UK sales of translated fiction represented 5% of all print fiction sales in 2015, a 96% rise in volume from the translated market's 2001 sales figures, according to statistics from Nielsen Book. A report into the translated fiction market was commissioned by the Man Booker International Prize, with Nielsen Book examining and coding data on physical book sales between 2001 and April 2016.
The report says 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, translated fiction “punches well above its weight”, providing 5% of total fiction sales in 2015 and translated literary fiction making up 7% of literary fiction sales in 2015.
According to the report, the translated fiction market is rising against a “stagnating” general fiction market. In 2001, 51.6m physical fiction books were sold, falling to 49.7m in 2015. However, translated fiction rose from 1.3m copies sold a year to 2.5m. In the literary fiction market, the rise was from 1m copies to 1.5m.
However, 2015’s sales were some way off the UK translated fiction market’s peak in 2010, when Stieg Larsson’s Quercus-published Millennium trilogy alone generated £26.7m on sales of five million print units through Nielsen BookScan.
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”. Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend (Europa) was the best selling translated literary fiction title of 2015, selling 108,969 copies. Meanwhile Ferrante's The Story of a New Name and Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay were the eighth and ninth bestselling translated literary fiction titles, selling 35,229 copies each.
Sales of Korean books have risen from only 88 copies in 2001 to 10,191 in 2015, which the report says may be due to 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.
The top five source language literary fiction titles sold in the UK in 2015 were French, Italian, Japanese, Swedish and German, whereas in 2001 the top five were French, Brazilian Portuguese, Spanish, Russian and Mandarin.
Fiammetta Rocco, administrator of the Man Booker International Prize, said: “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.”
Andre Breedt, director of Nielsen Book Research, said: “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.”
The Man Booker International Prize will be awarded on 16th May, for the first time 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 which also sponsors the Man Booker Prize for Fiction. Both prizes strive to "recognise and reward the finest in contemporary literature".