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Sharp rise in UK sales of translated fiction

The number of translated books bought in Britain increased by 96 per cent between 2001 and 2015, according to new research by Nielsen Book for the Man Booker International Prize.

Nielsen Book examined and coded 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 per cent overall and 3.5 per cent of literary fiction. However, in terms of sales, translated fiction punches well above its weight – it provided 5 per cent of total fiction sales in 2015 and 7 per cent of literary fiction sales.

The figures also showed that the translated fiction market is growing 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 during the same period. In literary fiction, the rise was from 1 million 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 focus at the London Book Fair in 2014. As has been noted by the Man Booker International Prize judges, the languages of the Indian subcontinent are extremely under-represented, with just a handful of titles published from them.

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