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Translation in publishing suffers as markets prioritise English-language exports

English-language exports of books are harming local book sales and translation revenue in some European markets.

The 75th Frankfurt Book Fair kicked off on Wednesday, where many publishing professionals expressed their concern on the current trading climate. They noted some small countries with high levels of English literacy were a particular issue. However, they have started to see it creeping into larger territories such as Germany.

In the Netherlands, several publishing houses have found themselves suffering redundancies. Dutch publishers believe the import of English-language books is a major factor behind the problems they are facing. YA is particularly affected, with English import sales making up 60% of overall sales of the genre.

‘It is almost impossible for us to buy [English-authored] YA rights,’ says Thille Dop, senior publisher for children’s and YA at Luitingh Sijthoff in Amsterdam. ‘There is no point and it does not look like it will get better, as our booksellers are expanding their English sections. We are looking to other languages to acquire rights, for example French and Italian.’

Agents and rights professionals in the UK are concerned how this current climate will affect authors.

‘It is a serious question of income for authors,’ says Rachel Mills, founder of Rachel Mills Literary in London. ‘The royalties they receive on UK export sales are a tiny percentage of those they receive on local language edition sales.

‘There is also an unpleasantly colonial feel to the idea that our industry is encouraging everyone to read in English. Surely anyone who cares about reading would want to celebrate the amazing diversity of language in our continent?’

In response to this, agents are stressing the importance of working closely with international publishers, and sending their authors on trips in a more proactive approach.

Image courtesy of Alexei Maridashvili
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