It probably has something to do with the fact that when you work at something and get paid to do it, it is really hard realizing that there are people that do the same thing for free.
The case in point is subtitling. There is a whole industry that caters for the production of subtitles, and the agents in this industry are facing increasing problems. Their inability to see some of the possible solutions come from a few mental obstacles, a few shortcomings in seeing things in different ways. It is not the case that they are hard to understand or that people in this industry are less intelligent than average. Each of these shortcomings has a understandable origin and a rationale that once made sense, but they are increasingly making it hard for the industry to come to terms with its new challenges.
1.Bad management disguised as cost cutting.
The relative small number of subtitling companies in London can give the impression that one or two companies are representative of the industry, or that whatever they say it’s necessary for the industry is necessary for the industry, and not just necessary for this particular company. It is just like when someone says that they really like you, but they are not ready for a serious commitment. As is widely known, that only means that they do not want a serious commitment with you.
The lack of a more competitive environment can give birth to the false idea that the way things are being done by the only existing actors is the right way, or the only way things can be done. That is particularly dangerous when bad management and bad business practices end up being disguised as necessary measures, like downsizing, dividing the workload between workers who end up not having any responsibility for the end product, hiring cheap untrained staff, falling standards, etc. These are just products of bad management and business strategy, but in a scenario with no competition, the short term cuts in costs can look like a good thing for the company, something that very often turns out not to be the case.
Bad management is just bad management, it should not be confused with the way things have to be now, because of the crisis and all. Feel free to think about analogies with the whole banking crisis, or property prices in the UK, the American tea party craze, or any other suitable comparison.
2.Piracy is not always the enemy
People working in subtitling tend to hold to the common belief that file sharing is killing the industry. While this is a complex discussion with lots of arguments from both sides, they should not blind us to the fascinating fansub scene that has blossomed alongside internet piracy.
Originating from the demand over obscure Japanese media (anime, manga, videogames) amateur subtitles, translations and adaptations have expanded side by side with the internet. From the point of view of the English speaking world, fansubbing has never transcended its niche otaku ghetto, but everyone else is aware that a big proportion of media produced in the planet is in English, and not everyone speaks it. This demand for translated material is not always efficiently explored by market forces, and in this gap the fansub phenomena expanded into being one of the main sources of translated material, especially in the developing world.
Even without the monetary aspect of it coming into play, market forces of some kind also operate in the fansub world. There is fierce competition between not just different producers, but even among different individual translations, with their varying qualities in timing, translation, when they were first available after the original show was broadcasted, etc. They even adopt practices that the official subtitling industry still has not incorporated, like giving proper credit to the individual workers in each project. This is not just good for the consumer (that can identify the differences between good and bad translators), but in the long term for the whole fansub ecosystem. It’s not like they have to invent giving credit to their workers, books have that as standard procedure since Latin translations of the Greek classics started to appear.
The usual way to look at things is just to attribute the success of unofficial subtitles and adaptations to the fact that they are free. But once you familiarise yourself with the dynamics of it, factors like how soon these translations are available and how good they are at what they do (adapting the media following the subtitling constrains) start to show how they are competing with official translations in other areas as well. Reliable fansub producers have loyal customers and high quality standards, and are able to acquire those because they have adopted practices that are lacking in their official counterparts.