Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Why Crowdsourced-Post-Editing is Doomed as a Business Model

Listen to this quote from former Economist correspondent Charles Wheelan:

I will never forget stepping off a plane in Kathmandu; the first thing I saw was a team of men squatting on their haunches as they cut the airport grass with their sickles. Labor is cheap in Nepal; lawn mowers are very expensive. (p.17)

The routine sales pitch for basing the translation process on post-editing (seriously, how stupid is that name?) of computer output is, obviously, geared toward lowering the cost of translating documents. An output of 10,000 words per day is usually cited, a figure that is slightly arbitrary but for some reason bandied about quite frequently. Let’s say the average output of current non-post-editors is 2,000 words a day. Thus, in this scenario, the PE model would be five times as efficient. Theoretically, the cost per word of translation would be cut down to a fifth of its current level. This means that if the current (average) range that translators charge is $0.10-$0.20, then the range they would charge in a PE-dominated industry would be $0.02-$0.04. 

That, in a nutshell, is the promise of the future. A future in which the range of per word costs is located in the vicinity of $0.02-$0.04.

But, wait, is that actually the future?

Excuse me, but that sounds a lot like the present. We are already in the future. Peruse the ProZ.com job boards. Take a look at any freelancer’s spam folder. The future already happened. The crowdsourced post-editing (CPE) crowd is dreaming of a cost structure that has already been achieved. We already are in the era of cheap translation.

Superior technology is only an economic game-changer in markets in which the cost of labor has not been driven into the ground by the power of connectedness via the Internet. That is not the case of translation.

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. He has worked as a translator for Goldman Sachs, the US Government's Open Source Center, and H.B.O. International, as well as many small-and-medium-sized brokerages and asset management companies operating in SpainTo 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.


Rob said...
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Rob said...

A very astute observation!