Charlie Bavington

French to English Freelance Translator - I.T. specialist

Bringing a pragmatic eye to meeting your needs

Naughty, naughty Lionbridge

November 7th, 2010 | Categories: agencies, business

Email sent by Lionbridge towards end of Oct (29th? 30th?) 2010. Not to me, I don’t work for them, but it caused some hoo-hah.

The global economic downturn of 2008 and 2009 affected all of us. Together, as translation partners, we weathered this challenging and uncertain economic environment and demonstrated our value to clients worldwide. Today, while some economies are showing some signs of improvement, the overall demand environment remains fragile and volatile:

* This week, The Economist commented that “industrial production in the USA fell by 0.2% in September, the first decline in more than a year”;
* In October alone, the US Dollar lost 6% of its value against the Euro. Year-to-date the US Dollar also lost 6% of its value against the Japanese Yen;
* Most economists predict little or no growth in Europe and Japan for 2011.

In today’s uncertain economic environment customers expect all of us to deliver “more for less”. To remain competitive, we are all demanding more from ourselves to meet these challenges.

Against the backdrop of this negative economic context, effective November 1, 2010 through January 1, 2011 we require all our partners to provide a 5% discount on all Lionbridge projects. This discount is independent of any other agreements we may have in place with you.

Lionbridge is not taking this step lightly and understands the effort it represents. Please keep in mind the following points:

* In most markets, Lionbridge bears the full burden and risk associated with exchange-rate fluctuations; as a USD denominated company this means we have effectively seen our outsourcing costs rise by approximately 6% in the last month alone;
* Lionbridge continues to put tremendous effort into securing new and existing customers and markets, effectively providing for our and YOUR future revenue streams;
* To meet customer demands, Lionbridge has taken extraordinary steps to reduce its fixed costs and we will continue to do so. We ask our partners to do the same.

In closing, I want to reiterate Lionbridge’s commitment to increasing market demand for translation services by providing the industry’s most innovative, efficient and high-quality services that enable clients to extend their global reach. As our translation partner, your success is tightly aligned with our success. I want to personally thank you for the services you are providing to Lionbridge during these challenging times and I look forward to extending our partnership in 2011 and beyond.

Thank you,

Didier Hélin
Vice President
World Wide Vendor & Supply Chain Management

Lionbridge

(My thanks to Miguel Lloren’s remarkable blog for the text of the letter.)

And this was sent from an email address marked “IMPORTANT – DO NOT REPLY”. By the 2nd Nov. Didier was saying that was a mistake. I don’t know the bloke, but I don’t believe that for a nano-second. I’d like to think it’s the howls of protest about their high-handed attitude that have led to the right of reply being opened. Opinions vary on the rights and wrongs of the reduction itself. Almost everyone thinks Didier sucks for sending the news from a no-reply mailbox.

I know many agencies act as if they hold the balance of power, I’m used to it happening, I try to avoid them. Sadly, there are vast numbers of translators who accept it, and L. merely take advantage. Quite honestly, in all sectors, there are companies who act as though all their suppliers are interchangeable widget merchants, lots of companies impose unilateral reductions, it is not unique to translation and it is not unique to Lionbridge. I actively boycott (can you ‘actively’ boycott?) several retail companies who behave in a similar way. (And see also here for similar high jinks.)

What annoys me about this particularly is the utter bilge spewed out in the email when contrasted, as others have pointed out, with the self-congratulatory crowing of the latest financial press release (‘latest’ at time of writing, 2 Nov 2010) (also here).

The email shows real contempt, as if its suppliers really are too stupid to click a couple of links and read about L’s financial situation for themselves. Because let’s be totally frank here, in terms of the underlying message, either the email or the press release is lies, since they cannot both be true. Either the company is doing really well, or they are struggling. To the best of my knowledge, releasing statements on financial matters that are wilfully inaccurate, or indeed lies, is an offence. Sending emails full of lies to translators is not….

I like to think that if I had somehow fallen into the trap of being one of their suppliers, I’d have replied along these lines. Outstanding stuff. Or possibly as here.

In terms of the content and impact, while, as the famous internet disclaimer goes, I am not a lawyer, it would, I think, represent a material change and is, therefore, tantamount to a new offer, which the supplier is (theoretically, if not perhaps practically in some cases) free to accept or not. But, it has been pointed out that:

According to previous forum threads, for some of the translators affected by this, this particular company represents the bulk of their work opportunities. This is not something I personally defend, but it needs to be pointed out. And it would not take much to convince me that the company has encouraged this.

And what this means is that those translators are in a very bad place, indeed.

Indeed, and I do have some sympathy. And yet, it must be said, if people are in a bad place because L. accounts for a huge proportion of their turnover, it is to a large degree their fault. Putting all your eggs in one basket is a) the easy option in terms of running a business (being pretty much effort- and hassle-free) and b) risky – for reasons like this or company failure, or a major disagreement, or whatever.

This kind of thing happens everywhere, all the time, in all industries. I am not saying that makes it right, necessarily, although under a capitalist system, most of our clients’ first duty is to their shareholders and therefore they have to strive to maximise profit at all times and act accordingly. Sadly, when the balance of power is heavily weighted to one side, the bilateral negotiation aspect goes missing, which is regrettable, to say the least (or it becomes very blunt – most “requests” are little more than demands anyway). Some business models maximise profit by minimising all costs at any cost; others see the added value in maintaining ‘partnerships’ and all that warm, nice, cuddly stuff. But anyone in business has to be aware of the system they are operating under, that it can be a bit dog-eat-dog, and protect themselves accordingly. Which, if you get all your business from Lionbridge or anyone else, you are failing to do.

In summary – I don’t blame Lionbridge for trying to cut costs, but I have utter and complete contempt for the mealy mouthed manure they came out with to justify it, and the “do not reply” aspect was just the icing on a foul cake. For translators caught with too many eggs in one basket… well, all businesses are aware this is a high-risk (if low-effort) strategy, and if you’re not aware of that, or are aware and have done nothing about it…

But they’re the ones with the chauffeur driven limos, not me. They aren’t complete fools. They know exactly what they’re doing. I’m not helping them achieve it, never have and never will, and I would recommend anyone else to act likewise.

See also discussion on proz here.

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