Posted by: patenttranslator | October 20, 2017

It’s Always Bad News for Translators When One Translation Agency Buys Another One

“Saving one dog may not change the world, but for that one dog, the world will change forever.”

 From the TV show “Pit Bulls and Parolees

When one translation agency buys another one, it is always bad news for translators who are working with the company that was just acquired by another “LSP”.

Especially if it is a small agency being bought by a big one.

Mammoth translation agencies with numerous branches in a number of cities and countries are always on the lookout for suitable acquisition targets, but these kinds of acquisitions are particularly bad news for translators who work for small agencies that become acquired by a bigger one.

This is because some small, or at least moderately-sized translation agencies still operate based on business principles that had guided translation agencies until the end of the 20th century, before the term ‘translation industry’ was even invented.

In the last century, translation agencies were forced to compete on the basis of quality, and they made an effort to establish long-lasting alliances with individual translators who specialized in a certain field. Because these translators knew their specialized niches very well and their knowledge and translating skills were in turn the basis upon which the agencies were competing, they were able to charge above average rates.

In the last century, translation agencies were often quite small and were mostly owned by former or current translators, who understood what translation is about.

I used to work, even in this century for close to another decade or so, for quite a few former or current translators who eventually started their own small agencies.

I remember working for a number of years for several German patent translators who found me on the internet and started sending me Japanese patents to translate, because many patent law firms sending them patents in German also needed translations of patents from Japanese.

You would have to be extraordinarily stupid to say no to a client who needs a translation in a language that is not your own, if the client is willing to pay enough to have the job subcontracted. Although I know quite a few translators who maintain that this is precisely what translators should do … presumably because agency work is too dirty for them.

I have already written several posts on this subject on my silly blog.

Unlike in the corporate model of the translation industry, many of these small agencies were owned and run by people who were not translators, but had expertise in specialized subjects and therefore were able to tell good quality from bad, unlike many clueless project managers (PMs) working for translation agencies in the modern version of the translation industry.

These specialized agencies also often used to pay generous rates to translators because the people running them could tell the difference between good and bad quality and they genuinely appreciated the translators who worked for them.

I vividly remember a small agency that was owned by an elderly husband and wife team specializing in pharmaceutical translations. The husband, who had a PhD in chemistry, handled things that had to do with translation issues and liaising with clients, mostly pharmaceutical manufacturers, while the wife was in charge of accounting.

Once when they were a couple of weeks late with payment on a big invoice, I called to ask about my money. I could tell that the guy did not know what to do because his pride was not going to let him admit they didn’t have money because their client was taking too long to pay.

In the end, I felt sorry for putting him on the spot like that.

Between 2005 and 2007 the husband and wife duo sent me a lot of GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) manuals to translate out of Japanese. Back then people used to call translators and talk to them in person, shooting the breeze for a while before hitting the translator with another job, instead of sending “Dear Linguist” mass emails to as many potential victims as possible to see which one of them will make the lowest bid.

When the guy called me once with another job and I told him that the previous year was the best year for me in terms of income in about 20 years, he said with evident pride in his voice, “Well, I would like to think we had something to do with that, too.”

So I thanked him because they sure did. I remember they paid rush translation at a surcharge of 1.5 times my regular rate, which was not particularly low. These days, most translation agencies are more likely to be proud if they manage to push the rates they are paying to their ‘vendors’, formerly called translators, to a new low, in addition to paying nothing or next to nothing for ‘full and fuzzy matches’ instead of being proud that they are able to pay us good money for good work.

That would be so twentieth century!

After I was informed that this agency had been bought out by a large agency, I received my first mass email from the new outfit inquiring about my availability for a new translation project. Except that the email was addressed to a “Dear Linguist” rather than to “Dear Steve”. Even though I responded within about 10 minutes, the project manager told me that the job was already ‘placed with a first responder’. She evidently didn’t give a damn which ‘first responder’ would translate the complicated material as long as it was out of her hair as soon possible.

And why should she care who would be doing the translation? As far as she was concerned, all those “Dear Linguists” are pretty much the same, and there are hundreds of them. The only difference is basically in how much they want to charge for the same thing.

I never did work for the new owners and I told them not to bother me with “Dear Linguist” emails in the future.

The corporate translation agency model is so much worse for translators than the old model of mom-and-pop companies because it’s based on one thing and one thing only – greed.

That’s why the acquisition of a small company that you are working for is probably going to be bad news. If the new owner is a very large company, the news almost certainly means that it’s time to say goodbye to an agency that may have been keeping you busy for years, because the working conditions will be bad, and the remuneration will now be lower, probably much lower.

Fortunately, there are still a few old-timer agencies whose business model is not based on greed for the most part, and I would like to think that my tiny operation is one of them.

An even better choice than working for an intermediary is to mold your translation business so that it’s ready and able to find and attract direct clients who, unlike a project manager working for a mega-corporation, can tell the difference between a good translation and the kind of garbage that mega-corporations specialize in these days.

In fact, I think that making this choice is the best way to survive the modern form of the corporate translation industry because it is the only way that makes it possible for translators to ignore it.


  1. Brilliant! And spot on as usual! I constantly see adverts for subjects such as “menu translation” which would appear to be a simple task, but is in fact very difficult from French, as the French use a lot of terms in menus that are not used elsewhere. Travelling through Italy recently, I did not see a single menu translation into English that was translated correctly. And here in the UK, the translations of menus in Chinese restaurants are hilarious! My business partner is a brilliant formatter and we have to format complicated medical reports to resemble the original, a procedure that can take many hours, and are paid exclusively for the word count, agencies no longer pay extra for formatting.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Agencies no longer pay extra for formatting”:

      This is because SDL’s crooks (i.e. incompetent & dishonest salespeople who have never translated a single line of text in their entire lives)

      have decided to impose THEIR views on a market… they do not belong to:

      having translators invoice WORDS, whereas we (like most freelancers) INVOICE OUR TIME,

      as translated into per-line fees (traditionally)

      or per-word fees (since those incompetent crooks have started polluting the translation market –

      an adventure which might be short-lived, since, as per their OWN survey (after polluting us for 20 years!!),


      speed only comes second (i.e. meeting their deadlines…);


      Yet most 2.0 translation intermediaries compete on… prices and speed.

      Since those crooks DO NOT MEET CUSTOMERS’ EXPECTATIONS, they are BOUND TO GO UNDER at some point in time.


      Let’s cross our fingers and pray… so that this happens ASAP… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Although menu translations by machine translation programs do seem to be finally getting better.

    When I tried three typical Czech meals on the big brain of Google Translate, “svickova na smetane” was translated as “sirloin on cream”, “drstkova” was at first not recognized, but “drstkova polevka” was correctly translated as “tripe soup”, and “cerny kapr” was translated as “black carp”. Even when I used slang, “vepro-knedlo-zelo” was correctly translated as “pork, dumplings and sauerkraut”.

    The problem with items on menus in different countries is that one would often need an explanation as a simple translation may not be enough.

    Liked by 2 people

    • “The problem with items on menus in different countries is that one would often need an explanation as a simple translation may not be enough.” :

      If I had to translate a menu (against a fee, of course – I have already been approached by a Moroccan waitress working… near the place where some of the richest functionaries work in the world: the EU institutions in Brussels! She expected me to translate her (boss’s) menu for free, “because English-speaking customers often asked her explanations” and she could only explain French menus in her broken English:

      => RESTAURANTS must be canvassed and persuaded to have their menus translated against a fee by professional translators…),

      I would write some of those elegant formulas which nobody understands,

      followed by a “TRANSLATOR’S NOTE” (with an asterisk), EXPLAINING what the ingredients are and how they are prepared/cooked and presented.

      Which is why we should ALWAYS INVOICE THE TARGET TEXT:

      THIS IS WHAT WE TYPE (or dictate)!…


      Anyway, crooks are increasingly GOING UNDER: platforms, some intermediaries, etc

      (I only call “agencies” those intermediaries created before the Internet age, i.e. before the year 2000).

      The dead branches are falling. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I must admit to feeling somewhat concerned to see from that Morningside have been bought by someone with no background in translation. We shall see what transpires, I suppose.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. As far as I know, none of the large translation agencies is run by people who understand translation issues. That’s why they try to push post-processing of machine translations, something that every translator knows cannot work. The other reason being greed, of course, because these agencies are run mostly by money changers, like everything else in this world.

    If you are working for Morning Side, get ready for things like requests for lower rates coming down the pipe soon.

    Incidentally, I used to work for them too after I moved from California to Virginia because I was afraid that I might be loosing some of my major clients, mostly patent law firms in San Francisco and Silicon Valley area, but I never accepted another job from them since 2005 and never will.

    Back then they were paying me 17 cents per word for Japanese patents. I wonder how much are they paying now.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I had to share with you the result of a machine translation from Hebrew into English of a series of standard contracts. It was hilarious! For instance, a header whose correct translation was “Framework Agreement for Service Provision” was translated, for some obscure reason as “Chest of Drawers”!

    Liked by 3 people

    • This is nothing to do with translation, but a small furniture shop near where I live used to advertise the sale of ‘Chester Drawers’, amongst other things. Always made me chuckle.


  6. I just send this link to your post as a response to some clueles PM, who wrote me from welocalize who bought a good TA in California some time ago and they are carpetbombing me with some stuff about invoicing them I am not going to need (smile).

    Liked by 2 people

    • Radovan, I have just been reading your website: you have interpreted for President Bill Clinton during his visit to the Czech Republic, for the Czech Minister of Defence during his visit in the U.S., and for a number of Czech and Slovak delegations in the U.S., for the U.S. army & police, etc: wow!…


  7. “It’s Always Bad News for Translators When One Translation Agency Buys Another One” : That’s how I lost a nice little agency that had much contributed to feeding me for a whole year… until it was sold to some asshole, who did have a diploma in translation, but who had mostly worked as a commercial person. He first asked me about my availability for a project and by the time I answered, he had already found someone else, without warning me and without mentioning that it was urgent in his first email… Then, to add insult to injury, the very next day, he expected me to proofread, FOR FREE (so, he did not realise this, but examining his document the previous day, creating folders and even a Trados project to get the word count, drafting an offer email, etc HAD ALREADY BEEN free work), a translation that I had already delivered to the former agency owner WEEKS ago, and that had been mutilated BY THE CLIENT.

    He argued that I should do this assignment for free ‘only this one time’, whereas it was the 2nd time in less than 24 hours (the asshole didn’t realise this, of course, BECAUSE HE DOES NOT BELONG TO OUR PROFESSION EVEN IF HE HAS A TRANSLATION DIPLOMA: HE HAD A PURELY COMMERCIAL ATTITUDE… and now that he had spent a lot of money on buying the agency, he seemed to expect to have everything FOR FREE… and to find it normal to STEAL PEOPLE’S TIME, i.e. mistreat translators).

    His second argument was that, since I had been the one translating the source text, it was up to me to proofread… the customer’s ‘work of art’, based on my translation!!!

    I had NOTHING TO DO with the client’s mutilations!…

    He said he just wanted to see if the customer had made many changes, or justified changes, or so…

    My translation dated back to WEEKS AGO, I had FORGOTTEN about the subject, the terminology, etc – which meant I had to plunge myself AGAIN into this intricate, complicated text… all that for free for an asshole who had already stolen my time a few hours ago and did not even apologize.

    And, since I refused to work for free for him (which would have been for the 2nd time in less than 24 hours, except that the asshole didn’t realise this, BECAUSE HE DOES NOT BELONG HERE), he decreed that our commercial relationship was BROKEN!…

    This is the kind of thing that happens when companies are bought:

    the new owner wants to get everything for free – or nearly…

    You are part of what they bought, so now you have to be a worse slave than before…

    From reading Slator’s latest newsletter & linked articles last Friday, it seems that large translation companies are trying to buy as many small ones as possible.

    If a CONCENTRATION happens on the translation market, this will have TERRIBLE results…


    Freelance translators are going to flee away, so your buyer is buying pie in the sky anyway! 😉

    And customers are not tied to any agency either…

    So I don’t understand this “agency buying”… It’s RIDICULOUS…

    It’s not like a brick & mortar shop, that has walls, a stock of merchandise, and clients who are liable to be ‘tied’ to your shop because of geographical proximity.

    Nowadays, everything happens on the Net, so there is no allegiance…

    Unless both subcontracting translators and regular customers do not learn about the merger/acquisition (M&A) and do not feel the difference…

    But since the Slator owners (a communication person and a financial person who have NOTHING TO DO with the translation world originally, AGAIN, by the way……) enjoy writing about who is who and who is buying whom (that’s their new business…), translators and customers have a higher chance of fleeing away… unless your agency is so small that nobody really cares… 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Just to change the subject, can you tell me why the transit of some translation job ads requiring freelancers to translate into French for Belgium and to & from Dutch for the Netherlands are being facilitated via… far-away India?!…



    I recently read a translator’s comment in a LinkedIn translators’ group, saying that there was some SUB-MARKET going on, with lots of weird, if not illegal, things going on: this must be it!…

    What do customers expect? Such translators to LIVE IN India?…

    Or should Europe-based translators… work at a loss?… Or undeclared?…

    Indian rates are around €0.02 (or $0.02)… Near-gratuity! Even for large volumes: as some translator put it, we still have to translate the 13,489th word, just like the first one of the text!…

    Is the new business model to squeeze translators like lemons until there is no more juice?

    Why are authorities ALLOWING THIS?…

    Because their own Justice system ALSO exploits translators?…

    And because they STILL consider the translation market as not important for a State’s tax (and social security) revenues,

    in spite of nowadays’ well-known ‘BIG DATA’ phenomenon?… Thousands and thousands of words to translate for billions of websites, commercial products (see Amazon & other e-commerce websites), instructions for use, laws, judgements, etc etc etc?…

    Does regulating translation (and other freelancers’) platforms mean that they will just move to another country? So there is no regulating platforms and Governments have to accept that more and more workers work in this dark economy?…

    At sub-sub-slave conditions and without having the means to declare anything, of course?…

    Is THAT the FUTURE of the ‘translation market’?…

    Just to feed a few useless intermediaries, who DON’T EVEN BELONG HERE?!…

    Liked by 1 person

    • There are already small agencies whose primary function seems to be to supply larger agencies. So that’s two “middlemen” between the end client and the translator: draw your own conclusions as to what that means for the translator’s rates and the client’s price.


      • This has been going on for more than a decade now.

        It’s the new face of the modern “translation industry.”


  9. Well, Isabelle, far more “exotic” language combinations are advertised from Indian agencies, such as Hebrew to English. There are two possible reasons: a) sub-contracting by large agencies and b) an Israeli client who imagines he will get the job done much cheaper if he goes to India (he will, but it will probably be done on Google Translate by someone who does not know much Hebrew, if any!)


  10. Just this minute, I received the following from a Chinese agency, which answers Isabelle’s query and confirm’s what Alison writes:
    Dear vendor manager,

    “As we get into Q4 of 2017, I wanted to reach out and offer my assistance for any translation needs you may have as you plan for the new year – or provide your team with a free translation quote on your next project.

    “Whether it is Chinese, English, German, French, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Malay and more than 120 other languages spanning the globe, We have an established network of professional translators to assist in your next translation effort. Our extensive network of translators allows us to provide services in almost any language.

    “Our translation and localization services include:
    Language Translation
    Software Localization
    Website Localization
    Technical Documentation
    E-Learning Localization
    And much more
    Are there any questions I can help answer with regard to planning, budgeting or general translation best practices?”


  11. Is the situation for translators getting worse or is it my imagination? I recently saw a 30,000 word translation advertised on ProZ. The subject was a legal contract. The deadline was very reasonable, but the agency INFORMED the bidders that they were splitting the work in two, regardless of the fact that this would lead to discrepancies in the translation, and that the use of certified MemoQ translation software was mandatory. Not a word about experience in this highly specialised field, competence is the least of their worries! Yesterday, I was offered a paltry sum (“we are on a tight budget” – you could set it to music!) to translate some highly technical material (concerning breach of a planning application) at a ludicrously low price by an agency that requires the translator to use their online CAT tool. I foolishly agreed to this once before, it means the translator has to take at least twice as long to perform the translation and gets half the payment due, thanks to “fuzzy matches” etc.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Josephine,

      As far as I know, translation agency online CAT tools are ILLEGAL.

      Indeed, only EMPLOYERS can force a worker to use such or such tool.


      Please, let agencies know every time you stumble into one of those crooks.

      The more we make ourselves respected, the more we will get respect.

      Ask and you will get…

      Threaten them with suing.

      Accusing them of damaging freelance translators’ commercial image and threaten to sue for that too, if their system / prices can only lead to bad quality.

      Bad quality translations hurt ALL translators’ commercial image.

      Some lawyer (or supposedly so) threatened me with suing by email some time ago because I had criticized the Italian agency Translated twice on the Web, once in the Translators Café Hall of Fame and Shame (for a good reason: those people are all both incompetent and dishonest, yet they advertise with the money they don’t pay us, so that their company name appears on top of Google results! They only use amateur translators, who systematically produce GARBAGE!), and the second time on my own blog, with a tweet linking to the blog page.

      I have been thinking about her accusation of “hurting their commercial image”.

      It seems that MOST AGENCIES NOWADAYS HURT FREELANCE TRANSLATORS’ “commercial image”!


      I threaten with suing any and all middlemen who somehow “HURT OUR COMMERCIAL IMAGE”.

      If we don’t fight, if we keep on crawling, we won’t get results.

      Just today, I threatened with suing for posting an interim job ad which was both ABUSIVE and UNREALISTIC:

      some customer of theirs was asking for someone to be at their “disposal” for indefinite periods of time some time in an indefinite future (= ABUSIVE);

      and he was expecting the poor victim to translate… from 5,000 to 6,000 words per day!

      I explained to this interim agency that the UNO’s NORM (!) is 1,650 words per day.

      And that freelance (!) translators sometimes manage to translate 2,000 words per “day” by working in evenings.

      And that she was requested to EDUCATE her customer.

      And that I did not wish to see any other ad about translation with abusive and unrealistic expectations, thus hurting our commercial image.

      If you don’t talk seriously to those assholes, things go down the drain…

      I know there is no barrier to the profession (except for SWORN translations, though!) and that we work from home, but this is no reason for ABUSING US every which way possible.

      People have to UNDERSTAND that from now WE WILL FIGHT.

      We did not have SOCIAL MEDIA when the extortion tools falsely named “CAT tools” were imposed upon us.

      But fortunately PEMT is a new way of extorting money from us THAT IS NOT WORKING.


      And because we talk about it on social media, thus educating newbies (trained and untrained translators alike).

      Give them to understand that customers WILL NOT PAY for bad quality.

      That BANKRUPTCIES are their future if their keep on producing GARBAGE.



      and they will be KICKED OUT OF IT

      if they don’t produce QUALITY.

      Or something along those lines:

      you have NOTHING TO LOSE with a “customer” that you will never work for, so… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • A new development: The Scots have decided to emulate the British government and award a multi-million translation and interpreting contract to two Scottish companies of whom I have never heard. The result will be the same, slave wages for translators and interpreters, chaos in the Scottish courts, no shows, etc.


  12. I was once threatened with a libel suit by a known crook in the translation business. I have not heard from him for a while, perhaps he is in jail! He is British, unfortunately a lot of UK agencies have a bad reputation in this respect. One of the aspects of their trickery that I find most amusing is that many of these agencies, especially in the third world, offer very low rates. Since they do not intend to pay anyway, why offer low rates? If I did not intend to pay a translator I would offer very high rates!

    Please email me at and explain what you mean by online CAT tools being illegal.


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