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European overview of translation under the Covid-19 crisis
European overview of translation under the Covid-19 crisis
8 Apr, 2020

After Covid-19 has pushed most European countries into lockdown and CEATL had to cancel the scheduled annual meeting in Brussels in May, we have collected reactions from translators all over Europe. Some provide surprising insights, others offer ideas on how to help vulnerable colleagues.


Associação Portuguesa de Tradutores APT PORTUGAL has established a list of volunteer translators available to assist with language exchanges between patients and nursing staff. The list is available now on the association’s webpage (http://www NULL.apt NULL.pt). It is a great idea for solidarity.



The union VdÜ are part of is fighting for special national programs for free-lancers, artists, authors, translators and other freelancers. A survey will soon be sent out to our members in order to assess the consequences of the crises on their work, their revenue and their situation generally speaking.



We are all aware that the coronavirus outbreak poses health risks for everyone, but the most vulnerable are elderly members of our community. That is why our Board has decided to offer help to our senior colleagues. All of them are really thrilled about that and two of them have already accepted the help. We are planning to continue with our efforts so they can rely on our support and can remain safe, as well as physically and mentally healthy.


The Croatian Ministry of Culture has introduced some measures for freelance artists, but only those who already get health and pension benefits from the state. We are divided into two groups, those who earn less from the arts and those who earn more from the arts and will be granted a small subsidy accordingly. The measures are cosmetic, but at least there is something. However, there is no additional relief for us who have suffered because of the earthquake.



The PLR money was paid out early as requested. The Authors’ Society, which DOF is part of, is working with massive focus on helping those members who are in trouble. The main thing is to talk to the minister of culture and politicians more broadly to get the right kind of support from the aid packages that the government is providing. This has already proven successful on many levels, and more is to come shortly, it seems.

Furthermore, a private foundation has just provided an aid package making it possible for booksellers to postpone their payments for at least a month – which makes a huge difference in the efforts to make sure that actual bookshops will still be there on the other side of the crisis: Because of the general lockdown in Denmark, most physical bookshops have been forced to close temporarily which of course is bad news for the book market in general and therefore also for translators.


The government has initiated a major crisis relief program for freelancers, which is extremely welcome. However, the program excludes the people who need help the most: firstly, because you need to have a certain level of income to qualify for help (in order to avoid wasting money on people who are not full-time freelancers), and secondly, because the program does not recognize that people can have several kinds of income at the same time. They have overlooked the patchwork income that most of us have, being a mixture of self-employed and salaried. The details are still to be worked out.



There are no special actions driven by our organisation. We helped distribute a survey run by translation studies scholars from two Slovak universities on the impact of the actual situation on translators and interpreters in Slovakia. Results to come.

When it comes to publishers, they are mostly scared at this point and call for support from the state as affected entrepreneurs but have not reported any financial loss or changes in their publishing plans. Also, the main season is to come before Christmas.

Regular bookshops are closed and all public events cancelled, but modern media are strongly used for marketing of books and reading while staying at home, meaning that online sales have flourished.

It’s quite possible that small publishers will be affected the most, as it is the case with other companies of comparable size in other industries.



I’ve been receiving news about projects cancelled and payments postponed, but the situation is very blurred. It will certainly affect us in the future. It is very difficult to get a broader picture as information is very sporadic. As far as I know, no publishers have communicated anything about what is going on and what can we expect. Meanwhile the government passed a law which will give some financial support to the self-employed, but the conditions are such that most literary translators cannot apply. The government has already announced modifications and other measures. We will see. Personally, I am not very optimistic.



In Romania, there has so far been just one deviation from usual working practices. A few ARTLIT members announced that their publishers – three houses of the same publishing group – asked them by telephone or email to stop the work for their ongoing contracts, because they might not be able to pay them when the contract is due. ARTLIT has worked out an addendum for translators to adapt and use for their ongoing contracts. The addendum asks publishers to pay the pages translated so far, if the amount represents at least one-third of the contract. It also covers deadlines and publishing rights for different scenarios. Subsequently, the biggest of the three publishing houses mentioned above changed their mind and told translators to resume work as per contract – we don’t know if this addendum had anything to do with it. The two smaller ones indeed will freeze their activity for now, but I don’t know if they agreed to sign the addendum.



The lockdown in Macedonia has affected the livelihood of various categories of workers, and translators and interpreters are no exception. Macedonian politicians have begun circulating ideas for potentially cushioning the blow to some, but freelance and self-employed professionals haven’t been part of the conversation at all. MATA has submitted a letter to the government on the precarious position of translators and interpreters, asking that they be included in any potential aid packages. It is also conducting a survey among translators and interpreters in the country, hoping to gather more specific information that might help in future negotiations. That’s where we are for now.



The situation in Bulgaria is similar to the one described in Romania by Simina. The publishing houses, small and large, have cancelled all payments to translators. This is a shame as far as the large ones are concerned, because they do have money in reserve and their online sales shouldn’t be affected too much.

The Board is discussing the question of emergency measures it but I don’t really see what measures can be taken. A group of independent artists has contacted the Ministry of Culture and proposed the setting up of special emergency funds. BTU is in contact with the artists and the Ministry and is highlighting the losses freelance translators and interpreters are suffering due to the crisis, all in the hope that the imminent revision of the national budget will take into account the fragile situation of our colleagues.



Translators here are, and will be, quite affected in several ways.

– Emotionally, which should be underestimated. Most of us are hardly able to work. I am not only talking of working-at-home mothers who now spend most of the day taking care of their children and trying to help them with home-schooling (most literary translators in Italy are women, and some have children to take care of). I am talking of a general atmosphere that we can clearly see in the “translators’ bubble” on social media: people are worried, distracted and unmotivated – simply unable to do the creative work that we usually love so much.

– Economically, related to the impact on the publishing industry as a whole. The Association of Italian Publishers (AIE) announced on the March 24ththat the Italian book industry is expected to produce 18,600 fewer titles than planned this year, resulting in some 39.3 million copies of those books that won’t be printed and some 2,500 titles that won’t be translated. The economic impact on literary translators might become more visible in the next few months.

The Italian Government issued an emergency programme called “Italian Care”, in order to support the country’s commercial sector; this programme includes some freelance workers (e.g. technical translators and interpreters, who have been severely affected too, because conferences and meetings have been cancelled everywhere; see the Joint appeal (https://www NULL.fit-ift NULL.org/joint-appeal-coronavirus/) by AIIC, FIT and WASLI), but so far they have totally neglected those working under royalty-based remuneration structures. This is why Strade, in co-operation with its mother-union SLC-CGIL (a union of workers in the field of communication), AITI and other organisations representing translators and illustrators, is lobbying the Government to include authors in the emergency plan too. A joint statement is published here (http://www NULL.traduttoristrade NULL.it/2020/il-cura-italia-non-dimentichi-la-cultura/).

Believing in the healing power of words, Strade and AITI promoted a joint project with CEATL, FIT and the Bologna Children’s Book Fair calling translators from as many languages as possible to translate a poem about Coronavirus by Roberto Piumini, one of the greatest Italian children’s literature authors. The poem and its translations will soon be published on the Bologna Children’s Book Fair website as a message of hope!

Eva (Strade) & Francesca (AITI)


The situation here is quite similar to what Eva describes for Italy above, with the bookshops being closed and publishers freezing book launches for the moment.

Grants and subsidies from the Centre National du Livre and by our PLR organisation have been maintained for organisations such as ours ours, provided that the authors who were supposed to participate in events that had to be cancelled (readings, workshops etc.) are still be as if the events had happened.

Different authors associations here (including our translators association) have sent questionnaire to authors in order to measure how they are affected by the lockdown and try to assess how much revenue will be lost, in order to prepare for discussions with the relevant authorities.

Some measures have been taken by the state to help authors, such as enabling them to receive an allowance for looking after children at home (an allowance to which they would not usually be entitled) and postponing the payment of social security contributions. An emergency relief package of € 1,500 for freelance workers has also been approved.

Also, the SNE (publishers’ union) has specifically asked its members to care for their authors and to pay them their due in time – some even have ahead of time, apparently!



Here in the UK, the government did react relatively quickly to support businesses, by pledging to cover 80% of employees’ salaries (up to a maximum of £2,500 a month) in return for the companies not laying them off.

It took the government another week to come up with a plan to support the self-employed: payment of 80% of average monthly income for a period of three months; this payment will be in the form of a taxable grant calculated on the basis of average profit over the past one to three years (depending on when one commenced self-employment) according to tax returns.

However, this grant will not be paid until early June, and does not apply to people who started working as self-employed in the last year, or to those whose income from self-employment is less than 50% of their total income. Also, those who operate as “single-person companies” – a structure (encouraged by successive governments) where one pays oneself a minimum salary and the rest of one’s income in the form of dividends – will see only 80% of their minimum salary covered.

Meanwhile, several organisations – the TA’s parent organisation the Society of Authors, the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (which collects money from secondary uses of authors’ work, such as photocopying or digital reproduction), the Royal Literary Fund, English PEN, the T S Eliot Foundation and Amazon UK – have joined forces to support authors (including translators and illustrators) with a £330,000 Authors’ Emergency Fund to be distributed as small grants.

In addition, the main creative funding body for England, Arts Council England, has set aside £20 million for an emergency fund to support creative practitioners across a range of disciplines with individual grants of up to £2,500. Applicants must previously have “been part of the delivery of publicly funded work”. But since that previous funding can have come from a wide variety of sources, it is probable that most established translators would, at some point, have worked on a project for which the publisher (or institution) received such funding.

Also, Arts Council England will still honour the payment of grants for events or initiatives that have been cancelled or postponed.



Some publishers are cancelling publications and short-term assignments and asking translators to stop working on ongoing contracts. We’ve had notice of non-payments too.

As for the measures the Spanish government is taking in relation to our sector: the Minister of Culture has requested the culture sector to voice its urgent needs. Estimates are that the cultural industry will lose 3,000 million euros in one month of paralysis. Collecting societies are drafting a program to create a crisis fund financed from the collection of author’s rights. The general director of the Book and Reading Promotion telephoned the president of the Spanish Association of Publishers Guilds to inform him of the state of the cultural sector which represents the largest contribution to GDP (32.9%). The government has approved a second package of economic measures, which also covers freelancers. Specifically, it has approved a benefit equal to 70% of the base salary to all freelancers affected by the lockdown or with reduced incomes due to Covid-19 ―as far as we translators are concerned, billing needs to be reduced on a 75% taking into consideration last semester average for being exempt from paying Social Security fees. However, the measures are deemed insufficient among translators for different reasons.

ACE Traductores is a member of Red Vértice, which has issued a public statement (https://www NULL.dropbox NULL.com/s/861qht3r2sbmqdv/2020_comunicado-COVID-19 NULL.pdf?dl=0) in support of translators, interpreters and proofreaders.

Also, ACE (Asociación Colegial de Escritores to which ACE Traductores belongs) has recently sent the Ministry of Culture – specifically the Director General of Books – a list of proposals to alleviate the economic impact of the current health situation. The proposals can be read in English translation on the website of the European Writer’s Council (http://europeanwriterscouncil NULL.eu/corona-crisis-for-european-culture/). Also, CEDRO (Centro Español de Derechos Reprográficos) has funding for writers and translators in especially difficult situations and has decided to pay dues early.


Basque Country

The situation in the Basque Country is quite dire, as ours is a very small market.

All events to promote literary translations have been cancelled or postponed and we are not sure what the situation will be when we go this passes, but we are not very optimistic. This will also affect translators’ training: all the courses that EIZIE had planned have been postponed/cancelled and the university has stopped.

However, we think that the worst is yet to come: our market/translators are quite reliant on publicly funded programmes and they will very likely be cut. The economic impact that this crisis will have in the Basque economy will mean that people will spend less in books and publishing houses will take fewer risks (and publishing Basque translations is considered financially risky in many occasions).

Regarding the support that translators are getting, the Basque Government is being quite slow. They have just asked EIZIE to explain the situation of our members in order to implement some measures, so we are hopeful, but we don’t know much as of now.

We have been closely following the amazing work of ACE Traductores, which has been really helpful for us!


We haven’t had any signals yet of publishers pushing back or cancelling their book launches or postponing payments, but it might only be a matter of time. Obviously all events have been cancelled, including book fairs and so on. There’s a lot going on online though, with streamings of book readings etc. Cultural outlets, artists, celebrities, and online bookshops have been linking the #StayAtHome campaign with #TimeToReadBooks. You can argue that it’s not the case for many people, but at least efforts are being made to encourage taking time to consume culture in the digital format or via online ordering. It isn’t clear how much good that can do as far as balancing the loss of sales.

So far the translators we’re in contact with are soldiering on, keeping their usual daily working routines as much as possible (children and family permitting). We will see what the future brings. We’ve just held our association’s first social meetup on Zoom to keep spirits up, and we intend to hold more in the future.

As for organized help, our colleagues at Literary Union, the writers’ association we’re friendly with, have started a crowdfunding campaign to fund aid for writers in need, who are suffering financially mainly due to the cancellation of public events, which many of them depend on for their livelihood. We are supporting them in spreading the word about the campaign.

Literary Union and ourselves have also partnered up with Wisława Szymborska Foundation to offer writers and translators in need residencies in Krakow for when after the crisis is over, which is not going to help them now, of course, but might ease their situation afterwards.

The government has introduced a sweeping relief plan, which doesn’t do much for artists and freelancers working on longer projects (like translations), as you’ll only get help if your income has dropped compared to the month before. Our association now wants to gather best practices from other countries so that we can appeal for an amendment.

At the end of March the Polish Chamber of Books ran a survey among the members of book industry, mostly booksellers and publishers, concerning the impact of the pandemic. 70% said they have noted a drastic drop in sales. 65% say they won’t be able to pay their contractors in April. 42% consider bankruptcy if the situation doesn’t improve by the end of April. However, publishers and online booksellers were significantly more optimistic than physical booksellers. On the other hand, according to Nielsen BookScan, book sales (in terms of number of books sold) has actually gone up by 12% in the last week of March, so it’s still hard to predict the future.



A*dS collects, together with over 20 other professional associations from the cultural sector, information about cancelled events and cancelled contracts in order to be able to negotiate with the authorities with the most concrete information possible.

“COVID-Decree on Culture” of March 20: For all artists, including translators, emergency aid and compensation for loss of earnings and for cancelled events.

For now I’ve heard that some publishers are postponing publications, so there could be less work for us. A*dS will discuss the impact of such measures to writers and literary translators and try to find adequate measures together with the publishers’ and booksellers’ associations in Switzerland.



The Swedish Social Democratic government and their supporting parties (The Greens, The Centrists and The Liberals) announced an emergency package of SEK 500 million (roughly €50 million) to the cultural sector. How and when this money will be distributed has not been decided yet, but it will be through the expert authorities, e.g. the Swedish Arts Council and possibly The Swedish Authors’ Fund. This money is specifically meant for small enterprises, not big theatres and museums. All of this has been decided very fast, and no details are official as yet. Our parent organisation, the Swedish Authors’ Association, is working hard on this.

The Swedish Authors’ Fund usually decides on grants twice a year, but now they are thinking of maybe deciding on the autumn grants earlier, already before the summer.

In a crisis package for all Swedish enterprises it has been decided that the monthly payments of taxes, VAT, contributions to social security etc can be delayed three times during the next twelve months. This will enter into force from April 7, but will apply retroactively from Jan 1.

The foundation Stiftelsen Natur & Kultur has donated SEK 400,000 (roughly €40,000) to a crisis fund which will be administered by the Swedish Writers’ Union. The aim is to make it possible to quickly compensate members who have lost income because of cancelled events and commissions. This was inspired by petitions about support to the Government from both artists and booksellers’ and publishers’ organisations. The compensation will be given in the forme of grants, and applications will be open after Easter at the earliest. The same Foundation that donated money now also owns a publishing house and is financing one of the translator prizes in Sweden.


Czech Republic

Regarding action from the government, there is help for the independents: they will receive the 60% of medium salary if they take care of their children (up to 13 years of age) at home (normally this applies only to employees). The obligatory contribution to social security and medical assurance was cancelled for all the independents (the minimal amount which is what the great majority pays) for six months from March to August.

Otherwise, the publishers have postponed publications, and all events are cancelled. Publishers and booksellers have also addressed an open letter to the prime minister requesting help: bookshops have been closed for more than two weeks, online selling represents only 20% of the market, and they are worried about their survival (so far, there has been no response from the government). Also Knihex, the newly created “association” of small publishers, made an announcement regarding their difficult situation.

There has also been a survey of independent translators and interpreters regarding the impact of the crisis on their work, but we do not have the answers yet.

Recently, it was decided that this year’s edition of the biggest book fair “Svet knihy” would be cancelled. After having rescheduled the event from May to October, the organisers have decided to cancel this year’s edition of the fair because of the uncertain situation in general and above all in order not to worsen the situation of the publishing houses (it is rather expensive for them to attend the fair as exhibitors).

The association of Literary Translators has also sent an open letter to the Minister of Finance and to the Minister of Culture in response to the government’s proposal to pay independents a sum of €1,000 as a support, but only if they meet specific conditions, one of which is to prove the loss of 10% of income in the first three months of this year in comparison to the same period last year. It is almost impossible for literary translators to meet this demand (literary translators do not have regular incomes according to months and the crisis have struck our country only in the middle of March). The letter was published also on our website. In general, the situation in culture remains very uncertain here and the help from the state is not really aimed at people working in the culture sector.



The Irish Government is doing a fantastic job in responding in a timely manner and trying to minimise the financial impact on those who have lost their jobs, or for freelancers who have lost their work.

Anecdotally, we have heard of translation work (general, not literary), conference interpreting, and community interpreting, all coming to an almost complete standstill. Freelancers are allowed to apply for a small amount to cover their loss of earnings. This is definitely better than nothing.

ITIA sent out a short survey to our members to try and establish the impact on their business. When we receive all of the replies we hope to collate the data and will inform CEATL at a later stage.



With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, literary translators around the world have seen the publishing industry grind to a halt – their livelihoods are now hanging by a thread. Still bereft of social security and welfare benefits, translators in Turkey are among those who are bearing the brunt of the economic impact of the current crisis. To face this adversity, the Translators’ Association of Turkey (ÇEVBİR) has set up a provisional solidarity fund for the benefit of its members in need, who were already beset by precarious working conditions and unstable incomes. Announced on March the 28th, the fund has received wide support from its members, and is becoming a beacon of hope and solidarity in these troubling times.



As Translators are already “cooped up” most of the time, physical working conditions have not changed that much perhaps, but all literary events such as book launches and author’s talks have been cancelled, which means a loss of income for the translators and authors involved. To reduce the loss of these revenues, institutions that organise such literary events are trying to do part of them online or else postpone them to a later time this year.

The publication of many books is postponed; this might mean that translators’ fees are postponed too. Moreover, the majority of translators are also obliged to do other work to make a living. That might be teaching, lecturing or even working in a bar or a restaurant. This part of their income has been lost because of the Corona crisis. The Dutch Auteursbond has opened a register for authors to report their loss of income out of literary activities. With the information gathered here, the Auteursbond can lobby the government for a compensation arrangement specifically for authors.

Meanwhile, the government has already created an arrangement for self-employed persons; they can ask for a three-month assistance to ensure a minimum income.

Unfortunately there are also parties who seem to be trying to exploit the situation. A major literary publishing group sent an e-mail to its authors in which it writes that due to the crisis it has had to review its list: on request of the booksellers, it will give priority to commercial titles that sell without extra efforts from the bookseller. Meanwhile, two colleagues who are currently translating a book that was, until recently, considered to be a “commercial” title by this publishing group, have now been told that the publication of their book translation will nevertheless be postponed.

The same publishing group also stated that there is now much more demand for e-books and audio books. To stimulate sales it is organizing discount campaigns with all major media parties. The group writes that given the speed required to organize these actions, it is unable to ask authors individually for permission. They assume “that we also have the same interests here”, which of course is not always the case.

The Auteursbond published a warning on its website to be aware of these kinds of proposals. Their advice is to limit your permission to one year and to watch out for ambiguities in royalty agreements. In practice, it is not always clear how the calculation of royalties is made.


Norwegian literary translators are not as of yet directly affected by the crisis. So far, we’ve only heard of one translation being cancelled (a dramatic work), but book sales are plummeting despite an increase in internet sales, and some publishers have had to lay off workers temporarily, so who knows what is going to happen in the foreseeable future? But my impression is nevertheless that there is business as usual in the bigger publishing houses, although slightly slower business, due to people working from home.

The Parliament has issued an emergency scheme that allows self-employed workers to apply for unemployment benefits. Sick pay for the self-employed has been temporarily improved, and there is also a temporary care benefit. PLR money has been paid out early. And the parliament is now issuing decrees specifically for the cultural sector to compensate for cancellations caused by the Covid-19 crisis.

Most of the Norwegian literary world has moved online, there are book launches and readings every day. Meetings are held by Zoom, Skype, Messenger, you name it. And as a sort of contribution to the public, the Norwegian Association of Literary Translators, together with other authors’ associations and the publishers’ association, ha entered into a joint agreement with the National library to allow students access to books available online.


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