By Julieta Lionetti
Books from Argentina, a site aiming to promote the translation of Argentine authors abroad and inspired in New Books in German, launched on July 4. It was developed by the Ministry of Economic Development of the Buenos Aires City Hall and Fundación el Libro (FEL), together with the Argentine publishers organizations, CAP and CAL.
It’s an interesting initiative in a market that needs further professionalization for its book industry, but acquisitions editors and translators will find it difficult to put to use. The main reason being that, unlike the site that inspired it, Books from Argentina is all but uncurated, a cardinal virtue if you’d like to make a difference in the overcrowded web. New Books in German features a handful of writers each season, and competition to make it onto its pages is fierce. Turning and turning in Books from Argentina’s virtual carousel of book titles, in contrast, you’ll find the covers of both a literary novel and a technical book about the hides of the cattle that pasture in the Pampas side by side — along with 200 other titles, and more on the way.
The site abounds in data irrelevant to foreign rights trade, like format, retail price and ISBN number; while it lacks relevant information as to which rights and subsidiary rights are offered by rights holders. You won’t find any reviews by third parties, but plenty of blurbs provided by publishers that haven’t gone through any sort of editorial process on the site, contributing to the general noise with their different styles and purposes. The covers are in such a low resolution that in many instances their titles are illegible and anyone who tries the site from her iPad with Retina display — a very common tool among professionals in the industry — is in for a dismal experience.
Nor will you find any of the Argentine authors represented by powerful and not-so-powerful agents, nor those originally published in Spain. That is to say, the most popular, well-known and well-looked-after authors. Books from Argentina seems to have been conceived as an after-thought, without an audience in mind.
According to the most recent study on Argentine translation rights (PDF), published by Fundación TyPA and the government of Buenos Aires in 2009, they represented 1 percent of the total rights for Spanish language works sold in the European and American markets. Important Argentine copyrights sit in Madrid and Barcelona, a fact that only reflects the dominance of the Spanish industry over the whole of Latin America.
The site is much-needed if Argentine publishers want to play a more significant role in the international arena and be of any relevance in their authors’ careers outside the country, but it will need to do an about-face in order to speak the real language of foreign rights.