The language services market can be broadly divided into 4 areas: Language technology, Translation, Interpreting, and Related services. The figure below provides an overview of the main market niches. The Interpreting Collective will target the on-site interpreting market first, but we will look for ways to provide services in other niches later on. Our goal will be to diversify revenue streams and to market the expertise and skills provided by our linguists. In any business activity we take up, we will aim to be competitive by keeping our offer innovative and taking advantage of technology. We will treat the needs of our clients and our co-op members as equally important.
The language services market in the UK is worth more than £1 billion. It grew by 11% in 2014. The global market for outsourced language services is also growing at the annual average rate of 7%. In the UK, translation and interpreting services together make up 87% of generated revenues. Interpreting services are estimated to account for 15% - 25% of the UK market, which would correspond to the value of at least £150 million. The available data suggest that the estimated volume of UK interpreting market is around 800,000 assignments a year (2,200 a day on average).
The market is very fragmented as barriers to entry into the market are very low. There are more than 1,200 registered legal entities in the UK translation sector. However, 40 biggest service providers account for 72% of the whole market. According to the 2015 Association of Translation Companies Survey the two biggest challenges language services companies face are competition and price pressure, which lead to problems with quality and maintaining profit margins.
The market relies on freelance service providers. 86% of linguists work as freelancers. 80% work for translation agencies on a regular basis. Just 4% work with direct clients only.
The House of Commons Justice Committee report “Interpreting and translation services and the Applied Language Solutions contract” from 2013 identifies the following needs and pains a public sector buyer of interpreting services faces:
- A single point of contact available 24/7 to make bookings nationally
- Interpreters with the right skills and qualifications
- Accurate financial information in respect of amount spent on interpreters’ fees
- Efficient control systems to prevent duplicate payments and identify errors
- Staff required to contact individual interpreters to check availability
- Lack of interpreters in some languages and some areas of the country
- Interpreters who were the subject of complaints allowed to work
while being investigated.
Translation companies play a central role in the market and act as intermediaries between all parties. This generates substantial operating costs, and the more assignments they take on, the more in-house staff they need to complete all booking-related activities. When Capita took over the courts interpretation contract in 2012, its operating costs increased from £1.6 million to £15 million. High operating costs put further pressure on profit margins and wages for linguists. The biggest translation companies are in fact slow, bureaucratic and expensive organisations that don’t adequately meet the needs of clients or linguists.
- ATC "UK Language Services Market Review 2015"
- Common Sense Advisory "The Language Services Market: 2015"
- European Comission Directorate-General for Translation "The size of the language industry in the EU: 2009"
- House of Commons Justice Commitee "Interpreting and translation services and the Applied Language Solutions contract" (2013)
- Proz.com Community Polls 2014-2015