Feb 6, 2009

How big is your pond?

Richard Schneider recently posted some interesting statistics for job postings on the German translator's job mailing list U-Jobs. Not surprisingly, translations involving English are at the top of the list with about 35% with French and Italian distant second and third with 13.6% and 6.9% respectively. German to English translation accounted for 23% of all jobs posted, while English to German offered only half as many opportunities. These and other statistics can certainly go some way toward explaining the very different perceptions among translators of the "market situation". You'll find a lot more fish in a big pond, and even in hard times, a good fisherman should do OK.

This is just one set of statistics for one forum, a set of data I chose particularly because of its relevance to me as a resident of Germany with the majority of my business transacted here. I don't follow the list myself (though I may at some point in the future), but I'm interested in data that shows what may be going on. Mr Schneider posted other U-Job statistics with which he seeks to demonstrate that the crisis has hit the translation market in Germany, but I see the data in a little different perspective than he does. Mr. Schneider probably considers me one of the "Zweckoptimisten" to which he refers elsewhere, but I in turn find his contention that rates will remain stagnant until 2012 to be unfounded. He points to the bursting of the Internet bubble and the decline in translation volume as indicative of things to come (only worse this time), but my experience of that downturn taught me something else.

Before the dotcom bust I was translating IT manuals in my free time as often as I liked at good rates despite the fact I was rather inexperienced on the whole in the field of translation. If I wanted a computer-related translation, more than 50% of the time I submitted a quote, it was mine. Suddenly, however, things changed. A couple of big customers got bought out and the IT market in general went to Hell. I think I can count the number of computer-related manuals I did in the two years after than on the fingers of one hand. Prices that were once easily attained in that sector were suddenly often "too high". Did I starve? Did my rates drop? No, in fact when things really got bad, I asked to be laid off and started freelancing full time. I just shifted my business focus as a translator to other specialties for which demand remained strong. Demand for my services has remained strong overall since then, though certainly there have been shifts in demand for various areas.

Where the world's economies are headed in general over the next few years seems depressingly clear even if there is debate about just how bad things will get. However, I do not see this as an inevitable indication of individual fates. If you are standing in the middle of the road watching a bus hurtle toward you, it might seem inevitable that you will be hit by the bus. Or you might just get out of the road. Change your approach. Find new ways to do things. Or don't. If times get really hard, some people may depend on road kill for protein.

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