Amazon Commits $10 Million to Translations, Prompting Questions

In News by Dennis Abrams

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As Amazon invests $10 million its translation project, Susan Bernofsky ask if Amazon is turning translation into a “glorified form of self-publishing.”

By Dennis Abrams

Susan Bernofsky

Susan Bernofsky

AmazonCrossing, Amazon Publishing’s five year old literary translation imprint, has announced a $10 million commitment over the next five years to increase both the number and diversity of its books in translation.

With 77 titles from 15 countries and 12 languages being published in the U.S. in 2015, AmazonCrossing has become one of the largest publishers of translated literature in the States. The announced investment will go towards fees paid to translators over the next five years, as well as to increasing the countries and languages represented on the AmazonCrossing list, which, since 2010, has included more than 200 titles by authors from 29 countries writing in 19 languages.

To assist their expanded commitment to books in translation, AmazonCrossing has opened a new website for authors, agents and publishers to suggest titles for translation at translation.amazon.com/submissions. AmazonCrossing is now accepting submissions in mystery, thriller, women’s fiction, historical fiction, literary fiction, memoir, science fiction and fantasy categories.

Sarah Jane Gunther of AmazonCrossing

Sarah Jane Gunter of AmazonCrossing

“We launched AmazonCrossing five years ago to introduce readers to voices of the world through English-language translations of foreign-language books. While we are now one of the largest publishers of translated literature in the United States, translated fiction is still a tiny fraction of new publications. Today we are committing $10 million to translations to bring more international writers to new audiences,” said Sarah Jane Gunter, Publisher of AmazonCrossing and General Manager of International Publishing. “Our new website for submissions will help us cast a broader net in finding great books for translation, with the hope of increasing the number of acquisitions from countries that are traditionally underrepresented in translation.”

And at Translationista, writer and translator Susan Bernofsky wrote this about the new submission process and its impact on translators:

“… Several years ago, Amazon set up a portal that allowed translators to bid on translation projects to be published by AmazonCrossing, and while my contacts at Amazon assure me that these gigs do not automatically go to the lowest bidder (there’s someone checking credentials and weighing skill against cost), I don’t know what other purpose a bidding website can have other than to drive prices down, obviously at the translators’ expense. Drive them down to how low? It’s impossible to say, since last I heard Amazon was still requiring the translators who accepted contracts to work for it to sign a non-disclosure agreement. (If they’ve since dropped that requirement, I’d love to hear about it and will publish a statement to that effect right here.)

“In the end, this new translation-project-suggestion-portal might wind up being just a way of creating a glorified form of self-publishing for translators and translation, the way an unpublished novelist can use print-on-demand to get her book at least nominally into print. Is this bad for the translation market? I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the proliferation of genre fiction in translation via AmazonCrossing hasn’t had any negative impact at all on the high-literature-translation world, and that the driving down of prices for the translation of genre fiction — while clearly not good for translators in general — has had few or no repercussions for translation rates elsewhere. As when negotiating with other publishers, professional translators will surely (or at least I hope so) refuse to sign contracts offering unacceptable terms. As for those not in a position to negotiate, they’re in no worse a position than the self-publishing authors, especially if (and this would be my strong recommendation to them) they make sure their contracts include a royalty clause so that if the crime novel or romance they translate happens to sell a hundred thousand copies, they’ll have a share in the windfall.

“Meanwhile, good for Amazon for declaring Translationland a place where money can indeed be made. I’d like to see more major players in the mainstream publishing world taking note of that fact.”

About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for news, children’s publishing and media. He’s also a restaurant critic, literary blogger, and the author of “The Play’s The Thing,” a complete YA guide to the plays of William Shakespeare published by Pentian, as well as more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers.