Translators, like interpreters, are generally not treated like the professionals that we are. We’ve been part of the “gig economy” since long before the term was invented, back when it was just called “freelancing.”
Our clients tend to be very small-scale non-profits and social-justice organizations that operate on a shoestring budget, or else very large, well-heeled corporate marketing departments scouring the globe for new target markets. We get to pick between being appreciated but not paid much or being paid but not appreciated much.
I believe there’s a vacuum to be filled. There’s a place for an organization that’s small, but highly professional; economically viable, but highly principled; and open and distributed, but highly focused.
My direct experience has me convinced that this organization should be a co-op, and my research indicates that the best form is a platform co-op. There are two reasons for this. First, workers are perfectly capable of running their own business. They don’t need to spend all day meeting someone else’s expectations—they can be part of setting expectations, as well. Second, once workers are making their own decisions, overhead expenses drop sharply, and the co-op can offer competitively low prices to clients and competitively high pay to translators. A platform would allow a great many people to participate who would otherwise be unable to cooperate with each other.
It goes without saying that all translators in the co-op must be highly skilled in translation itself. Beyond that, they should also be well versed in some other form of digital expression. That could be desktop publishing, video editing, software coding (especially UI), subtitling, voiceover, etc. This way, we provide significant value beyond just translation.
And we can take that further. We should have a bookkeeper as a member. We would do well to have marketing and sales people. We might have technical writers, copywriters, poets, and journalists, so we could publish original content in multiple languages.
Our co-op might even have its own clients as members.
In the best of all worlds, we’d have a three-dimensional org chart, with some members overlapping with other organizations (such as other platform co-ops). Work would flow back and forth between organizations, blurring the line between provider and customer. There can exist a level of communication and trust between translators and clients that a traditional agency probably wouldn’t like very much, but a platform co-op would.