Working in translation for over 10 years, the word crisis is one that has certainly been a major concern, and has crept in each one of them. Nevertheless, facts have shown quite the opposite: a market growing by leaps and bounds. Common Sense Advisory, an independent firm that surveys and analyzes the translation market, expects 2012 to record US$ 25 billion worldwide, not too bad. Furthermore, this is an extremely democratic market. There is room for translation agencies, freelance translators, good and bad translators, expensive and inexpensive ones, as well as hacks, unfortunately. There is a little of everything, because after all is said and done, the customer is always right.
The translation market being democratic implies that we must endure predatory competition from price-slashing translation companies; however it leaves the option for companies to search and find serious agencies offering quality in translation as well. When I say that there is room for everyone, I mean that each can carve out their own niche.
I constantly hear about vultures scavenging the market with preposterously low prices. They are out there indeed, and there certainly are agencies in this category, however I don’t rank them as our competitors. They have a market niche and this may explain why one translation company charges X, another one charges 4X, and the latter is up to its ears in work. The market is considerably segmented.
I have also noticed that demand is not evenly spread over time. There are peaks and valleys – periods of high demand interspersed with calmer times. It is also interesting to note that when demand is at its peak, it seems like all translators are busy, while during dry spells we receive many calls from translators asking for work. Apparently the market tide is the same for everyone: when it is high, everyone is in demand; when it’s low, idleness takes over.
Translation agencies may not experience this oscillation as intensely as freelance translators, since an agency works with a number of language pairs and for varied sectors. There are times when English to Portuguese translations are down, but Portuguese to English demand is up, and vice versa. However as we have a business structure in place, we must translate a certain minimum volume per month to break even, which certainly causes additional pressure on agencies during crises.
I am highly optimistic regarding the future of this market, as it has continued to grow, which led us to expand our translators team, the number of project managers, reviewers, etc. Unfortunately, there is no Brazilian or Latin American translation market study (at least, that I was able to find in my research) to corroborate my feelings and observations expressed herein, so they are merely empiric, based on our experience.
To wrap it up, I will outline the current Brazilian translation market. It is undergoing a period of growth, however there are fluctuations, i.e. peaks and valleys in demand, which is something we all have to get used to, because this behavior puts a great deal of pressure on both freelance translators and translation agencies alike, and a period of slack demand may suddenly turn into an avalanche of work. The market is also highly segmented i.e., there are several niches to be supplied, and now is the right time to do it.