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State of Translations in Publishing Perspectives

Today’s Publishing Perspectives includes an editorial that I wrote about the “state of translations” in America attempting to explain the dip in the number of translations coming out this year:

For years, people have speculated that the number of literary works in translation being published in the United States has been in decline. I say “speculate,” because the publishing industry — which is notoriously poor at market research and data gathering — didn’t really keep track of how many translations were being published here, instead relying almost entirely on wistful memories of days gone by and other equally questionable anecdotal evidence. Two years ago, I started a “Translation Database” at the Web site ThreePercent.com to finally quantify what’s going on with literature in translation, and although data for 2009 is still coming in, it looks like there will be a bit of a drop off this year — of as much as 10%.

On one hand, this is pretty easy to explain: it’s because of the economy. But in my opinion, we’re talking about two different economic problems causing this. Book sales are down, which really hurts commercial presses and makes them less likely to publish “expensive” books like translations. And at the same time, nonprofits and university presses (which publish the bulk of translations already), are struggling to find funding, what with foundations losing a lot of their endowments in the stock market, and individual donors struggling as well.

It’s a crappy situation, and unless a few rainmakers appear, 2010 will most likely see a further drop in translations being published in America . . . Just a little happy note to kick off your Friday . . .



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