By Teddy Bengtsson.
Argentina is growing in demand as a place to do Spanish translations. The country has all key fundamentals for becoming an industry leader for translation and localization, but is it really the promised land…? Time for a reality check!
The plus points are many, as I discovered when researching the market four years ago. I eventually exchanged a comfortable life in Europe in favor of pioneering a language service business here in Argentina, so you can easily conclude that in my opinion they far outweigh any drawbacks. Much has been written about these potential benefits, including the growing significance of Spanish as a world language, the well educated resource base, the cultural alignment with Europe, the convenient time zone for North America, etc., etc. Not to mention the low cost, of course…
I have no intention to discourage language services buyers to look towards Argentina – remember, I have a vested interest in bringing business here…! Still, an emerging market inevitably faces its challenges and the language industry here is very much a “work in progress”. It is dominated by individuals and small groups, wheras companies with an enterprise infrastructure are still few and far between. A search in GALA’s membership database reveals that among the 13 Argentine companies listed, only three have more than 10 employees. The others have between one and ten, with the average in this group most likely very close to the former, as the only employees tend to be those with an ownership stake in the business. In contrast, the same search in Spain suggests that 19 of the 26 listed GALA member companies have more than ten employees.
Employment and career opportunities are thus limited to within very few companies. Many translation graduates work as language teachers, bilingual secretaries, or in-house translators in companies outside the language industry, such as banks, law firms, etc. Freelancer forums on the web bring the lure of potential high earnings by applying rates that are excessive locally, but may still be seen as attractive internationally. In reality, many discover a market with limited cross-learning and development opportunities, as well as high levels of financial and professional uncertainty.
For the market to normalize, translation buyers need to distinguish between the services offered by individual freelancers or co-operatives, small businesses and full service companies. As a potential buyer, make sure to choose a partner that meets your requirements in terms of capability and capacity. If you need scale, flexibility, reliability and a full set of services, you probably need a solid company infrastructure, not just a company name and a good looking website.
Compare like with like when it comes to pricing. A freelance network can operate at a fraction of the cost compared to an enterprise operation. As one of the three GALA companies in Argentina with more than ten employees, IFL is frequently faced with clients making pricing comparisons with “other suppliers in our market”. It seems odd to directly compare pricing from a company like IFL that has close to 50 employees with a team of three freelancers. It is of course up to my company to sell its services on its own merits and resist being drawn into pricing competition against smaller operators with lower overheads. However, there is a danger that a lack of buyer awareness can lead to misunderstandings and unsatisfactory results, and thus be detrimental to the development of the market as a whole.
The cost advantage held by Argentina remains significant and looks set to continue for the foreseeable future, although we should expect some gradual erosion over time. Inflation figures in excess of 10% annually will put pressure on pricing, especially for larger companies as office rentals and employee overheads are increasing even faster.
My advice for buyers is to avoid viewing Argentina as a bargain basement location, but rather one where it is possible to find excellent value. High quality service will always be a marketable commodity and represents what in the long term is in the best interest of clients. The challenge faced by the market is to find a path that combines cost efficiency and sustainability. Argentina’s future for translation and localization depends on gaining international reputation and recognition, something which can only be achieved by establishing a credible industry led by credible companies.