This May the University of Rochester’s translation database Three Percent announced that 413 translated works of fiction and poetry were released in the United States in 2012, an increase from 370 titles the year before. While these small numbers may seem like a drop in the pond compared to the behemoth of American publishing, they point to a growing market for translated, international trade books.
This burgeoning sector of the industry owes much of its success to the proliferation of ebooks and ereading technologies in recent years. Chad Post of Open Letter, the University of Rochester’s international literary publishing house, notes that downloadable ebooks lower costs and increase access. “With the advent of ebooks and instantaneous worldwide distribution, it only makes sense that international publishers would redirect their financial resources from trying to court reluctant US/UK publishers and instead get the books translated themselves and sell them directly throughout the world,” Post said. “It may be cheaper, and it monetizes a lot of books that otherwise are just sitting there.”
Swedish publisher Stockholm Text is taking advantage of these new digital opportunities. Claes Ericson, a founding partner of the small publishing firm, discovered that last year was the perfect time to launch this kind of company. “Swedish publishing is a small business, and to be honest it is growing smaller by the year,” said Ericson. “That’s why we felt that the moment was right now—after the Stieg Larsson trend, [the] Swedish crime [genre] is growing internationally.”
Because of the international success of thrillers like Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stockholm Text’s most popular titles have been crime novels—”[I]nterest for mysteries is even stronger among ebook readers, and . . . mystery is one of the few genres where there is a great appetite for foreign literature,” said Ericson—but the publishing house’s list spans multiple genres. Kajsa Ingemarsson’s women’s fiction novel Yesterday’s News, for instance, has sold over 20,000 copies.
So far, Stockholm Text’s business savvy has been paying off. In 2012, the company sold over 70,000 ebooks and raked in more than $1 million. Three of their titles have made Amazon’s and Barnes & Noble’s ebook best seller list: The Gingerbread House by Carin Gerhardsen, The Dead of Summer by Mari Jungstedt and Killer’s Island by Anna Jansson. Based on these positive figures, Stockholm Text is expanding its business, and in 2013 will release its first print books in the United States through a deal with Perseus Books Group.
Foreign language publishers are not the only people getting in on the international trade action. Australian-based Text Publishing is looking to mine age-old Oceanic classics for American readers as part of its Text Classics line. “Many of these books are lost gems,” said publisher Michael Heyward. “They might be set in Australia or New Zealand, but the stories they tell, the fears and desires they dramatize, are universal.”
An important part of Text Classic’s strategy has been to capitalize on its titles’ potential as salable ebooks, Heyward emphasized. “Availability is a key issue for us,” he said. “While it was hugely important that we make these books available in collectible and affordable print form, we also want to give readers a choice about how they can read the Text Classics, and so digital is an essential publishing format for us.” By the end of 2013, Text Publishing will release 70 Text Classics in print and 68 in digital.
The debate over the place of print and digital in a flagging twenty-first-century publishing industry will continue to rage on, but the insight and initiative of these international publishers show that there is still money to make and market demands to satisfy.