Engagement is better than imagined entitlement.

Numerous translators appear clueless about—or are studiously avoiding recognition of—the structure of the translation business and are claiming victim entitlement rather than trying for engagement with people who matter.

I am growing a bit weary of seeing posts by translators who have depended on translation agencies (in most cases, translation-reselling brokers) and are acting entitled and thinking of themselves as having rights akin to those that would accrue to employees, although they are not employees.

Freelance translators are clearly not employees of the brokers that purchase translations from them, but you might not think that from hearing the complaints lodged by freelance translators, who frequently ineffectively kvetch and preach to their choirs in online venues that don’t reach specific people who might offer more rewarding work and better conditions. The complaints are various.

Complaint:  Low and “exploitive” rates. There is no “minimum wage” for translation vendors, and freelance translators are translation vendors. Offering low rates is not exploitive. You are not an employee. If you don’t like an offered rate, you are free to refuse it and go elsewhere. You didn’t lose your job; you were never employed.

If all the brokers are actually offering rates too low for you to accept, the path forward is clear: You need to find another income source or be in the translation business and compete with the brokers, but first you must discover just who are the specific people you need to talk to. That is usually a non-trivial task. Hint: It’s not your cohort of translator-colleague connections on LinkedIn.

Complaint:  Resellers of entertainment-related content don’t credit or allow disclosure of a translator’s identity and force translators they purchase translations from to sign NDAs promising not to discuss or disclose the work they did for the broker. This is only natural from the standpoint of the translation-reselling broker. They want to be seen as the provider of the translation and they are indeed the provider of the translation as seen from the end users (the brokers’ clients). They benefit from being themselves credited and have no reason to defer to a translator if they can get a translator to agree to a gag-order NDA.

Jurisdiction-dependent enforceability issues aside, if you sign such an NDA, you have no basis to complain. What? You say that you cannot get work without signing an NDA? Then you need to look elsewhere and start engaging in translation as a business. You are not an employee being denied employment if you don’t sign an NDA; you are a vendor being asked to agree to conditions that are unacceptable to you, so refuse the conditions and walk away.

Understanding the Structure of the Translation Business

Translators need to remember that the brokers purchasing translations from freelancers and reselling them to their clients are in the translation business, and your path away from the disadvantages this presents to freelancers is to engage in the translation business yourself. You have a right to walk away, and you have the opportunity to attempt to break out of tier two of the translation business and start engaging in the translation business from tier one, from which you interact with—and sell to—direct clients (translation consumers). The large number of translators who cannot do that will be ex-translators in the not-too-distant future. The writing is on the wall.

As translation brokers rapidly migrate from purchasing translations from freelancers to using AI themselves to produce what are arguably characterized as artificial translations and then ordering just post-editing, the surviving translators will more and more be those who can reinvent and rethink themselves as professionals engaging in the translation business.

That is not going to be possible for many translators. The need for a mindset reset can combine with previous real-life experience (or, more likely, the lack of it) and life decisions (place of residence, particularly in my language pair, JA-EN) to make things very difficult.

I cannot find words to console those who cannot do that or for whom the process would be too painful. They will probably need to sit and wait for the end. And the more entitled you are in displaying your discomfort with this situation, the quicker the end will likely come. Get engaged and stop acting entitled.