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NY Sun article on why fewer translated works are being published these days
Thread poster: Kelvin Wu

Kelvin Wu
Local time: 00:34
Chinese to English
+ ...
Jun 2, 2005

Thought this might be of interest.

Publication:The New York Sun;
Date:May 27, 2005;
Section:Arts & Letters;


’Round the World in Translation


Why are fewer translated works being published these days, and what can be done to reverse the trend? A panel Monday at Housing Works Used Book Café grappled with these questions. Dennis Loy Johnson, co-founder of Melville House, an independent New Jersey-based publisher, moderated.

The first question addressed was a different one: Why should anyone care? Learning from literature in translation helps us learn about ourselves, said panelist Margarrita Shalina,a buyer for St. Mark’s Bookstore. Panelist Chad Post, associate director of Dalkey Archive Press, concurred. “We need to know viewpoints from different countries. Beyond that, they’re great books.”

Mr. Post cited the statistic that roughly 0.4% of books published in America are adult literature in translation. “Pretty dismal number,” he said. Commercial publishers used to publish a fair amount, he said; it was considered prestigious. Even Avon had a Latin American line in the 1980s. But an emphasis on the bottom line has changed that, he said. The burden has now fallen more on independent publishers like Melville House, nonprofit presses like Dalkey, and university presses.

It costs about $35,000 for Dalkey to publish a translation, Mr. Post said,

and if 2,000 copies sell, the publisher earns back $12,000–$13,000 dollars. Selling 3,000 copies is considered a “wild success,” he said. “Now we know why the big publishers stay out” of publishing translated work, said Mr. Johnson. Joking about how that loss per book could be made up, Mr. Johnson added, “We’re selling cupcakes outside.”

Mr. Johnson started by asking Mr. Post how a small press hears about books to publish. While sometimes a translator contacts them, Mr. Post said, it’s not good enough to find “a translator”: What’s really needed is a translator who will do a book justice. While the Internet or e-mail can help a publisher learn about the latest books from Estonia, he said Dalkey is often looking for the enduring work, originally published 30 years ago, that never got translated. Dalkey editors have traveled to Finland, Paris, Germany, and the Netherlands in search of works. Visits to Estonia, the Czech and Slovak Republics, and Austria are planned for the fall.


for the full article.

[Edited at 2005-06-02 16:58]

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Laura Vinti  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 00:34
German to Italian
+ ...
Thanks, that was interesting! Jun 3, 2005

Hi Kelvin

Very interesting (and a little depressing).
Thanks for sharing!


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Kelvin Wu
Local time: 00:34
Chinese to English
+ ...
You're welcome. Jun 3, 2005

Sure, it's depressing but isn't it sort of expected?

It certainly explains why literary translation has become the realm of academics.

Nevertheless I think such translations don't have to target the average consumer in order to be viable. And thankfully the United States isn't the only place where English-speaking readers dwell.

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NY Sun article on why fewer translated works are being published these days

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