SDL, the leading supplier of translation tools and one of the biggest translation companies in the world announced a global strategic partnership with Statistical Machine Translation (SMT) developer Language Weaver. See http://tinyurl.com/c7vtrt for more details.
But what does that indicate about the current state of the translation industry? 2007 was an excellent year for translation companies, and 2008 was also a very good year. But 2009? No official financial results are in, but by all indications it is turning out to be a bleak year for the big players in the translation industry. With the US economy shrinking by 6.1% in Q1 2009 in what is reported to be the biggest slump in 50 years (see http://tinyurl.com/d4qt4f), translation companies can not be expected to escape unscathed by the global downturn. In fact, the translation industry should be hit even harder than other industries as companies are scaling their budgets on non-essentials.
Lionbridge, one of the biggest translation companies in the world, announced a 8% reduction of its workforce in March 2009 (see http://tinyurl.com/djqa2g). It stands to reason that most or all of the other large companies performed similar workforce reduction moves to meet the lower levels of demand and to avoid a cash drain which could put them in jeopardy.
Many freelance translators are also hurting. Over 80% of human translation work worldwide is done by freelance translators who generally work from home. It appears that work is in short supply right now and many freelance translators are spending much of their time soliciting new business (mostly by spamming translation agencies--GTS receives an average of 20 inquiries a day, up 300% when compared with 2008).
The global downturn is pushing the large translation companies to develop machine translation technology that can lower prices and reduce budgets for their clients. Enter SDL and Language Weaver, whose collaboration is a move in that direction. Another factor which is adding uncertainty to the Machine Translation industry segment is the presence of Google, perceived to be the best MT tool in the market. Google has not revealed any kind of business plan for their translation tool and as long as this service is offered for free, companies will face an uphill battle in trying to sell the same service for money.