The incredible shrinking delivery times

It’s nothing new to note that delivery times have been increasingly shrinking over the past 10 years. Everyone who’s in the business knows this is how things are now, and that’s that.

But what are the actual reasons for the ever closer due dates?

Is it always the fault of the unreasonable end client who will not take no for an answer? Is it the fault of the large LSP between yourselves (well, at least ourselves) and the end client? And why is it their responsibility? Have they lost their bargaining power entirely and simply nod and agree to any conditions? Or is it because they find it hard to organize a workflow which involves translator, reviewer, DTP editor, and translator again? Or is it perhaps because they are under the desktop publishers’ thumb and have no choice but to sacrifice the translator’s time?

I ask myself these questions daily, as I incessantly negotiate for extra time with my clients, but the answer can only be a guesswork.

My first explanation is that the economy is pushing and prodding end clients to issue their material earlier than reasonably possible. It is plausible. The economy has changed, recently for the worse, but even before that, communications have become so fast that a company simply has to keep up, or else.

My second explanation is that large LSPs are backing up and are no longer in a position to negotiate with a firm hand. I don’t think this was brought on by the recent economic crisis. I believe in fact it started earlier, with the gradual merge and consolidation of the major global language service providers. As a result, the smaller LSPs who are still in business are no longer prepared to require certain (and previously perfectly reasonable) conditions for fear their clients will go somewhere else. How else can one explain the fact that negotiation of delivery dates is not as part of the larger LSPs’ routine as it is part of mine, as I often have to urge them to ask for extensions as if they hadn’t even thought about it.

My third explanation is again a platitude, and that is that speed has become far more important than quality, and everyone is happy to live with that. Speed makes languages grow more similar to one another through previously unconscionable loans and it makes details go from paramount to expendable. Speed is preventing translators (and reviewers at that) from exercising their mind and their knowledge of the source and target language; instead, it forces them to resort to words and expressions that have grown to form their source database for this or that client to achieve speed. And the tighter the deadline the more this source database is pillaged and abused.

I have no particular qualms of conscience about the way things are going and I’m not a purist or perfectionist who still clings to a romantic view of translation. I do care about my mind, though, and I know that not exercising languages, even your own, equals to forgetting them. And this simply won’t do.

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