Money, and where that money flows (or doesn’t flow), is often a good indicator of what our priorities are as individuals, as larger organizations, communities and nation states, and as a planet as a whole. One of the biggest buzzwords of the last few decades has been globalization, along with everything that concept entails, good and bad. And with such strong political, sociocultural and socioeconomic emphasis placed on globalization, you’d think professional translation services, which help facilitate communication and vital trade, would be a massive industry. Well, that’s not necessarily the case when we compare the translation industry to some of our favorite things.
Let’s be clear. When we say “our favorite things,” we’re talking about where Americans — and indeed large chucks of the planet’s population — choose to spend their hard-earned wages. While you personally might not be enamored with some of the items on this list, we’re looking at the bigger picture here. In terms of the global language industry, which includes localization (software and web), interpreting services (legal and medical), as well as basic translation, plus an array of other language related products, the worldwide tally as of 2015 hovers around $38 billion. While that may seem like a lot, the numbers start to diminish when compared to figures from other industries.
In America alone, the soft drink market accounts for around $100 billion. And while health conscience Americans (worried about obesity and heart disease) have been cutting back on fizzy drinks in recent years, if we include the rest of humanity, which hasn’t reached its apex of addiction to carbonated sugar water, the numbers increase significantly. China’s share of the soft drink market is growing faster than the rest of the planet, and when we add economies like Brazil and Mexico into the mix, the billions keep pouring in, topping out at well over $800 billion per year. Channeling instead some of this money into healthcare translation services as suggested in our recent Zika Virus post, will go a long way to improving the health and quality of life for many!
Perhaps comparing translation services and translation companies to the juggernauts of Coca Cola and Pepsi isn’t fair? How about pets? In the United States, the pet industry accounts for $60 billion, or thereabouts. U.S. pet lovers, with 397 million pets spread out among them (more pets than people), tend to lavish a sizable percentage of their income on their furry friends — or if they happen to be ophiophilists (snake lovers), their scaly friends. The European Union while struggling to ameliorate communications between its member nations, spends on pets roughly what the world spends on language services. Now, if professional translators and translator services could figure out a way to translate for dogs, gerbils or cats, they could perhaps take a nice slice out of that affluent pie!
Other things Americans tend to spend their money on — outside of necessities like basic food and housing — that dwarf the translation industry are cars and trucks. Collectively, Americans owe over $1 trillion in unpaid automobile debt. That’s not just spending, that’s spending capital people don’t actually have. But the automobile industry offers much more seduction that world communication does! Even shelling out cash on Halloween candy, costumes and decorations can clock in some pretty impressive numbers, at around $7 billion per year. While that’s somewhat less than what translation companies bring in, it’s still almost a fifth of the $38 billion the global translation industry is responsible for. Christmas, at around $465 billion annually, is off the charts.
Translation services fail to reach true potential
While these numbers and comparisons are fun to look at, they do say something about where people’s priorities are. Translation services are an important part of our increasingly interconnected world, but in no way can they compete with the likes of an icy cold Coke, the adorability of a puppy, the scent of a new car, and of course, the sparkle of Christmas!