Since the 2021 controversy over the quality of Squid Game’s subtitles, there’s undoubtedly been increased attention and scrutiny paid to media localization quality for film and television. In a May 2022 white paper, the media localization company Iyuno-SDI attempted to set the record straight, attributing a decline in quality to a worker shortage afflicting the industry.
While many have attributed the shortage to low payment rates, Iyuno-SDI’s white paper claims it’s mainly a matter of increased demand for localized film and television, largely dismissing the issue of pay rates altogether, noting that “even if pay were to increase, it would not address the shortage in the short term.”
Those claims may have sparked even further controversy.
The Spanish Organization of Audiovisual Translators and Adapters (ATRAE, from the organization’s Spanish-language name) took particular issue with Iyuno-SDI’s white paper, responding to it in an open letter that was published toward the end of June. In a statement to MultiLingual, Iris Permuy, president of ATRAE, elaborated on the open letter, which claimed that subtitlers and audiovisual translators face low rates and “appalling” work conditions that naturally lead to a decline in quality.
“The industry has suffered a lot due to this culture of urgency, the constant need for immediacy,” Permuy said. “Deadlines are tighter and tighter, and that damages every step of the process, and companies fall into less-than-ideal practices.”
As of July 5, Permuy said Iyuno-SDI has yet to respond to or acknowledge ATRAE’s open letter. Iyuno-SDI denied MultiLingual‘s request for comment, noting that it would prefer to discuss the open letter with ATRAE in private.
In the open letter, ATRAE argues that there’s not a shortage of translators per se, but rather, a shortage of translators willing to accept the low rates offered by the company. While Permuy said she was not at liberty to disclose these rates publicly, the organization’s open letter claims that many Spanish translators at Iyuno-SDI have not seen a pay increase in 10 years despite the increased demand for their work and some have even had their pay reduced to one-third of what it once was.
As demand increases, the amount of time in between deadlines has decreased — because of the speed required to keep up with the projects, Permuy says many audiovisual translators’ roles have been reduced to post-editing machine translation, rather than translating from scratch.
“Some of the rates certain big translation agencies are offering their translators, Iyuno-SDI included, are so low that professional translators working full-time, people with graduate degrees and years of experience, would earn just about minimum wage in my country (Spain),” she said. “In what kind of self-respecting profession is experience this undervalued?”
Permuy emphasized that these issues aren’t just an issue for Iyuno-SDI but many of the other third-party companies that serve as middlemen between translators and the major video-on-demand platforms.
In its white paper, Iyuno-SDI said it believes the market will eventually correct the shortage on its own, though ATRAE’s leadership is skeptical. Permuy argued that prominent streaming services could reduce strain on audiovisual translators and subtitlers by opening or expanding their own translation departments, rather than relying on middlemen like Iyuno-SDI. This way, the companies can work with and pay translators directly — Permuy notes that Netflix pays its vendors the same rates but companies like Iyuno-SDI take a large cut of the payment.
“If Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO Max, Apple TV, and Disney Plus do not want their products to be mishandled by corporate people who clearly only care about increasing their share at the expense of quality — the quality of the end audiovisual product and the translators’ quality of life — they should cut the intermediary,” she said.