There are laws of nature, and there are laws of business market models. One such law of business market models says that when a business fails to comprehend important trends emerging in the market environment, it will go bankrupt, regardless of how well established and successful such a business may be.
Because captains of the Blockbuster business market model failed to appreciate the importance of a new technology called streaming, after several decades of booming business, Blockbuster is no more. Because Blackberry designers failed to integrate the on-screen type of keyboard early on in their phones, Blackberry is now a mere shadow of the successful company that it used to be. Sony sales numbers have been drowning the famed company in red year after year as the same company that reliably kept bringing to us the coolest toys ever since the seventies is now trying to keep up the pace with the frenzy of unpredictable technological development.
Captains of the corporate translation agency business model are certainly also following and trying to implement new technological and market trends in the so-called translation industry.
The new technologies and business strategies that large translation agencies have been trying out for at least a decade now are mainly aimed at reducing cost by minimizing or completely eliminating the importance of the human element in their model.
Computer memory tools, software that miraculously translates by itself, thousands of invisible dudes and dudettes translating for free (can you say “cloud translating”?), conversion of translators into slaves engaged in a cruel and ultimately self-defeating game called MT-post editing – all of these new strategies of the new corporate translation business model have one thing in common, namely the attempt to shift the emphasis away from the importance of intelligent, educated and experienced humans in the translation process and put it instead on hardware, software and ingenious managerial strategies.
Computer memory tools represent the only element in this arsenal of mighty machine guns aimed at translators that some translators or perhaps many translators in fact find useful, unlike Mad Patent Translator. OK, I will admit, they probably are useful for certain kinds of translations, although they are useless for my purposes as I have written many times on this blog. But let’s look at what the insistence of some translation agencies on hefty discounts for “full matches”, “fuzzy matches” and other absurdities have done to the rates that so many translators are paid these days. I have to agree with another veteran translator who called CATs “the biggest hoax ever perpetrated on the translation industry”.
Translators in this model became easily replaceable units in a huge database of units whose job it is to “translate files” as quickly and as cheaply as possible wherever on the planet these faceless, cheap and easily replaceable units may be located. The logical result is that the corporate translation model is now loaded with translators who cannot translate, at least not competently.
And when these translators who cannot translate competently – I keep coming up with new names for them such as “subprime translators”, “rogue translators” and “zombie translators” because I am about as fond of them as I am of the captains of the so-called translation industry – deliver crap to their customers instead of real translations, the problem is that the one crucial translation technology gizmo that corporate translation agency model lacks is crap detector.
The project managers working in these large translation agencies can’t tell a good translation from crap, because to their eyes, total crap can easily look like a good translation. In any case, while they do have many choices in their database of replaceable translator units, they are allowed only to choose among the cheapest replaceable units. These project managers are usually young, inexperienced, underpaid, and worst of all: monolingual. Even if they do know a little bit of a foreign language, they almost never understand the languages that they are managing in the corporate agency translation model, because the agency translates from and into every language and specializes in (drum roll) …. everything . How can they possibly match the best translator with the job at hand, even if the company were willing to pay for a good translator, if the project managers have no idea what exactly is in the files to be translated?
Once the wrong material has been matched with the wrong translator, the game is over.
I am not optimistic about the future of the corporate translation agency business model. Given how much damage this business model has done to translators and their clients, if the mega translation agency business model ultimately goes the way of Blockbuster, “good riddance” is what I will say, in unison with thousands of other translators throughout the world.
The logical result of this business model is a brutal fight for survival among easily replaceable business units called translation agencies, which are much easier to replace than an educated, talented and experienced translator. Translators like that are hard to find, while new translation agencies based on the model of predatory corporate dominance over humans are popping up all the time all over the world like mushrooms in Black Forest after a heavy dose of summer rain.
Because this business model produces crap, the only thing that these agencies can compete on is low price, resulting in even worse quality of what passes for translation or interpreting because the cost to the customer can be reduced only by paying even less to the people who do the actual work. Their standards of quality are already so low that after one UK translation agency cut the rates of interpreters working for it to the bone, one devious Czech interpreter successfully registered her pet rabbit Jajo with the agency as a qualified linguist and interpreter.
A business market model without a crap detector is ultimately self-destructing.
The old translation business market model in which the emphasis is placed squarely on the human element called translators, highly educated, highly experienced and well paid translators, is still alive and doing quite well in what is called “niche markets” which are being served by what is somewhat haughtily called “boutique translation agencies”, and by individual translators who usually specialize in a very narrow field.
My advice to beginning translators would be to stay away from the corporate translation business model and concentrate all of their efforts on what is somewhat deprecatingly referred to as “niche markets”.
According to a popular saying that celebrated anonymity back in the nineties when it was still possible to be anonymous online, “On the Internet, nobody knows that you’re a dog”.
These days, translators and interpreters are so anonymous, replaceable and unimportant in the corporate translation agency model that nobody in this model knows that you’re really a rabbit and not a translator.