Digital Single Market: Potential impact on translation

On 6 May 2015, the Digital Single Market strategy was adopted by the European Commission. Its aim is to increase digital opportunities for people and businesses, removing barriers to cross-boarder trade and to enable the required infrastructure. The DSM (Digital Single Market) strategy builds on three pillars:

Better online access to digital goods and services

Better online access includes lowering delivery costs between EU member states, lifting geo-blocking to open up markets and modernising contract and copyright laws. Improved online access should also prevent unfair discrimination against consumers and businesses trying to buy and sell their goods online. Discrimination refers to “nationality, residence or geographical location”, but it may well also include language as part of the EU’s commitment for its members to access information in their native language.

An environment where digital networks and services can prosper

This pillar relates to the infrastructure required to enable the DSM (Big Data, the Internet of Things, cloud computing, etc.). The environment also includes an appropriate set-up and rules on data storage that EU consumers trust. According to the final report on The Economic Impact Of A European Digital Single Market by Copenhagen Economics, “[…]61% of EU consumers feel confident about purchasing via the Internet from a retailer located in their own Member State while only 38% feel confident about purchasing from another EU Member State.” The results of this survey are centred around privacy concerns, but I would say it also includes linguistic obstacles when purchasing from another EU state.

Digital as a driver for growth

A Digital Single Market is thought to be of particular interest to SMEs who do currently not have the means to operate EU-wide and for whom expanding at this point would be too costly. A digital single market that removes expensive barriers (from different copyright laws to VAT rates) is estimated to increase business by an additional EUR 415 billion to European GDP (Copenhagen Economics).

What is the potential impact of the Digital Single Market on translation providers?

The potential impact of the DSM was actually addressed at the Riga Summit 2015 on the Multilingual Digital Single Market from 27-29 April 2015. Over 350 business representatives, policy makers and administrators gathered in Riga to discuss the role of language and the EU’s multilingualism in particular. The summit’s resolution resulted in an open letter to the Vice President of the European Commission, Mr. Andrus Ansip, to include multilingualism as priority on the DSM agenda. To achieve the EU citizen’s access to goods and services in their native languages CEF.AT (CEF Automated Translation Platform) is currently seen as the solution. This platform is overseen by the EU Commission, but some of the services are also sub-contracted to language providers. Due to the sheer volume of translation required, machine translation (with/without post-editing) is generally seen as the most appropriate (cost-effective and “sufficient”) solution. Admittedly, managing the 24 EU languages for selling online goods is quite a task. However, I have doubts that consumers would trust a website with mediocre content in their native language. Sub-standard quality in one business area might suggest sub-standard quality in other as well (the products)… For those SMEs who can’t afford translations for their products and services into the languages of the target markets, resellers in the individual countries bearing the costs might be an option.

Much is already written on the issue online, so I won’t go into too much detail, but rather provide some useful links at the end of this post. Essentially, no European business is “forced” to start selling its services in other member states and those who can’t afford to invest in quality translation are maybe the ones for which there is limited demand. In the EU context, language access is sometimes seen as a commodity that everyone should have access to (or it is regulated), therefore commissioning a translation is seen as a nuisance rather than an investment (which a high quality translation always is) that leads to more revenue. The Digital Single Market will be a challenge for some, but I am sure that business owners who are serious about their products will invest in translation services and some of these EUR 415 billion will go to the translation providers.

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