Saturday, July 9, 2011

Why Lord Vader is Trying to Imitate The Economics of the Sealed-Bid Auction in Online Translation Databases (Final)

(I have analyzed the structure of the sealed bid auction job platforms here and here. This is the third and final part of the post on this topic.)

I know there is already somebody in the back row ready to let out an outraged cri de coeur: “So we just have to resign ourselves to the idea that world is a fallen mess of corruption and sin?” Uh, well, no. is not the whole of the translation market. It isn’t even the whole of the online marketplace for translations. ProZ is a pretty interesting example of the Web 1.0 that is struggling to adapt to the Web 2.0 by ingeniously dipping its toes into crowdsourcing (as a Pro member or something, I was asked to review colleagues’ translation samples for free, for example). But obsessing over its practices is pointless. My feeling is that it will either fold when something else comes along or that it will remain as a niche outlet for the hamsterized linguistic workforce of the future. In either case, if you worry enough about this to sign a petition, you can probably find some more creative way of finding clients. The standard recommendations: Chris Durban’s Prosperous Translator (I reviewed this book a few months back) and Judy and Dagmar Jenner’s The Entrepreneurial Linguist. Also, check out the latest edition of Corinne McKay’s How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator and Alex Eames’s Business Success as a Freelance Translator. And any one of a ton of books for non-translation freelancers. 

I have to renew my membership in September, but I constantly think that those hundred-and-fifty or so dollars would be better spent on more productive purchases (fireworks, four or five bottles of bourbon…). The offers I get via the ProZ platform are simply ludicrous. I haven’t scored a single promising lead through them in at least two years. And forget about the bidding platform. I gave up on that many years ago when purely by accident I clicked on a link and through some glitch in the website’s design I obtained access to the detailed list of competing bids on a project. I will spare you the details. It was stomach-sickening. Many bids were for a quarter of what I charged (and I didn’t even charge much). I even experimented a little by slashing bids by ridiculous percentages of 30% or 40% or 60%. The only reason I retain the membership is because of the Blue Board, but that is just laziness on my part. I am also subscribed to the Payment Practices List and I could do without the BB. I check the KudoZ terminology query database at least once a day, but I think I could still access it with a free subscription. So, basically, inertia is what keeps me as a loyal client. But perhaps I should review this little blotch on my P&L.

To conclude, let me quote Henry Dotterer again. He has a very profound insight:

If you disagree, please ask yourself: "How could be made *less* of an auction site?" Apart from closing it down, I don't think there is a way.
That is the crux of the issue. As I have discussed above, any attempt to rejigger the hoary DNA of’s jobs site would threaten its power, whether you like it or not. Which leads to my main conclusion: and its clones should not be the sole or even the main outlet (or perhaps even a single avenue) for finding leads. With the added observation that even a non-evil ProZ would either be unworkable or uncompetitive.

And if you want some corroboration of this conclusion, remember that Lionbridge was planning to create its own job distribution platform, known as GeoWorkz, on which freelancers would be given priority depending upon the rates they offered on particular projects. Do you see what I’m getting at? What is the effect of such a project? To induce freelancers to offer ever-lower rates. Duh. Yes, my friends, the ProZ model is so inherently noxious for the individual freelancer that even Lord Vader is applying it as the favored HR solution for the Death Star to ensure the lowest possible rates from its lackey stormtroopers.

Will I renew my membership in September? Hmm, we’ll see. For now, it provides another link to my homepage and blog and that is good for my SEO. Although not that good. You see, several prestigious translators look down their noses on ProZ profiles, so there is a hidden reputational cost. So perhaps that is a little tidbit worth thinking about when weighing that particular investment.

Miguel Llorens is a freelance financial translator based in Madrid who works from Spanish into English. He is specialized in equity research, economics, accounting, and investment strategy. To contact him, visit his website and write to the address listed there. Feel free to join his LinkedIn network or to follow him on Twitter.

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