I stole the title for this post from an e-mail Eliot Weinberger sent me that points out a huge discrepancy between the name of this blog and the list of January translations.
As stated on our about us page, a number of studies—from the NEA, Bowker, etc.—have concluded that approx. 3% of all books published in the United States are in translation.
As Eliot pointed out, if that figure is accurate, I missed some 300+ books on the list this month. . . And this is using a conservative figure of 180,000 titles published in the U.S. According to the latest Bowker report, almost 300,000 books were published here in 2006.
In other words, the 18 translations I’m listing for January (including poetry and literary nonfiction) is less that 0.3% of the total output in the U.S. . .
These figures do need to be parsed a bit, but even with a few qualifications and explanations, I think the results are pretty interesting.
First off, we’re really only tracking original translations of adult fiction, poetry, and some literary nonfiction. Some academic books are slipping through the cracks, and kids books have been totally excluded. (Really, there’s only so much time—if someone else wanted to provide this info, we could incorporate it.)
Also, I’m excluding re-translations and reprints of books that were previously published in the States, both of which are counted (I believe) in Bowker’s figures. Even so, I think that wouldn’t change my numbers all that much. A few Dalkey and NYRB titles added to the mix, but on the whole, over the year, this is a pretty small addition.
In terms of Bowker’s figures, the report above states that in 2006, 42,076 new works of adult fiction were published. So rather than base our percentages off the astronomical 180,000 or 300,000, it makes a lot more sense—to me at least—to focus on this number and just our fiction list.
(I’m willing to go out on a limb and state that I think this number should be representative of the whole and close to 3%. I can’t think of another category—history? cookbooks?—where the percentage of translations published would far exceed 3% and make up for any discrepancy. Unless Bowker counts language textbooks as translations or something wacky like that . . .)
So, there are approximately 3,500 new titles of adult fiction published every month. For January through March, I’ve counted 31 titles so far. Assuming I missed a bunch and we bump this up to 40 new translations, that’s still only 0.4% of all adult fiction published in the U.S.—less than half of the figure cited on our about us page, and nowhere near the oft-cited 3% figure.
Per Eliot’s suggestion, I think we should add an asterisk to our name . . .
Part of the reason for starting our monthly list was to try and get some more accurate data about the number of translations published in the States. Sure, it’ll never be 100% correct, but by the end of the year, the margin of error should be pretty low, and we’ll finally have some more concrete info with which to complain about the state of publishing. And with grumbling, good statistics are half the battle.
Scott Esposito pointed this out earlier today from the June 2007 Harper’s Index:
Minimum number of different books sold in the U.S. last year, as tracked by Nielsen BookScan: 1,446,000
Number of these that sold fewer than 99 copies: 1,123,000
Number that sold more than 100,000: 483
In other statistics, 77.7% of titles sold in the U.S. last year sold less than 100 copies, where as 0.03% sold more than 100,000.
The July-August issue of World Literature Today—a special issue entitled “Inside China”—is now out, with some of the articles available online.
It’s interesting to me that WLT is focusing on China. Recently, PEN America/Ramon Llull Institut released a special study on Globalization and Translation that included statistics on the number of books translated into English from around the world. As part of the study (which should be available online sometime soon, and when it is, we’ll definitely link to it), there were “Case Studies” from a number of different countries. Including China, which had this chilling statistic:
According to the national statistics, China produces about 110,000 new titles per year. [. . .] But the number of those new titles that were translated into other languages, as far as can be told from an extensive Internet search, was less than 100 titles for 2003. This means about 0.01% of Chinese books are being translated into other languages.
After hearing awful insular statistic after isolationist statistic, I didn’t think anything could shock me. But 0.01%?! Less than 100 titles translated into all other languages throughout the world! The only bright side is that there must be a ton of interesting Chinese titles available for an ambitious press to find . . .
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