The Jell-O Effect

We’re the kind of guys who like to learn something useful each day. Recently, we read about an interesting concept. It’s called the Jell-O effect. We’re sharing it with you too now, the altruists that we are. And who knows? It just might help you to better understand one of the many facets of the localization business.

Before we examine it closer, let’s consider this industry for a moment, shall we? Localization is similar to other industries in certain ways. Companies run out of business. A big service provider throws an irresistible pile of cash at a smaller service provider. Lo and behold, there’s a new headline saying company X acquired company Y. People leave their job because, frankly, they’re sick and tired of reporting to their boss. Or they just think they’re smarter and want their own slice of the pie. Off they go and kick-start their own venture. Yeah, easy as that.

Pretty standard stuff, right? Happens all over the place, so you’d be forgiven to think so.

Actually, it’s the last bit of what happens that’s particularly interesting. It is indeed easy to set up your own shop on the localization market – perhaps even easier than in any other industry. Why’s that? Well, to begin with, the barriers to entry are low. There’s a bunch of reasons why but we’ll skip the details.

You see, it’s not the why that hooked us. It’s the how. There’s a phenomenon happening with the language business. Tucker Johnson and Renato Beninatto have put it under a microscope and called it the Jell-O Effect.

You squeeze the jelly…

Imagine an industry getting “squeezed.” Sounds unpleasant, doesn’t it? It can happen in a number of ways and for different reasons. A spike in oil prices, government intervention, new entrants to the market – you name it. It’s either outside forces doing the squeezing or forces on the inside. When it happens, a few companies run to the ground. Inevitably, people lose their jobs. People go looking for a new gig. And some people decide to go for it and start their own company. Shit happens, basically.

Now, picture squeezing a block of jelly. The results are different than, say, if you squeezed a tin can. You don’t end up with a condensed version of what you started out with. You likely end up with a gooey mess on your fingers.

That’s what happens whenever the localization industry is squeezed. It’s a mess – but perhaps not the kind you’d imagine.

…and let go

Localization is really like your colorful block of jelly. Whenever it gets squeezed, bits and pieces of it end up all over the place. Typically, a lot of talented people find themselves jobless yet they stay in the business. That’s the most likely outcome.

This is one of the quirks of our industry. People who work in localization tend to remain in it for life. Perhaps they’re too specialized. Or perhaps they simply love their job too much to go seeking greener pastures. Maybe it’s the outside world that doesn’t know much about this business. Imagine this: You show up with your flashy CV which brags that you fluently speak five languages. Then the recruiter looks up at you and she’s like: Uh, localization? What’s that? 

Established localization pros stick around and start their own companies because, as you guessed, it’s easy to start your own company in localization. There is probably never going to be a shortage of companies in this business. 

What the Jell-O effect means to you

Personally, we’re not too fond of jelly. It wobbles and sticks to your fingers. We see only the messy part. While our personal taste doesn’t matter too much, the Jell-O effect is a useful concept to help frame what’s constantly happening to the language business as a whole. Yes, localization companies perhaps go down in flames faster than others, but there will never be a shortage of new ones popping up.

Now, if you’re a buyer, you may be put off by the sheer number of actors on this market. On the other hand, you can be fairly certain there’s always going to be someone to pick your job up should your favorite service provider bite the dust. Its employees will very likely stick around, whether they integrate a different company or go on and create their own.

That’s the localization business for you – a big block of jelly. The more you squeeze, the more it expands.

Editor’s note: The Jell-O Effect is one of many things discussed in further detail in the latest book by Tucker Johnson and Renato Beninatto, “The General Theory of the Translation Company

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