Monday, December 20, 2010
Video Killed the Radio Star
If video killed the radio star, there’s no telling what it will do to translation.
Of course, I’m referring to the Buggles’ smash hit and the first video to play on MTV. Since August 1, 1981, this British punk song has been covered by Radiohead, the Violent Femmes, Presidents of the United States—even Alvin and the Chipmunks has gotten with the groove. And when the Chipmunks get with it, no matter what “it” is, you know it’s gone mainstream.
Face it, folks: video is taking over. According to YouTube, site-goers watch two billion videos a day and upload “hundreds of thousands of videos daily. In fact, every minute, 24 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube.” And while I’m sure translation is not the most frequently searched term, that doesn’t mean we in the translation industry should ignore the medium.
And we don’t. We localize for it. After all, someone has to write subtitles and translate all those on-location scripts. Do a search on IMDb, the end-all, be-all for video and film production credits, and you’ll find language service providers (LSP’s) listed under “Production Services,” “Post-Production Services,” “Special Thanks,” “Visual Effects,” “Miscellaneous,” and “Costume & Wardrobe” (your guess is as good as mine here). The unfortunate thing, though, is that most LSP’s that subtitle as a specialization aren’t listed on the site. Instead, listings include LSP’s that “minor” in film, so to speak, and a large number of businesses based in India. Apparently, the way the mainstream moviegoers access film credits is not how most movie-localizing companies get out their name.
This divide between how our industry publicizes itself and how the common man accesses information extends far beyond IMDb. Whether we’re ready to admit it or not, as an industry, we’ve constructed a tower for ourselves with a gigantic moat around it. I don’t think we meant to; this construction progressively arose from both LSP’s and freelancers logically going where the money is.
Experienced, sophisticated buyers are a simply an easier sell for most people. Instead of having to sell them on the principle of translation, you need only sell them on yourself. The level of client education they require tends to be processes- or project-based; the projects themselves tend to be more profitable than your average birth certificate. That’s not to say sophisticated buyers don’t come with their own set of issues -- just that it’s a commonly accepted assumption that a Fortune 500 is a better client over time than your neighborhood podiatrist.
Unfortunately this thinking leaves the podiatrist and his “tell me again why the secretary can’t do it” buddies behind. As a corporate sales strategy, it’s necessary to stay in business. We focus our energy and our strengths on targeting the more profitable clients; this keeps our doors open and our coffers full. But as far as strategic development for the language industry goes, a lot of under-educated buyers and influencers remain that way. As a result, we create an “in-club” -- a select group of sophisticated buyers, many of whom are establishing internal localization departments or single points of company contact.
Any time you have an in-club, you have an out-club: people who aren’t invited to the party, but who want to go nonetheless. These are the small businesses with 1-2 projects a year, the manufacturers who are only now beginning to export, small-town doctors across the country treating their first immigrant patients. By inadvertently making our party “invitation-only” for the seasoned-buyer elite, we have made professional language services unapproachable for the rest of the world. And what happens when you’re not invited to the in-club’s party? You throw your own and tell yourself it’s better. This is why this second group of clients relies on bilingual secretaries, substitute Spanish teachers, and their 17 year-old’s two-years of high-school French. They’ve never been invited to the professionals’ party, and they hold close to their own ways of doing because they don’t want to admit that something better has excluded them before. This natural course of events has led this group to see professional translators as a unreachable pedantics, if they even see us at all. The tower we then find ourselves in may have been constructed unintentionally, but it still leaves us trapped.
I won’t spend too much time on this. After all, this article is on how the language industry should and can market itself through video. But I do want to point out that before we can use video to solve our industry’s problems, we must first understand and acknowledge those problems and where they come from. In the end, it all boils down to one thing: the vast majority of people don’t understand what we do.
The technology is there. We just have to use it. Fuze Meeting, an app for Blackberry and iPhone, allows for video conferencing and the screen sharing of presentations and other data, including pre-produced videos. If you had your video presentation online and ready to go, you could easily show it on your phone during a client meeting.