Conversational Reading

Translated Fiction Outselling Non-Translated Fiction?

By one measure, yes:

The Man Booker International Prize has commissioned Nielsen Book to conduct an unprecedented research project into the translated fiction market. Nielsen Book examined and coded the data on physical book sales between 2001 and April 2016. The findings show that the proportion of translated fiction published remains extremely low at 1.5% overall and 3.5% of literary fiction. However, in terms of sales, fiction punches well above its weight with translated fiction providing 5% of total fiction sales in 2015 and translated literary fiction making up 7% of literary fiction sales in 2015. On average, translated fiction books sell better than books originally written in English, particularly in literary fiction.

The translated fiction market is rising, against a stagnating general fiction market. In 2001 51.6 million physical fiction books were sold, falling to 49.7 million in 2015. However translated fiction rose from 1.3 million copies sold a year to 2.5 million. In the literary fiction market, the rise was from 1 million copies to 1.5 million.

Of course, translated literary fiction still makes up a minuscule fraction of the literary fiction market, but increasing your units sold by 50% in 14 years isn’t terrible performance, particularly when your competition is in decline.

I think this is a pretty clear confirmation of the inroads that translation fiction advocates are making into the corporate media—that’s where you need to get your message out if you want to sell in large numbers. It probably also reflects the resurgent independent bookstore scene and a general resurgence in alternative culture, enabled in part by Internet technologies.

I’d be interested to see what the comparable stats are for the American market. My guess is that the U.K. fares far better, since it is a part of Europe and so close to so many nations that speak other languages (in addition to the much greater anti-intellectualism in the U.S.).

The article also lists the top ten best-selling translations of 2015. Fascinatingly, while Elena Ferrante has 3 of the top ten, Karl Ove Knausgaard has none. Not quite sure what that’s all about, but it is eye-catching.