Update: A lot of people think this post is intended to insult the profession of translation. It’s not. It’s easy to assume that if we’re talking about being more efficient it means that translation is an inefficient profession. That’s not what’s meant.
Chad Post talks about the possibility of giving translators a larger share in royalties in return for not paying them anything for translations (last paragraph). That’s what is meant. The cost of $8,000 is very high for a book that is an unknown in terms of how much money it’ll make.
A model where a translation that fails pays out next to nothing and a success pays out a lot is much better – it’s efficiency and it’ll be necessary in the new Publishing world.
Thanks to Andrys at Kindle World for pointing out this section from the Wall St. Journal on the costs of translating books into English –
Still, translations can be expensive. Chad Post, director of the University of Rochester’s Open Letter Books, which specializes in literature in translation, said translators typically command between $100 and $125 per thousand words. A 60,000-word novel, for example, could cost between $6,000 to $8,000 to translate. Well-known translators, he added, command as much as $175 to $200 per 1,000 words.
“There’s a perception that books in translation don’t sell as well, so you have to spend more on marketing than you might with a typical American author,” he added. “You have to spend more to get their name into circulation.” ‘
Basically, this is in response to Amazon Crossing and it’s Publishers making excuses or perhaps not being aware of their options.
$200 per 1,000 words translated?
Let’s get this straight –
- Translators command between $100 to $125 per thousand words.
- A 60,000 word novel costs $6,000 to $8,000 to translate.
- Well-known translators command $175 to $200 per 1,000 words.
We’re in the middle of the highest unemployment numbers in decades. We have companies distributed all over the world and so much cheap labor everywhere – including in North America.
Do people really get paid $125 per thousand words translated?
5 ways to cut money on translations
Here are 5 ways to translate cheaply. With a little thinking Publishers could easily figure out how not to spend $8,000 per novel translation.
- Get users to translate the books – just as Facebook got users to translate the user interface. Offer them a credit or free books or something.
- Hire just out of college unemployed students. Hire interns. Sponsor a gap year and you’ll probably be able to get a book translated every month.
- Use Mechanical Turk or ODesk or one out of the dozens of freelancing websites.
- Use a good Translation software and then have someone verify the results.
- Even translation companies offer their services for $10 per hour. Surely – it couldn’t take an hour to translate 100 words. You could write a novel faster than that.
This actually brings us to the other claim – that marketing for International Books is much more expensive than for an American Author.
*** If you’re really upset at this point it’s a good thing. Please read this follow-on post – Notes on the future of Publishing.
Check Demand for the books Before you translate them
Amazon should consider adding this to their Amazon Crossing Page –
- Present readers with options and a short summary and let them choose.
- Pick some of the best-selling books and offer the first 2 chapters translated for free – see audience reactions.
- Let users pre-order a book with the understanding that if 1,000 or 10,000 preorders are reached the book will be translated.
- Let authors contribute part of the funds in exchange for a larger royalty rate.
- Talk to expatriate forums and travellers and people interested in a culture and gauge interest.
Obviously Publishers in all their years haven’t set up any system to do this easily and cheaply. Amazon on the other hand can do all of this at minimal cost.
If you have to spend a ton on marketing you might be doing something wrong
If a book was a huge hit in another country, in another language, it must have done something right.
Instead of marketing it again –
- Figure out what made it a success and translate that into the new market.
- Use social proof – If it’s a mystery that sold 1 million copies in Chinese then market it to mystery readers with that 1 million figure.
- Again – letting readers vote gets them vested. Every single person who voted for a book is much likelier to buy it. Everyone who participated in the voting is a little likelier to buy it. It works for American Idol. Try it in books.
Publishers aren’t just struggling to turn books into successes. They also seem to be struggling to translate success across markets. It’s obviously not easy – However, it’s surely not as difficult as Publishers make it out to be – Why would Amazon be trying it if it’s impossible?
Publishers tend to take the ‘How can we spend a ton of money to solve this problem?’ approach.
It’s a pattern that keeps repeating
There’s this magical pattern that Publishers keep repeating –
- We need to do X (translation, formatting, conversion into a format, DRM).
- Let’s find someone in New York who has a fancy office and help him pay his rent.
- If he’s good the cost ought to be at least $100 an hour or a few thousand dollars per book.
- If there’s a way to waste effort and time let’s make sure to incorporate it in.
- Let’s make sure to spend a lot of time and effort talking about how difficult it is.
Yes, obviously, it isn’t as cheap as readers would like or as cheap as people who understand technology would be able to get it done for. However, it can’t be as expensive as Publishers are making it out to be.
There’s some huge fundamental flaw here – For $100 an hour you can get a top-notch iPhone App developer. For $8,000 you could get a full app made that reads Project Gutenberg books – all 40,000 of them. If it’s taking you that much just to get a single book translated you really, really need to take a hard look at –
- Whether you’re still in the right business.
- Whether you’re being ripped off by every single technology person you’re working with.
Publishers need to take a long, careful look around the room – if they can’t spot the sucker it’s time to rethink things.