Three Sobering Reasons Why Research Work Will Be King in 2013
I have taken stock of my first quarter, and the beginnings of the second, and come up with a handful of harrowing conclusions. Chief among them, 2013 will be a market research kind of year.
Before I go any further, let me introduce the basic distinction in my interpreting work: there’s market research, and there’s everything else.
Market research (or simply “research”) means listening in on interviews about products. There are projects for consumer goods−chewing gum, cigarettes, bottled water−but over the past years I have specialized in pharmaceutical work. This means the interviews are usually of physicians, and done individually, in pairs, threesomes or bigger groups. I am watching through one-way glass, listening to and interpreting what is being said into English for analysts listening to me. One or several analysts are usually physically present with me in what is called a “viewing” or “back” room. Any number of people can be watching and listening in over the Internet, if a streaming service has been arranged. Lots more can be said about research, but that is it in a nut.
“Everything else” would cover conferences, seminars, meetings, courses, interviews, visits, press conferences, and so on. Bread and butter interpreting jobs. The consensus among colleagues and me, and I have the stats, is that there is far less of this sort of work than before.
And now, the three reasons why I think 2013 will be a research year.
1.- So far, 2013 does not look promising for the “everything else” category of interpreting. Dwindling corporate and public administration budgets, and lower purchasing power of would-be conference-goers as well as organizers explain this segment’s demise. How bad is it? By number of jobs, this year is on track to be as low-volume as 2009, Year 1 Post-Lehmann Bros. In my case, 2009 was saved by research jobs, which outstripped conference work by a 3 to 1 ratio.
2.- The interpreting industry as we have known it is contracting. That's putting it nicely. My number of jobs per year has been declining since its 2008 peak. Nothing new there. But still, market research interpreting projects have been taking a bigger share of the diminishing whole. Put another way, the whole thing is shrinking, but research is shrinking slower.
3.- Research is kinda bullet-proof. Budgets may fluctuate, but there is always something afoot. Companies, (drug makers, in my case) have to gather intelligence all the time to stay alive, and hopefully thrive, in their cutthroat market. The nature, scope and size of the projects can and does change. But the basic act of talking to health care professionals and analyzing what they say is a stable part of the pharma−and interpreting−industry.
On a completely different note: Translation saves the day! Written translation has been surprisingly strong so far. I am thankful to everyone who has brought their translation projects to me. Slower interpreting means I’ve been able to devote more attention to these jobs (not doing them in airports or hotel rooms, for starters). Heavy translation with occasional interpreting might be the new normal.
And after all that sobering, I think there’s a glass of tempranillo with my name on it. Salut!