Translation Rates and The Matrix Revolutions

agent smith and neo

In the Matrix Revolutions lots of things happen and many of them make absolutely no sense, especially the ending. However, poor though the last part of the Matrix Trilogy was, Neo defeats the machines and Agent Smith (or Agent “Bottom Feeder” to us translators); and somehow saves Zion. If you’ve been following this Translation and the Matrix Trilogy, then in this post, you are expecting me to tell you how to free yourself from the Matrix; and by now you should have learned at least two things that will help you do that:

1. Just like in the Matrix there is no spoon, in translation there is no rates crisis. Rates are not dropping and the market has been increasing steadily for years. (If you haven’t seen the numbers supporting this, check out part one.)

2. The translation market is highly segmented and relies heavily on intermediaries. The bigger the Language Service Provider (LSP), the more market-specific information they have; thus also, the more leverage when asymmetry of information kicks in (explained here); leaving smaller LSPs, Agencies and Freelancers with the feeling they have no choice but to accept low prices and bad service agreements.

Translators often have a lot of misconceptions about how prices work in a capitalist economy; and in this blog, I have used my nerdy academic training in Law and Economics to explain how prices are actually set by the market (here and here). As I have shown in other posts, translators have little power over price in certain segments, but a lot of power in others.

If you remember the numbers, then you know that out of the US$ 34 billion that go into translation each year, only about US$ 4 billion are absorbed by the top 50 LSPs (that’s where translators have no power). What these numbers are also telling us is that US$ 30 billion are pouring into medium sized LSPs, small-or-medium sized boutique agencies, or directly into freelancers; and those US$ 30 billion are expected to increase by 12.17% next year. That’s where translators have power and can drop low-paying LSPs and bottom feeding agencies if they want to.

So the question is again choice; and the answer consists of choosing clients in the right segments. Those segments are “specialty service segments” or what some other translation bloggers are referring to as “premium markets”. Regardless of what you call it, the logic is simple: there are areas of translation that are prone to paying more because there is a lot of demand and very little supply, i.e. lots of translation work, very few qualified translators. Qualifications are hard to get and require large investments in training. Accessing these segments and escaping the Matrix involves depending less on large LSPs and more on direct clients and highly specialized or “boutique” agencies. To make more money as a translator, you don’t need to fight LSPs for a couple of cents on a given project, you need to change your clientele altogether and grab your piece of the 30 billion not being absorbed by them.

To escape the Matrix, you need to develop a business plan and marketing strategy that is appealing to direct clients and/or key players in the specialty service segments of your area of specialization. This is not easy, but it is feasible, and in future posts I will address different strategies for achieving it.


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