Yet to feel effects of recession

Living in a sleepy Okinawan town, and dealing with clients 1,000 miles or more away, it's hard for me to get a gut-level sense of what this recession will mean for my Japanese-to-English translation business, and for the J2E translation industry as a whole.

So far, I haven't felt any ill effects from the recession. I'm as busy as ever, and my schedule is booked fuller than usual; in fact, I was hoping to take the rest of December off, but it looks like I'll have to translate half days on December 28th and 29th in order to meet my January deadlines.

One thing I have noticed is several new companies approaching me, and asking me to work for what I'd consider very low rates (60% of my normal rates or lower). Since these are offers of work that I haven't solicited, I interpret them as companies smelling blood, and trying to take advantage of translator panic by securing low-cost providers. But it's frankly pretty hard to feel panicked when you've already got all the work you can handle.

I started translating well into Japan's "lost decade" — the massive recession starting in the early 90s precipitated by Japan's own real-estate bubble and subsequent meltdown. Despite getting my start during a huge recession, I had no trouble finding work. Old timers who were translating during and before the bubble tell me that after the recession hit, the same amount of work was available as before the bubble burst. That makes sense, because translation is generally a cost of doing business: if you want to sell your stuff outside Japan, you've got to localize your materials. If companies could get away with doing less translation, they would have already made the cuts. But the sky-high rates you used to hear about — like $100/page or more for routine translation — have been relegated to history, alas.

So I'm preparing for rough times despite seeing nothing but good times in my own business. I'll just keep tilling my little patch here in Okinawa, while keeping an eye out for a big tsunami rolling down from the mainland. If I do start getting less work, or find it impossible to command my current rates, then living in inexpensive Okinawa and having relatively modest spending habits ought to put my family in good stead.

5 comments to Yet to feel effects of recession

  • […] they’ve seen little to no difference in their volume–Ryan Ginstrom at the GITS blog is full up with work.  I love hearing this from Ryan in particular as he works in the language pairing I’m aiming […]

  • Kevin

    Before I got into patent translation I had heard that it was a field relatively shielded from economic downturns. Like ordinary J-to-E translation, getting U.S./European patents is just a cost of doing business for many Japanese companies (such as Canon, Matsushita, Toshiba, Hitachi, and Fujitsu, who were five of the top ten recipients of U.S. patents in 2005).
    There are a few other conditions that act as buffers in favor of J-E translators.
    First, quality translation stills pays. There are hundreds of switched-on Japanese companies who would love to reduce the amount of money they spend on translation, but they know they get what they pay for.
    Second, historically the larger part of J-E translation has been (and is still) done by native Japanese speakers, but the norm internationally is that quality translation is done by native speakers of the target language. So I would guess that any squeezing out effect would not immediately affect native English-speaking translators anyway.
    Still, in these times, anything can happen, so for 2009 I’ll be cutting down on my only luxury (boutique beers) and concentrating on my veggie-growing skills.

  • Good to hear that you have not suffered from the economic downturn in your corner of the world. In my own informal research with fellow linguists, not too many have reported significant downturns, which is very encouraging. We are experiencing a bit slower times, and have thus extended a holiday discount to our clients — 20% off on one project. We don’t compete on price (and even with the discount we are on the very high end), but it’s a nice incentive that might help with tight budgets.

  • FWIW public-sector work is drying up quickly, or is at least subject to a lot of downward pressure on prices. The ministries and agencies are instructed to slash costs by X percent for the coming year’s budget (well, except for construction, because you can never have too much concrete splashed across your hillsides and beaches) and they cut out translation projects altogether or reduce funding for them accordingly.

    Work from publishing houses is also being hit hard since they’re suffering the double blow of (a) competition from Internet-based media and (b) dwindling advertising revenues.

    I do some work for major auto manufacturers, too, and, well, ‘nuf said there.

    In general I agree that accomplished translators don’t have a lot to worry about in the present climate, but there are some sectors that aren’t quite so shiny.

  • Mad

    We didn’t start suffering until 3 weeks ago when work stopped abruptly and is only now beginning to dribble in. Before that, we habitually had far too much work! It will come back up I’m sure, but slowly.

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