August 25, 2012

J.K. Rowling witholds books from countries deemed high-risk for piracy

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J.K. Rowling has become somewhat of a anti-piracy pioneer. Her Pottermore-sold books all contain unique watermarks, which allow them to be tracked and identified if pirated. With the launch of her new adult novel, the multimillionaire is taking no chances, to the chagrin of translators and publishers alike.

Rachel Deahl writes in Publishers Weekly, that advance copies of Rowling’s first adult novel, The Casual Vacancy, are being withheld from countries such as Slovenia, Italy and Finland over fears that they are more likely to be ripped and pirated in those places.

The release is being scheduled with almost military rigor, with Zoe King, an agent at Rowling’s agency saying, “some publishers are better able to handle the security demands of a simultaneous release.”

Publishers thought unable to meet this bar are concerned about their ability to get a decent translation ready by the holidays, while others are worried that Rowling’s move will create a precedent other bestselling authors will follow.

According to Deahl,

“Andrej Ilc, an editor at the Slovenian publisher Mladinska knjiga (which acquired translation rights to Vacancy), said his house is struggling with the schedule. “We will most likely be forced to employ more than one translator and abnormally speed up the editorial and production process to publish in time for the Christmas season,” he said. “Her agent would like to establish her as a quality author for adults, but at the same time this is forcing publishers around the world to break all the rules of good translating and editing.”

The concern is that if other authors follow this example, quality of translation will be markedly different between bestsellers and other books that don’t have such high security concerns.

“Jill Timbers, a translator of Finnish books into English, recently wrote a blog post about the situation in Finland…”Some translators argue that it’s good [that] bestsellers are translated into Finnish even if time pressure means the level of the Finnish isn’t top quality. Others predict that soon ‘entertainment literature’ will not be translated into Finnish at all.”

Due to their head-start, US and UK publishers will have a significant advantage over publishers in other countries, whose readers might simply read the available English version. Here’s hoping Rowling’s move proves the exception and not the rule. It shows little sympathy for the manner of work that is translation, and is, not to mention, a little rude.


Ariel Bogle is a former publicist at Melville House.

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