Thursday, June 28, 2012

Did You Hear That? Translation Prices Are Falling!

Is that cannon fire or is that my heart pounding?
--Casablanca (1942)

Is that the thunder of distant guns or is it the sound of translation prices crashing to the ground?

Wait, no. It’s only the gruesome sound of McLSPs biting, kicking and eating each other alive as part of a massive cannibal apocalypse.

And the bloodcurdling squeals of a million hamsters…

What a dreadful sound!

This is how groupthink works. Nonsense Common Sense Advisory CEO Don De Palma decides that translation prices are falling because of the impact of automation and all those nifty forty-year-old technologies. In an e-mail to one agency owner, he writes:
Even though the industry has reported strong growth overall each year, our previous pricing survey showed that rates went down for nearly every language between 2008 and 2010. Have rates decreased even further from 2010 to 2012? Or, are they starting to stabilize for some languages?
His clients in the Cheap Translation sector shout: “That’s true! I get dozens of unsolicited CVs from completely unqualified people every day!” David Grunwald, for instance, goes on to conclude the following:

Workflows involving MT are being used more-and-more by LSPs and translation buyers. This is cutting many translators out of the loop, causing a glut in the supply of human translation resources. At GTS, we receive  hundreds of applications a month from under-employed translators.

Now, please note two things:

1.- De Palma didn’t actually say prices are dropping. He noted that prices dropped in 2008-2010, but that corresponds to the severest portion of the deepest worldwide economic downturn since the Great Depression. He doesn’t actually say that prices have dropped since then, either. He has equivocated on the issue of prices over the past two years, but in most cases he tends not to cite any concrete empirical evidence that tends to confirm his sweeping observations about prices (or about much of anything, for that matter).

2.- Grunwald adds some empirical evidence: the abundance of CVs from under-employed “translators.” (I can safely say that Grunwald’s definition of under-employed translators is different from mine. I may concede the “under-employed” part, although not perhaps the “translator” part.) For my part, even though my website explicitly states that I am not an agency and I carefully cultivate a gruff, grumpy public persona, I get dozens of CVs from clueless translators-cum-spammers regularly (by the way, if you’re reading this, I regularly mark your messages as spam, which further decreases the likelihood that your e-mails will reach any real clients). I do not think that says much about the “market” but rather about current Internet culture, which tends towards cheap communication, a model that Grunwald is probably better acquainted with than me.

Furthermore, despite the fact that Spain is undergoing a deep, secular recession, I just had the busiest month for a long time and one of the best months ever from the point of view of revenue. Does that mean I think that human translation is booming? No. That is only an isolated data point in a sea of data points. Worse, it is just unstructured anecdotal and highly biased evidence, which is the basis for 90% of De Palma and Grunwald’s outlook.

People need to learn to think critically. Even numbers into which society invests a lot of effort are just vague approximations. Few people know that a figure such as the US jobs number has a margin of error of plus or minus 100,000 jobs or that it is revised continuously for several months after it is released. The quarterly and yearly GDP numbers, likewise, are constantly revised for many months and even years after they are announced. And those are two key figures in which millions of dollars are invested and which depend upon the work of thousands of survey takers, economists, and statisticians. One of the reasons why people should study economics is to be less impressed by the “reality” of big-sounding numbers. Most of the numbers bandied about an industry as tiny as translation are little more than fluff on some geezer’s spreadsheet. And often even less than that.


Terduiseux said...

I do not happen to know DePalma and Grunwald, but I do agree with your brilliant analysis.

Jordi Balcells Antón said...

Messing with Renato wasn't enough? Boy, you really like to take on the heavyweights! Good beating, as always!

Aurora Humarán said...

Translation Prices Are Falling... and translator supply is decreasing. Yep! We are fewer and less qualified. That explains everything. (That justifies anything).

Great post!

Gueibor said...

Damnit, I knew it! My clients are conspiring against me.
They keep sending projects and paying higher rates, even though -as we all know- prices are falling!
Why are they doing this to me?
What ulterior motive do they have??
What is this evil orchestration???

Anonymous said...

Unemployed people are counted in published stats only if they have worked zero hours.

Someone who worked 1 hour a week is excluded being not counted.