27 March 09 | Chad W. Post

Since today is such a lovely, warm, sunny day, I thought I’d spend most of the morning finally updating the translation database and seeing how 2009 is shaping up compared to 2008.

First off, click here for the 2008 translation spreadsheet, and click here for the 2009 one. As in the past, I’ve only been keeping track of original translations of fiction and poetry that are available for sale in the United States. Re-translations and reprints are both excluded from this database.

These spreadsheets contain a lot of information broken down ina number of ways, including by publisher, by country, by language, by month, etc.

The 2009 data is still coming in, so comparing totals isn’t all that telling. But just as a frame of reference, in 2008 there were 361 works of fiction and poetry published in translation, and so far I’ve identified 196 coming out in 2009.

Looking at this month-by-month is a bit more telling. The 2009 database numbers drop off dramatically after May, so I’m going to assume that there are a number of books coming out in June-Dec that I haven’t come across yet.

Through May, in 2008 159 works in translation were published; in 2009 that number is down to 143. (Again, disclaimer, I could be missing some titles—if you know of any, e-mail me at chad.post at rochester dot edu.) That’s a pretty significant 10% drop. Hopefully things will even out over the year, but in a recession, I suspect a lot of publishers looking to cut costs aren’t all that thrilled with paying a translator on top of the regular book costs. (Not that Random House didn’t just make $185.5 million before taxes and interest in 2008. But that is a “down year.”)

Looking at the breakdown by language, in 2008 the top five languages translated into English were: French, Spanish, German, Arabic, and Japanese, in that order. This year’s breakdown is slightly different, with Spanish coming in on top and French, German, Arabic, and Japanese right behind.

So far in 2009, I’ve found translations coming out from 81 different publishers, which gives me hope that these numbers could suddenly jump—last year 139 different publishers did at least one work of fiction or poetry in translation.

It’s still too early to draw any grand conclusions, but it is interesting to see what’s coming out from where and by whom, and to discover titles that haven’t gotten much attention.


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