Posted by: patenttranslator | May 30, 2014

In the Corporate Translation Agency Model, Nobody Knows That You’re a Rabbit

 

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.

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Responses

  1. An absolutely 1st. Class Post Steve! Hearty Congratulations from the 1st.Class Translation partners and their pet ferret that gets fed all the spam messages that they receive :).

    Like

  2. Didn’t know ferrets can be pets.

    Does your ferret have a name?

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    • It’s a virtual ferret Steve – but we feel that nevertheless that way it can remain a friendly companion of the mouse without the latter getting hurt :).

      Like

  3. […] 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 …  […]

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  4. Another reason is control. Being mere brokers, the corporate agencies don’t control the process. Clients are erratic, and when you base your relationships with your clients on greed and lies, they might switch provider in an eye-blink. On the other hand, the ungrateful translators who provide the core service that those agencies sell demand to be paid and treated with respect. Since these two are not an option for those agencies, they end up working with those who apparently have no choice but to take the abuse. But these people are not reliable in any way: Their quality is poor, they don’t necessarily meet deadlines, those with potential and self-respect “graduate” from that cesspool at some point, and others just disappear at a certain point.
    So the agencies have much less control over the “supply chain” than they are willing to admit (this is also part of the many hot-potato types of handoffs between one agency to another that create a lot of overhead and inefficiency that both clients and nanolators fund). Therefore, one motive is to cut the “unreliable” humans out and get more control.

    To that end, one of the end games of the technology-corporate-agencies lobby is to shift the skills and expertise that are required to perform a translation from the “traditional” ones to IT-related ones. Much like with other technologies in the past that tried to curve their way through by promising low-costs and “convenience” (think of most of the cloud-technology), when the technology got traction most promises were forgotten, and replaced by claims of the expertise, resource, and work that are required to keep this magnificent technology alive. If MT and PEMT will get more traction, I suspect the same will happen with them.

    Both technology developers and agencies are commercial bodies. Despite their claims, one has to be very daft to believe that they are operating out of altruistic motives (“removing the language barrier for the greater good”). This is part of a social engineering effort that claims technology superiority, while in practice tries very hard to alter perceptions and expectations about the quality, skills, and service level. If the technology would been truly superior there was no need for all of this snake-oil type of marketing, it would sell on merit.

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  5. “Another reason is control. Being mere brokers, the corporate agencies don’t control the process. Clients are erratic, and when you base your relationships with your clients on greed and lies, they might switch provider in an eye-blink. On the other hand, the ungrateful translators who provide the core service that those agencies sell demand to be paid and treated with respect. Since these two are not an option for those agencies, they end up working with those who apparently have no choice but to take the abuse.”

    While I agree with just about everything you are saying here, this also means that the new corporate style of translation agency, which is based on a nearly totalitarian control being exercised over nanolators, formerly known as translators, combined with unbridled greed and frequent use of marketing lies and deceptive propaganda aimed at clients, (who are not stupid and eventually do figure out what is going on), leaves the door wide open for the old translation agency or translators’ agent model.

    I believe that the old model, which is based on trust (based on experience) both towards translators and clients, combined with common sense rather than just unbridled greed, is still thriving in many niche markets such as patent translation, and probably not only in niche markets.

    In any case, I believe that this is the only model translators should be associating themselves with if they want to be able to make any money and live like normal human beings.

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  6. I completely agree with you.
    This indeed leaves the door open, but processes take time to complete their course, and translators (the real ones) should also be prepared and willing to seize an opportunity. I know at least a couple of colleagues that by their mere behavior towards clients (such as turning down work instead of outsourcing or at least referring it to a trusted colleague; speaking impatiently with clients as if everyone is a “corporate agency”; see other translators as competitors instead of colleagues) push clients into the jaws of the corporate agency instead of presenting them with what a professional and quality service can look like.

    For example, from conversation I had with two translation buyers, I learned that they are fed up with the translation market not because they are not willing to pay (they do have a budget of course, but they are not necessarily looking for the cheapest option), but because no matter how much they pay and what agency they contract, they seem to get crap in return. And if crap is all they get, they prefer to pay as little for it as possible.

    When I asked why they didn’t consider contacting a translator directly they simply replied that they didn’t really find one (as in none were as visible as the agencies), they didn’t even know that translators work outside of agencies, and even if they knew, they needed someone to handle the project management for them – completely unaware that a “translator” who might also be a “boutique agency” can help them in that. Not that they are just standing in line to throw money at translation, one of them commented that he doesn’t understand what is the big deal about translation anyway, but the morale of the story is that professional translators are losing the battle long before the arguments about quality and expertise even become relevant.

    There are many issues, frauds, scams, and Charlatans in the translation market, but often times translators are their own worst enemies, and it is easier to blame external bodies and forces for everything.

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  7. Yes, translators can only blame themselves for what is happening to them.

    Instead, they they blame everybody else and complain incessantly and ad nauseam on social media as if it made any difference.

    But as the old saying goes, misery loves company.

    Incidentally, what you are saying is similar to what a guest blogger said on my blog in this post:

    https://patenttranslator.wordpress.com/2013/07/01/the-biggest-mistake-that-freelance-translators-make/

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    • Valerij is a very smart and insightful man indeed, certainly more than I am. Many more translators will be better off heeding to his, and the several other voices out there that try to change the misery culture, advices.

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