The CEO of Iyuno-SDI, David Lee, recently said that he is only satisfied with 10-15% of the company’s audiovisual translators. The many thousands of members of the European Federation of Audiovisual Translators beg to differ: we are only happy with 10-15% of the localisation companies.

Has greed distorted the localisation industry’s perception of reality to this degree?

Like so many freelancers, audiovisual translators have experienced a steady uberization of their profession over the past 20 years. The rates for audiovisual translation have remained unchanged and even been reduced in some markets. The vast majority of translators are deprived of any protection and do not have access to collective bargaining.

That is why many talented translators have left the profession and why young talents are often reluctant to invest their skills and energy in this sector. New translators are, moreover, often thrown in at the deep end with little or no training and guidance, and they can spend years stuck at the same skill level. Low rates are no incentive to improve – only to work faster.

So there is no talent crunch, there is a rate crunch. And it has only become glaringly obvious after the localization boom of 2020.

So is there a reasonable, business-wise solution ?

Some companies hail machine translation as the magical solution. Another misconception. Our profession is a creative one, based on sound and image as much as on text. Neural translation, as impressive as it can be, is just another tool in a skilled translator’s belt. Achieving human translation quality level through post-editing often takes as much time as doing the work from scratch. But stripped of the creativity and fun. At a fraction of the price. And much added stress.

We predict that lowering the rates based on machine translation will only worsen the so-called talent drain.

Globally, audiovisual production is booming. Viewers watch shows from all over the world, and audiovisual translators are the people who help communicate the experience, the message, the art and magic of films and shows. Billions of dollars are invested in production. Yet, at the end of the production line is an audiovisual translator who is often tasked with communicating all this creative effort for a fee below minimum wage.

So we advocate a bolder solution. To all streaming platforms, global and local stakeholders of the entertainment industry: localisation needs to not be an afterthought, the practical and financial tail end of post-production and distribution. In a globalized world, where translated versions make for 50% of the revenue generated by any production, it’s about time to include it from the start in your budgets. The dividends will be substantial.

Translation is an investment, not a cost.