In the United Kingdom, fiction in translation now sells more copies than fiction originally written in English, according to research commissioned by the Man Booker International Prize. While only 3.5% of literary fiction published in 2015 was fiction in translation, these accounted for 7% of sales. Although the proportion of translated fiction was still found to be ‘extremely low’ at 1.5%, that 1.5% accounted for 5% of total fiction sales in 2015.
Fiammetta Rocco, administrator of the Man Booker International Prize, said: ‘In 2001, every literary fiction title written in English sold an average 1,153 copies, while every translated literary fiction title sold only 482 copies. By 2015 this had completely changed – every literary fiction title written in English sold an average of only 263 copies, while every translated literary fiction title sold an average of 531 copies.’
According to the research, by the organisation Nielsen Book, sales of translated fiction rose from 1 million copies in 2001 to 1.5 million in 2015, with translated literary fiction accounting for only 3.5% of literary fiction titles published, but 7% of the volume of sales in 2015.
Fiammetta Rocco said, ‘Not only are the numbers of translated books sold going up, but there is an incredibly devoted readership in Britain of translated fiction. We were amazed to discover this – the only thing we’ve known is the 3% figure and we didn’t know if that related to the number of titles published, or to sales. For translated literary fiction, it turns out the proportion published is about the same, at 3.5%, but that sales are much higher, at 7%.
She went on to say that the research was ‘confirmation of the health and growth potential of international fiction in the UK’, and hoped that it would ‘encourage publishers and agents to take more risks and invest in translation’.