Translation Rates and The Matrix

neo marty

I was recently contacted for a job by someone I deeply respect and with whom I genuinely enjoy working. I consider this person to be a great translator and a very intelligent human being, which is why something she said in our e-mail exchange really caught my attention, “you know that translation rates are dropping, right?” Actually, I don’t know that, because mine are rising.

If you think translation rates are dropping, there is a chance you are stuck in the Matrix. You are being fed an alternate reality from the outside by those who benefit from keeping you plugged in. Let’s take a quick look at the numbers and see how deep the rabbit-hole goes, shall we?

According to some sources (like the Common Sense Advisory Report), 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. 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.

So, where’s all this money going and why are freelancers convinced that prices are dropping? Well, it seems translation is an incredibly fragmented market, where about US$ 4 billion goes to the top 50 language service providers, while the rest is scattered among all sorts of companies, 70% of which have five or less employees. This means, at least, four things:

1) There’s a lot supply, which affects rates. The amount of supply in certain market segments is decreasing prices, but only in those segments. This is basic Economics that I have explained in this blog here and here.

2) There’s also a lot of demand, especially, in higher paying segments. These higher-paying segments are highly specialized though, which is why supply is low and rates are high. That’s how I managed to increase my rates, for example, after Law School (more about that to come).

3) There are a lot of intermediaries between industry leaders and freelancers.

4) There’s a lot of money that’s not being absorbed by the business giants.

Items 2 and 4 above are your ticket out of the Matrix. I will address them in two upcoming posts.

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