Five trends that defined the translation industry in 2017
The year is almost over, time to reflect on what happened in the translation industry in 2017. While the general trend of decreasing rates and technological improvements has continued to evolve over the last two years, the industry saw some remarkable developments as well. In this last blog post of 2017 I list five trends that can be seen as defining what the translation industry underwent over the year.
State of the translation industry
Traditionally, the end of the year is a good moment to reflect on what passed and to look forward somewhat. In the past years I published a couple of “official” states of the industry, shedding light on what happened in the year that has passed. All these reports highlighted a couple of remarkable trends that are continuing to evolve – and to some extent cause some disruption in the translation industry. Examples of such trends are the growth of automation, and the steady and sometimes increasing pressure on rates. This translation industry ‘report’ does not bring a different message. There is much going on in the translation industry at strategic and technological levels. At the same time there are a couple of things that seemed to be more apparent in 2017 than in previous years. These trends are listed below, not necessarily in order of importance.
1. Mergers and acquisitions
In the past year a couple of bigger and smaller translation agencies all over the world joined forces and finally entered into a merger or were acquired by other agencies. 2017 saw RWS acquiring Moravia, French-based translation agency Technicis Group acquiring Arancho Doc, while Arancho Doc itself went shopping in Milan earlier this year. These are only a few examples of translation agencies acquiring some of their competitors. According to the comments made during the acquisitions, the translation agencies mostly invest their funds in other agencies to grow their client base or to strike out in an increasingly competitive environment. Sometimes the agencies also acquire new (and disruptive) technology providers for the translation industry, like Concorde acquired cloud translation platform LiveWords, according to Slator. A short analysis seems to make clear that it is mostly mid-sized translation agencies that follow the acquisition path. On a freelance-translators level there are no mergers or acquisitions whatsoever, although translators certainly seem to join forces and try to connect with others in order to share work and collaboration opportunities. The mergers and acquisitions in the translation industry might offer some benefits to freelance translators that are working on acquiring and acquired business already as their exposure to project managers is increased.
Mergers and acquisitions are not new in the translation industry, but it seems companies are more prone to an acquisition. The year past also saw the conclusion of acquisitions that had started in 2016, with offices re-branding and processes merging.
2. A growing emphasis on MT in all its diversity
If 2017 proved anything, it is that machine translation will be big in the future. The year marked the rollout of Google Neural Machine Translation (GNMT) in some languages, as well as the introduction of a machine translation technology by Amazon, and the Apple researching machine-translation technology. All the claims about the state of machine-translation technologies spark debate among professionals about the actual state of the technology and whether MT is a hype or not. No matter the state of the technology and the debates, every mention of machine-translation technology increases the emphasis on what is going on. More and more translation agencies are investing time and funds in technologies in order not to miss that train. At the same time, translators sometimes feel forced to dive into the ins and outs before it is too late (a claim that is heard among many advocates of MT) or because they see a rise in post-editing jobs coming from clients. Even end clients are investing in machine-translation technologies to speed up their translation processes, but mostly to lower their costs in the future. There are already clients in the furniture and mechanical industries building their own translation engines to reap low-hanging fruit.
The increasing investments in research, infrastructure, and resources will continue to define the state of the translation industry and it is expected that even more companies will jump on the train. So machine translation is growing bigger but the end of the growth is still nowhere near finished.
3. Even lower rates – and a countermovement
Influenced by many factors like the growth of translation volumes, the improvement of machine translation technologies, and the demand to increase margins, end clients and translation agencies alike are continuing to demand lower rates. It is difficult to predict whether an all-time low has already been achieved or will be achieved, but it seems that freelance translators are collectively starting to feel fed up. Companies demanding rates as low as $ 0.04 for a language pair with an average word rate of $ 0.14 are starting to outplay themselves as translators raise their voices and stop working for these rates any longer. At the same time companies and end clients still have control over the prices and can ask translators to bend or to burst. Despite their frustrations, translators are still not able to join forces and agree not to work for low wages. A countermovement is growing, but chances are that translators ultimately need to lower their rates in order to continue to receive work.
4. More but smaller jobs
The time when a “large job” was defined as a job with 20,000 or more words seems something from a far distant past. While the numbers of words in the translation industry seems to grow, jobs themselves are increasingly becoming smaller. Translation agencies are even talking about large jobs now when the word count is about 2,000 words. While this downward trend in job size does not have to be negative and often will be compensated for by an increase in the number of jobs, the notion of “large” jobs sometimes has an important implication. In the translation industry, “large jobs” are often synonymous with “lower rates” and downsizing the meaning of “large” in “large jobs” therefore means lowering the threshold for deductions in translation fees. It seems the concept of large jobs is impacted by a kind of meaning inflation and current forecasts do suggest that “larger jobs” will continue to decline in size in the foreseeable future.
5. CAT tools growing closer and closer
There was a time when CAT tools were readily distinguishing themselves by their features, some specializing in handling certain file types and others borrowing their existence from the fact that they contained ground-breaking technologies. Those differences are fading away, given that a new build of major CAT tools is released every few months, containing improvements and new features that are bridging the gap between competitors. CAT tools nowadays seem to thrive by the very existence of a group of fans, believers, or advocates who do not want up to give their favorite tool, while under the bonnet CAT tools are still hugely different, with the features and functions for translators remaining similar. The introduction of disruptive cloud platforms and technologies, like adaptive MT by Lilt, are being rolled out to desktop platforms as well, with SDL adding Adaptive MT to its product line and SmartCat introducing Adaptive MT with saying “It’s Lilt Time!“. It is only a matter of time before cloud tools and computer-based CAT tools have the same features and functions, and until a new platform emerges that introduces new disruptive technologies and concepts.
What will 2018 bring for the translation industry?
Predicting the future is quite a difficult task for a translator. The industry is in full swing and there is much going on. Yet some general lines can be drawn. The overall future of the translation industry seems bright, with many forecasts predicting a steady rise in the total amount of work, and more and more companies investing in translations. That said, it does not mean that the future of translators is equally bright. The increasing amount of work is still accompanied by a demand to decrease rates, while other companies investing in translations do not consider quality at all and look for the cheapest product. Neural machine translation will grow more as companies invest more of their budgets into disruptive and ground-breaking technologies. Agencies and translators alike are being forced to jump on the train to a greater or lesser extent as more and more traditional jobs become post-editing jobs. Major releases of CAT tools will contain fewer ground-breaking technologies but more copies and own versions of competitor’s technologies. And finally, more translators will stand up to defend their rates and try to join forces or strike out to stop the rat race.
The only trend I perceive is that more and more translation agencies are now requiring translators to use their own online CAT or MT tools rather than those available commercially. This is probably because they do not want translators to be able to use their own glossaries on other agencies’ work.
Personally, I do not use any kind of CAT tool and never will and it has not prevented me from working.
Writing that rates will continue to decrease, sounds to me like writing a self-fulfulling prophecy where you call on agencies and companies to do so. It is as if you welcome such a decrease. If not, then do not write about it!
In reality, the industry has split into two parts:
a. the bottom part where translations are required for the sake of having a translation rather than quality. This part of the market is dominated by bottom-feeders, by large international agencies, by cheap translators and by all those who embrace machine translation.
b. the upper part where quality is paramount and the first priority, and therefore much more important than price. There still are a lot of companies who are willing to pay for quality. This part of the market is dominated by small agencies, quality translators and mainly freelancers who can easily compete with and do better than large agencies.
With your article, you seem to have a preference for the former part of the market. That is perfectly acceptable, but don’t expect other translators to follow your path or to be dragged into your wish for lower rates..
Thank you for your observations Herman.
I like your opinion, but the conclusion is just a bit too blunt. This post is based on my observations in the past year, seeing agencies trying to force lower rates from freelancers. This is a trend that is going on for some years already and I expect it will continue. Having said that I want to stress that I do not appreciate that trend, but it is just a matter of fact. I myself deny any agencies that offer ridiculous rates, but I won’t close my eyes to the fact that they exist.
Of course you don’t appreciate that trend. I know that. Sometimes one has to be blunt (or use a hyperbole) to get a message accross 😉
It’s also impossible to generalize. In some, mainly smaller, countries, translators do achieve results. In the past few years Belgian agencies have been panicking because they did not find the translators to do their cheap translations. They have been forced to accept the higher rates. In order to maintain their low prices and nice marging, they simply skip the revision step.
But that’s OK. It’s just one more argument for companies to stop using them and to change to the freelance translator who does organize revision. Almost every new direct client I get, tells me that they are fed up with the quality agencies provide them with.
It also helps that beginning translators receive a load of useful information about what to do and what not to do. A beautiful example of the latter is that they are told that the fact they only just started their career is no reason to have low rates. Jt’s the quality that determines the price, not the number of years of experience. More and more universities invite people like myself to tell last year Master students about this.
My conclusion is that true professional translators have a bright future, providing they make perfect use of marketing tools, continue to educate both clients and (beginning) colleagues.
For the bargain translators on the other hand, they can surely expect more work at even lower rates. But who are we to care? 😉
Thank you for your reply. You have called a spade a spade. I wish you a happy 2018, full of translation assignments.
Hello, Herman, nice to read a similar message to what I might have written myself. I consult PhD. students and translate their summaries, while I work on my own PhD. As P. Newman used to say, after all the quality of translation is the responsibility of the translator and sometimes that of the editor and the truth has to come out at some point. I am glad that this tendency is becoming international. By the way, I also work for direct clients with very few exceptions. And yes, there really is a distinct dissimilarity between the bottom – feeders and professional translators. @Pieter, yes life is not a bed of roses, however if the tendency to ignore quality continues, this will have impact both on the languages and the intellect of humankind. One may argue that profit is more important than general considerations, the problem is that the end clients suffer from such practice as well.
Etant débutant, j’ai du rabaisser de moitié mes prix dans la cinquantaine de sites où je m’étais inscrit. Mais cela n’a donné aucun résultat. J’ai découvert alors , en jetant un regard sur les prix de “collègues” qu’il fallait encore descendre plus bas pour se niveler avec les prix de traducteurs qui proposent trois fois rien.
Je me suis finalement dit que le gros investissement que j’ai consenti pour me former à la traduction, à l’utilisation de logiciels, etc, etc, ne valait pas que je gaspille mon temps et mon énergie pour rien.
Cela ne concerne pas seulement la traduction mais aussi la rédaction et la relecture. C’est le règne de la médiocrité et du gain facile, des deux côtés malheureusement. Chacun veut casser son sucre sur le dos des gens compétents.
Mon rêve de prouver une certaine compétence est mort dans l’œuf. Le métier de traducteur tout court n’existe déjà plus . Peut-être que celui de traducteur assermenté tiendrait toujours bon parce qu’il suppose de protéger les intérêts des autres, c’est plus que de la qualité, c’est de l’assurance.
Great blog for those who want to enter translation industry, the translation trends of 2018 described are very perfect. The increasing machine translation will ruin the careers of thousands in coming time.
It will not ruin the careers. It will motivate and force people to change the spectrum of their services. Ever heard about post-editing? You can observe all over the world the job of translator is in transition. Few years ago only some used CATs- now you cannot imagine working without it, but there are still people who are against. There will be always people who are against the change and their transition will be the slowest.
“You can observe all over the world the job of translator is in transition. Few years ago only some used CATs- now you cannot imagine working without it, but there are still people who are against. There will be always people who are against the change and their transition will be the slowest.”
Do not make the mistake of thinking that every translator is working like you do, which is to say with CATs.
Most experienced translators either do not use CATs at all, or if they use them, don’t tell their clients that they use them because it’s nobody’s business. These are the translators who make and will continue to make good money.
If the use of a certain tool, such as a CAT tool, is more important to your client than your actual translation, your “client” is likely to be a bottom feeding agency and you are likely to be a beginner or a translator who will be stuck working for low rates forever. I don’t use CATs and I have never been asked to use a CAT by a direct client. Agencies of course love CATs because it is an excellent tool that they use to steal our money by using the illegal concept of “full matches and fuzzy matches”, which is nothing but illegal wage theft.
Great article! Trend # 4 “More but smaller jobs” has been something new to me. Other trends have been discussed a lot lately.
Nowadays, with the addition of the new technology in progress, the translation path has entered the bifugation, one of the ways continues in the traditional way, and the other is being directed towards dependence on technology. I am a technical translator, mechanical engineer, I am seeing the volume of my work in decline. Even so, I do not intend to abandon the traditional way, we know that the best quality of translation is still the traditional way.
I couldn’t find such an informational content on translation industry than this as it contains all the necessary points of this topic. I really loved reading this. Thanks for sharing
I have been translating from German, French and Italian into English for around 20 years.
I have also found that demand is now shifting from decent size translation jobs of (say) 2000 words upwards, down to “bits and pieces” jobs of only a few hundred words. A good number of the small jobs are these days are really so small that they are not an economical proposition to do. A number of the larger agencies no longer accept minimum pricing levels and so those freelancers who want work have to pick up crumbs from the agency’s table.
I have had Trados in all its forms for 18 years or so and now have the 2017 version costing upwards of £600 , but I only treat it and use it as a necessary evil because agency clients want their freelancers to use CAT tools. The myths that have been built up around this memory based software are so much built on shifting sand that I find it quite miraculous that they have lasted so long. I suppose their durability is solely due to the inability or fear of translators to unite and refuse to use them.
Translation like many activities succeeds or fails in relative terms on the basis of time taken to do the job to an acceptable level. What can one say about CAT tools?
1/ They don’t save time because translation agencies nowadays block out most of the repeats in the source text anyway.
2/ Usually the memories are poor quality because it’s much easier for the translator to make the corrections to the final target text only. Also, much of the translation in the TM is usually of poor quality anyway. Some clients know this and even tolerate known errors in their TMs.
3/ Uniformity/consistency in translation IS an advantage, but not always except perhaps for certain technical terms and certainly not in any text that needs to be written with some flair.
4/ The disgraceful Big Lie/Assumption is that translation is a word-by-word process and that by having fuzzy matches at various percentages provided by software, which the translator him/herself has bought at considerable expense, he/she is being helped to do his/her job and must therefore provide discounts based on the number of common words found. Um, er, no! Translation does not work like that actually, but these stupid or rather, rapacious translation software producers, agencies and some direct customers as well just love and are totally wedded to a system that forces reductions in their suppliers’ prices.
5/ The worst practice of all is when discounts for fuzzy matches are even applied to editing texts. Actually editing is another word these days for “rewriting” texts as they are often written by people who can barely write English. Then there ensues the inevitable argument with the agency PM over the amount of time the Freelancer has spent in rewriting the rubbish text which was not allowed for in the budget, etc. Oh yes, and when you make a change to some badly written piece you have to justify it by stating the exact reason for the change.
Certainly, I have been offered more editing jobs in the last 18 months or so than actual translations and they too have been also, of course, of smaller size following the trends mentioned.
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Great informational post. Thanks. Keep posting such great articles