I recently found a group on LinkedIn intended to name and shame companies that pay unacceptable translation rates. The group’s name literally contains the words “unacceptable translation rates” and “shaming” in it, so one would think that the people who join the group are like-minded human beings who are unplugged (or trying to unplug) from the Matrix, and who believe translators deserve, at least, living wages. Well, one would be wrong.
The first thing I see is a thread denouncing a certain company that allegedly pays US$5 for 500 words, i.e. $0.01/word or (for anyone with a standard daily output of 2500-3000 words per day, that’s a grand total of $25 to $30 little peanuts for a hard day’s work). One would expect to read cries of outrage and well-founded criticism of such rates. Again, one would be wrong; for the bottom feeders and exploiters of the commodities market have their knights, several of whom fought to the death defending notions like:
If you’re located in a geographical area where conversion rates work in your favor, there is no reason not to work for such rates.
Where? Where I ask thee, oh shiny knight, is this magical land where one can afford a decent living with $25-$30 a day. According to one knight, that magical land over yonder is Portugal, a country with a gross domestic product per capita of US$21,733.07. I wonder where this knight learned math…
Ok, it’s low, but only if you respect the law and pay taxes.
Because, apparently, struggling economies don’t struggle enough without adding corruption and tax evasion to the equation.
Capitalism means anything goes.
This one made me weep for the great minds of yore. In my head, I could see everyone from Adam Smith to Ronald Coase rolling over in their graves and doing a triple face palm. (For believers in such fallacies, might I recommend Economics for Dummies? I’ll even pitch in to pay for the book myself.)
These were not their exact works, of course, just the gist of their endless and awfully written efforts to defend the indefensible. After about 80 of such comments and more or less effective rebuttals from other members, I tried to chime in to defend the specialty service segment (a.k.a. “premium market”) with these funny little things called numbers, arguments, and stats (you know 34 billion a year industry and growing = no need to be exploited); but alas, no one cared. By then, the conversation had already taken a turn for the worse in my view, ending in the only place where heated, unfounded discussions end: an intellectual graveyard. Thus, also ending my interest in the thread, but not in the topic altogether.
Being as the forest was, once again, missed for the trees. Here are some questions I think went unanswered:
– Translation is a US$ 34 billion a year market with a 12.17% average yearly GROWTH that is expected to hit US$ 37 billion in 2018. Given the amount of money pouring into translation, why should translators work for peanuts?
– In 2011, Mission Essential Personnel, which was rated #1 in the top 100 language companies, reported over US$ 725 million in revenue; while on the opposite end of that top 100, Intrawelt, reported US$ 4.18 million. Companies in the middle, like Global LT Inc., reported between US$ 12 and 14 million. Given these reported profits, why are translators working for these companies at low rates?
– If only US$ 4 billion of those US$34 billion are going into the top 50 LSPs and the rest is scattered among brokers and intermediaries (70% of which have 5 or less employees), why are translators more eager to work for these brokers and intermediaries than to bypass them and try to capture small-to-medium sized direct clients?
But, of course, answering them would mean using solid, founded and informed arguments, which these knights simply don’t seem to have.