Nielsen Reports Translated Literature in the UK Grew 5.5 Percent in 2018

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

The widely accepted ‘3-percent rule’ of translated literature in English-language markets may be changing, as Nielsen Book reports a rise in translated books in the UK.

Image – iStockphoto: Monticello

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Translations in Brexitian UK: ‘Overwhelmingly European’
Released today (March 6), new research commissioned from Nielsen Book by the Man Booker International Prize indicates that translated fiction in the UK market grew by 5.5 percent. The report sees sales of translated fiction for last year coming in at £20.7 million (US$27.2 million).

As a subcategory of overall translated fiction, “general/literary fiction” in translation showed a robust 20-percent growth level, while regular, English-language fiction in that category was flat.

And as news reports this morning including that from Lucy McNulty of MarketWatch at the Wall Street Journal indicate that the British government may slash trade tariffs on up to 90 percent of goods if the UK makes a “hard Brexit” from the European Union on March 29, media messaging from the Booker Prinze on the research offers yet another pointed irony: “Nielsen’s findings include the fact that translated fiction in the UK is overwhelmingly European, with French—at 17 percent of volume sales–being the leading language of origin overall.

“For new books published in the past five years, Norwegian and Swedish are the most popular languages of origin.”

Publishing Perspectives readers are familiar with the decision by the Booker Foundation to “evolve” the prize in such a way to reward both the author and the translator of a book chosen for the Man Booker International Prize—which is not to be confused with the Man Booker Prize for Fiction, the better-known award. The move was an influence on the National Book Foundation in the States, as well, which last year awarded its own first translated book prize, designed as is the Booker’s award to honor both author and translator.

In another sign of translation’s rising place in the English-language markets and in the UK specifically, Jacks Thomas, who directs the London Book Fair (March 12 to 14) has this year named Jeremy Tiang the trade show’s first official Translator of the Fair, a designation of honor that stands alongside a similarly appointed Poet of the Fair and Illustrator of the Fair.

The research being released today is part of a program of study commissioned in 2016 and takes in a 15-year span of time from 2001 to 2016.

US industry players and readers would no doubt like to see a parallel study undertaken in the States, because overall trends detected by Nielsen Book suggest a steadily rising presence in market action for work translated into English in the UK. Booker Prize organizers now can cite evidence that seems to show that the traditionally cited 3-percent level of translated fiction in English-language markets is no longer accurate.

The ‘Marketability of Translated Literature’

Chart: Nielsen Book, provided by Man Booker Prize International

In a prepared statement, translator Charlotte Collins, who is co-chair of the UK’s Translators Association, is quoted, saying, “Despite what has clearly been a surge of interest in translated fiction, people still tend to cite the outdated 3-percent statistic about the proportion of translated fiction published in the UK.

“The rise in sales of translated fiction shows how hungry British readers are for terrific writing from other countries.”Fiammetta Rocco

“As we can see, this proportion has almost doubled in recent years, and is now at 5.63 percent. This is really exciting news, and welcome confirmation that publishers have responded to the proven popularity and marketability of translated literature.”

Collins is, herself, a 2016 shortlistee for the Booker International, for her work on Robert Seethaler’s A Whole Life.

More from the study on which languages seem to be popular in literature translated in the English in the UK: growing interest is seen in Chinese and Arabic, as well as Icelandic and Polish. The latter follows Olga Tokarczuk’s win of the 2018 Man Booker International Prize with Flights, translated by Jennifer Croft. Poland was the subject of the London Book Fair’s Market Focus in 2017. This year’s Market Focus is Indonesia.

In more prepared commentary, the Man Booker International Prize—it will be called simply the Booker International Prize after this year’s final round of sponsorship from the Man Group—offers news media a remark from administrator Fiammetta Rocco, who is quoted, saying, “Reading fiction is one of the best ways we have of putting ourselves in other people’s shoes. The rise in sales of translated fiction shows how hungry British readers are for terrific writing from other countries”—perhaps another way of phrasing the striking antithesis to the Brexitian dynamic found in today’s news.

The director of Nielsen Book Research International, Andre Breedt, says, “Fiction in translation allows us to experience narratives and perspectives in a way that otherwise wouldn’t be possible. We’re glad to be working with Man Booker International Prize and others to better measure this important and vibrant genre.”

Breedt and his team report that they discovered that the crime/thriller genre, traditionally seen as a large contributor to the sales of translated fiction, has declined by 19 percent. In the chart below, the first three positions are from the crime/thriller group, the others from general/literary fiction.

And the research sees “an extremely substantial growth” of 96 percent in sales of translated short stories and anthologies between 2017 and 2018.

Nielsen: Top 20 Translated Fiction Works Sold in 2018
1 The Thirst Jo Nesbo (tr: Neil Smith) Norwegian Vintage 123,066 Crime
2 Macbeth Jo Nesbo (tr: Don Bartlett) Norwegian Vintage 111,206 Crime
3 The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye David Lagercrantz (tr: George Goulding) Swedish Maclehose Press 105,897 Crime
4 Lullaby Leila Slimani (tr: Sam Taylor) French Faber & Faber 98,058 General Literary
5 The Accidental Further Adventures of the Hundred-Year-Old Man Jonas Jonasson (tr: Rachel Willson-Broyles) Swedish Fourth Estate 69,372 General Literary
6 The Travelling Cat Chronicles Hiro Arikawa (tr: Philip Gabriel) Japanese Doubleday 46,846 General Literary
7 The History of Bees Maja Lunde (tr: Diane Oatley) Norwegian Simon & Schuster 44,602 General Literary
8 The Alchemist Paulo Coelho (tr: Alan R. Clarke) Portuguese Thorsons 40,322 General Literary
9 Men Without Women: Stories Haruki Murakami (tr: Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen) Japanese Vintage 37,547 Short stories
10 The Girl in the Spider’s Web David Lagercrantz (tr: George Goulding) Swedish Maclehose 35,736 Crime
11 If Cats Disappeared from the World Genki Kawamura (tr: Eric Selland) Japanese Picador 30,192 General Literary
12 My Brilliant Friend Elena Ferrante (tr: Ann Goldstein) Italian Europa Editions 26,627 General Literary
13 Killing Commendatore Haruki Murakami (tr: Philip Gabriel‎and Ted Goossen) Japanese Harvill Secker 23,643 General Literary
14 The Sixteen Trees of the Somme Lars Mytting (tr: Paul Russell Garrett) Norwegian Maclehose 23,620 General Literary
15 Convenience Store Woman Sayaka Murata (tr: Ginny Tapley Takemori) Japanese Portobello 21,228 General Literary
16 A Man Called Ove Fredrik Backman (tr: Henning Koch) Swedish Sceptre 20,415 General Literary
17 The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared Jonas Jonasson (tr: Rod Bradbury) Swedish Abacus 19,466 General Literary
18 Can you hear me? Elena Varvello (tr: Alex Valente) Italian Two Roads 18,897 Crime
19 Norwegian Wood Haruki Murakami (tr: Alfred Birnbaum 1989, Jay Rubin 2000) Japanese Vintage 17,742 General Literary
20 The Labyrinth of the Spirits Carlos Ruiz Zafon (tr: Lucia Graves) Spanish Orion 17,055 General Literary

Booker International Longlist: March 13

The next action in this year’s award cycle for the Man Booker International Prize arrives March 13, the final day of the London Book Fair, when the program will announce its 2019 longlist.

A shortlist is to be announced on April 9.

The 2019 winner of this year’s Booker International is to be named on May 21.

The new funding for the prize—from the US-based Crankstart fund—takes effect June 1. It’s worth noting that when the Man Booker International Prize was established in 2005 as a complement to the long-running Booker Prize for Fiction, it was thanks to an extension by the Man Group of its original sponsorship.

Four Languages Gaining Readers in the UK

Chart: Nielsen Book, provided by Man Booker Prize International

In the above chart, here are the books referenced in the languages of growing interest to the UK readership between 2014 and 2018:


  • Andrzej Sapowski (tr. Danusia Stock) The Last Wish (fantasy)
  • Olga Tokarczuk (tr. Jennifer Croft) Flights (winner of the Man Booker International Prize 2018)


  • Ragnar Jónasson (tr. Victoria Cribb) The Darkness (crime)
  • Yrsa Sigurðardóttir (tr. Victoria Cribb) The Legacy (crime)


  • Cixin Liu (tr. Ken Liu) The Three Body Problem (science fiction)
  • Jin Yong (tr. Anna Holmwood) A Hero Born (fantasy)


  • Ahmed Sadawi (tr. Ahmed Saadawi) Frankenstein in Baghdad (shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2018)

A programming note: Publishing Perspectives and the Sheikh Zayed Book Award present a discussion on Arabic literature and ‘Remorse Test,’ the literature category winner of the 2018 Zayed Award by Syrian author Khalil Swileh at London Book Fair on Wednesday, March 13 at 11 a.m. 

With us will be Mouza al Shamsi, director of the United Arab Emirates’ Sheikh Zayed Book Award, and Rana Hayek, editorial manager of Hachette-Antoine, the Beirut-based publisher of Swileh’s winning book.

The event is at the Zayed Award stand, 7H49, and all are welcome. To attend, please register here.

In addition, Publishing Perspectives will be moderating two sessions at London Book Fair’s Literary Translation Centre.

  • On Tuesday, March 12, join us at 2:30 p.m. for Promoting Translation in a Digital World, with Lauren Edwards, Amazon Crossing; Roland Glasser, the Starling Bureau; Lauren Rosemary Hook, the Feminist Press, and translator and author Daniel Hahn.
  • On Wednesday, March 13, join us at 2:15 p.m. for Dark Political Questions in Translated Literature, a conversation with Norwegian author Demian Vitanza and Amazon Crossing’s Elizabeth DeNoma. More on Vitanza’s ‘This Life or the Next’ is here.
About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.