translations, it often delivers horrible quality at a very high cost as the corporate model will always try to squeeze more and more work out of translators at lower and lower rates in the name of higher profits for the boss. The new name for this old concept is “higher productivity”.
While I wholeheartedly endorse complaints and objections of oppressed translators on blogs and social media as a healthy activity, what is perhaps missing here is an awareness that freelance workers don’t have to work for people in this industry who do not treat them well.
The myth of the so called “translation industry” is just that, a myth that is often propagated by people who usually have their own agenda. The real translation industry has many segments and it is in our power to work only for one or a few of the segments of this industry, namely for people who treat us with respect and pay us well and on time, and not to work for people who operate based on the extremely predatory business model practiced by some translation agencies.
If we fail to realize this simple truth, we can only blame ourselves for putting up with the many injustices of the modern corporate business model of a certain segment of the translation industry that we love to moan and groan about on our blogs.