March 5, 2019

Translations are more popular and less produced than ever


Show me a bibliophile that only reads books from their country and I’ll show you an illiterate person. Interest in global literature feels more ubiquitous than ever, but according to a report from Chad Post at Publisher’s Weekly, that might not save it from poor sales and production costs.

According to the Publisher’s Weekly‘s translation database,

[2018 was] the second year in a row when the total number of new translations published in the U.S. declined, despite the appearance of a number of new translation-centric presses over the past few years, such as Deep Vellum, New Vessel, Restless, and Transit Books.

Those changes are pretty substantial. According to the database, in the category of fiction, there has been a 10% drop in published translations since 2016.

Though as PW notes, by other metrics, translated literature continues to kill it. In 2018, as the piece highlights,

The National Book Foundation successfully reinstituted its translation prize, with Yoko Tawada’s The Emissary, translated from the Japanese by Margaret Mitsutani, receiving the award; the HBO adaptation of My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein, received rave reviews, strong ratings, and a renewal for a second season; and a number of best books of 2018 lists contained at least one title in translation.

A decrease in published translations is, however, part of a bigger conversation in how we consider translations in general, a challenge I’ve previously written about for Moby Lives.



Michael Barron is an editor at Melville House.