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First research on the sales of translated fiction in the UK shows growth and comparative strength of international fiction

First research on the sales of translated fiction in the UK shows growth and comparative strength of international fiction

  • The volume sales of translated fiction books have grown by 96% since 2001 against a market which is falling overall
  • Value of sales of translated fiction have risen from £8.9 million to £18.6 million between 2001 and 2015
  • Translated literary fiction makes up only 3.5% of the literary fiction titles published in the UK, but 7% of the volume of sales

The Man Booker International Prize has commissioned Nielsen Book to conduct an unprecedented research project into the translated fiction market. Nielsen Book examined and coded the data on physical book sales between 2001 and April 2016. The findings show that the proportion of translated fiction published remains extremely low at 1.5% overall and 3.5% of literary fiction. However, in terms of sales, fiction punches well above its weight with translated fiction providing 5% of total fiction sales in 2015 and translated literary fiction making up 7% of literary fiction sales in 2015. On average, translated fiction books sell better than books originally written in English, particularly in literary fiction.

The translated fiction market is rising, against a stagnating general fiction market. In 2001 51.6 million physical fiction books were sold, falling to 49.7 million in 2015. However translated fiction rose from 1.3 million copies sold a year to 2.5 million. In the literary fiction market, the rise was from 1 million copies to 1.5 million.

During the period of study, literary fiction books were translated from 91 languages, from Afrikaans to Yiddish. The most popular source language was French, with 200,000 books selling in 2001, rising to over 400,000 in 2015.  Sales of Italian literary fiction rose from 37,000 in 2001 to 237,000 in 2015, due in no small part to the Ferrante phenomenon. Sales of Korean books have risen from only 88 copies in 2001 to 10,191 in 2015, a reflection of the South Korea market focus at London Book Fair in 2014. As has been noted by the Man Booker International Prize judges, the languages of the Indian sub-continent are extremely under-represented with just a handful of titles published from Kannada and a fall in the number of literary fiction from Hindi available in the period from 686 to 299 titles.

Top five source languages literary fiction titles sold in UK, 2001 and 2015

 

Rank

2001

2015

1

French

French

2

Brazilian Portuguese

Italian

3

Spanish

Japanese

4

Russian

Swedish

5

Mandarin

German

 

A snapshot of the market can be seen in the top ten bestselling titles of 2001 and 2015. Popular authors dominate the charts, Coehlo in 2001, Ferrante in 2015, but volume sales are growing in the mid-range of the chart.

 

Bestselling translated literary fiction titles 2001

Rank

Title

Author

Translator

Language

Volume Sales

1

The Alchemist

Paulo Coelho

Alan R. Clarke

Brazilian Portuguese

114,430

2

Shanghai Baby

Wei Hui

Bruce Humes

Mandarin

54,104

3

Atomised

Michel Houellebecq

Frank Wynne

French

51,323

4

Daughter of Fortune

Isabel Allende

Margaret Sayers Peden

Spanish

33,488

5

Norwegian Wood

Haruki Murakami

Jay Rubin

Japanese

24,149

6

Veronika Decides to Die

Paulo Coelho

Margaret Jull Costa

Brazilian Portuguese

23,941

7

Sophie’s World

Jostein Gaarder

Paulette Moller

Norwegian

20,746

8

Soul Mountain

Gao Xingjian

Mabel Lee

Mandarin

20,282

9

Perfume

Patrick Süskind

John E. Woods

German

19,167

10

The House of the Spirits

Isabel Allende

Magda Bogin

Spanish

16,651

 

Bestselling translated literary fiction titles 2015

Rank

Title

Author

Translator

Language

Volume Sales

1

My Brilliant Friend

Elena Ferrante

Ann Goldstein

Italian

108,969

2

The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair

Joël Dicker

Sam Taylor

French

87,002

3

Look Who’s Back

Timur Vermes

Jamie Bulloch

German

68,461

4

A Man Called Ove

Fredrik Backman

Henning Koch

Swedish

66,043

5

The Guest Cat

Takashi Hiraide

Eric Selland

Japanese

46,684

6

Suite Française

Irène Némirovsky

Sandra Smith

French

46,532

7

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

Haruki Murakami

Philip Gabriel

Japanese

40,236

8

The Story of a New Name

Elena Ferrante

Ann Goldstein

Italian

35,229

9

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay

Elena Ferrante

Ann Goldstein

Italian

35,229

10

The Alchemist

Paulo Coehlo

Alan R. Clarke

Brazilian Portuguese

22,978

 

'I’m delighted to see this confirmation of the health and growth potential of international fiction in the UK. I hope that the evidence of that translated fiction can sell well, alongside the new focus of the Man Booker International Prize, will encourage publishers and agents to take more risks and invest in translation.' comments Fiammetta Rocco, Administrator of the Man Booker International Prize.

'We are excited to be working on a project of this scope and size in an area that is not accurately measured. Translated works are growing in importance as our global world becomes ever more connected. Early results are interesting and we hope to expand the research both the UK and elsewhere.' comments Andre Breedt, Director Nielsen Book Research.

For the first time, the Man Booker International Prize will be on the basis of a single book, translated into English, after having joined forces with the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize last year. The prize is sponsored by Man Group, one of the world’s largest independent alternative investment managers, which also sponsors the Man Booker Prize for Fiction. Both prizes strive to recognise and reward the finest in contemporary literature.