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American publishers put out significantly fewer works in translation in 2015.

Associated Press

According to Chad W. Post’s invaluable Translation Database at the Three Percent, 503 works in translation were published this year, compared to 597 published the year before. Post’s blog is named after the famously low percentage of books published in translation in America every year. 

Allowing for human error in collecting the data, Post suggests that one reason for the drop-off is that America’s largest publishers of translated works published less in 2015 than they normally do. Amazon Crossing, the leading publisher of translated literature in the country, published 35 books, down from 45 the previous year, while Dalkey Archive, the second largest, published 25, down from 30 the previous year. The ten leading publishers of translated works published 15.8 percent fewer translated books in total. 

Post can’t think of any structural reasons why this would be, and I’m afraid I can’t either. Amazon Crossing targets more commercial fare than its more literary-minded peers, so there’s no evidence that it is cannibalizing the market. And there’s nothing to suggest that U.S. publishers are moving away from publishing literature in translation collectively, so it’s possible this was just something of a fluke year. 

Post is ultimately rather pretty positive, and for pretty good reason: There are no signs that this is a trend and 500 books in translation is still a lot of books. Still, it’s a step in the wrong direction for a market that has a long way to go.