In London: New Data on the UK’s Translated Fiction Readers

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

The Booker Prize Foundation reveals a Nielsen study’s data on readers of translated fiction in the United Kingdom.

At London Book Fair 2023, April 18. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson

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

See also today: The International Booker Prize 2023 Shortlist

At London Book Fair: Insights Into Translation Buyers
As the news of the International Booker Prize shortlist was announced to the public amid the raucous noise and crush of simultaneously programmed events at London Book Fair‘s opening today (April 17), the Booker Prize Foundation pointed to new research that’s fully as interesting as—and much more telling business-wise than—the six books, authors, and translators on this year’s shortlist.

Being a news medium for the international business, we’re breaking out this news on translation consumers, with a separate sidebar on the newly revealed shortlist here.

In announcing its new data, the Booker Foundation today further established itself as a breed apart from the organizers of so many other publishing and book awards: Already the only internationally significant prize that reports on the sales impact of its awards, the Booker now is offering newly collated information on the United Kingdom’s sales trends in translated fiction.

It may be needless to say to a professional and international readership like that of Publishing Perspectives that what distinguishes the Booker’s annual financial and reputational commitment to its International Booker Prize is the fact that translated fiction is considered to be among the English-language markets’ riskiest properties.

And that’s why a study made from Nielsen’s 2022 Bo0ks and Consumers data—looking at monthly updates on 3,000 United Kingdom book buyers aged 13 to 84—is so encouraging.

‘Male Readers on a Par with Females’

In an age in which much of the world book publishing industry focuses a preponderance of its output—and workforce—on women as the majority consumers, it’s worth placing some of the gender-related data here first. Surely by now, a review of the “guys don’t read” trope is called for.

“With reports that young men are reading less fiction than ever, publishers and retailers will be encouraged to see a publishing sector in which male readers are on a par with females.”International Booker Prize

According to the newly released analysis, while only 32 percent of overall UK fiction buyers are male, 48 percent of translated fiction buyers are male.

“With reports that young men are reading less fiction than ever,” the foundation writes in its report, “publishers and retailers will be encouraged to see a publishing sector in which male readers are on a par with females.”

Here’s a bit more of a breakdown in regard to the gender criterion:

  • Females aged 13 to 24 make up the largest purchase group for translated fiction, with 15.5 percent of all buys
  • Females aged 25 to 34 are the next largest, at 13.7 percent of all translated fiction purchases

But then, women seem to pass the baton to men. The next highest purchase groups are:

  • Males aged 45 to 59 (13.6 percent, effectively the equivalent of the 15-t0-24 group at 13.7 percent led by females)
  • Males aged 25 to 34 (11.2 percent) register as the fourth purchase group

Overall, the Nielsen Book data indicates that readers of translated fiction in the United Kingdom in 2022 were “significantly younger” than readers of fiction generally.

Buyers aged 25 to 34 purchased almost a quarter (24.9 percent) of all translated fiction in the United Kingdom in 2022, an increase from 21 percent in 2021. The second highest purchase group is 13-24 year olds, indicating that book buyers younger than 35 account for almost half of all translated fiction purchases.

Rocco: ‘Young People Cross Borders’

Fiammetta Rocco, the International Booker Prize administrator, has made an interesting observation, relative to this generational interest in translated literature, saying, “Young people see borders as more porous.”

Fiammetta Rocco

When Publishing Perspectives asked for some clarification, Rocco told us, “Technology generally, the Internet, social media, BookTok, Kindle: All these have created their own communities of readers that help young people cross borders and inhabit each other’s worlds without them even noticing they’re doing it.

“I spotted it first in my own daughter who is now 26, and who’s been a demon reader since she was quite young, as are many of her friends. They’re as likely to be reading a young South Korean author as they are a British one. My friends have reported it about their children too. And now we have the first statistical back-up of this trend.

“My daughter and many of her friends are as likely to be reading a young South Korean author as they are a British one. … And now we have the first statistical back-up of this trend.”Fiammetta Rocco, International Booker Prize

“The life of the imagination; worlds conjured up in words; the immersive-ness of stories: All these are common to fiction and storytelling everywhere. Forty-eight hours ago I put out a single tweet about the Nielsen research. I’ve never had such a response.

“Hari Kunzru reported that across New York City he sees the phenomenon of young people reading translated fiction. And Daisy Rockwell, who translated last year’s International Booker Prize winner, Tomb of Sand, written by Geetanjali Shree, replied: ‘A member of my household belongs to the top demographic and loves Mieko [Kawakami], so no surprise here.'”

UK: 1.9 Million Translated Fiction Titles in 2022

Retirees, in this study, appear to be far less likely than working consumers to buy translated fiction. The 2022 figures from Nielsen show only 8 percent of translated fiction buyers in the United Kingdom retired, a group that accounted for almost a fifth, 19.9 percent, of overall fiction buyers. And this, after 2019 figures showing readers aged 60 to 84 buying 20,9 percent of translated fiction, a percentage that fell to 13.2 percent in 2022.

And lastly, before we move on to the shortlist, several additional quick figures from the Nielsen study, as reflected in the graphic above:

  • 53 percent of the United Kingdom’s translated fiction-buying respondents in 2022 said that they prefer a challenging read
  • 50 percent of the respondents who said they are translated fiction buyers also said they’re single
  • 79 percent of Nielsen’s respondents said they read for information or knowledge
  • Japanese appears to be the biggest draw: 14 of the 30 biggest-selling translated fiction titles in the United Kingdom in 2022 were originally written in Japanese
  • 1.9 million translated fiction titles, per the report, were sold in the United Kingdom in 2022

Again, our International Booker Prize shortlist report accompanies this one, here.

Who’s the hippest of all the readers? Newly reported date from Nielsen says younger adults are the leaders in reading translation in the United Kingdom, per 2022 figures. Image: Booker Prize Foundation

More from Publishing Perspectives on both Booker Prize programs is here. More on the International Booker Prize is here, more on translation is here, and more from us on international publishing and book awards programs in general is here. More on London Book Fair, which runs through Thursday (April 20) 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.