May 25, 2015

Never found in translation

Despite Japan being one of the top book publishing and book consuming countries in the world, a translation database maintained by the University of Rochester lists only nineteen English translations of Japanese novels published in the U.S. in 2014 (not including manga).

That number strikes me as both too low and depressingly small in any case. Between 2007 and 2013, I translated nine light novels for Digital Manga and completed six fan-translations (titles, not volumes). That'd make me more than five percent of the entire market.

The compiled data (cited in the Wall Street Journal) is freely available from the University of Rochester's "Three Percent" website, which explains itself thusly:

Three Percent was named after the oft-cited statistic that only 3 percent of books published in the U.S. are translations. By collecting as many catalogs as we can and asking publishers directly, we've managed to come up with a fairly accurate record of the books published in translation since January 1st, 2008.

I split out the publisher entries for Japan going back to 2010 (before that they only list percentages of the total). They have titles from Vertical and Viz Media, both established manga and light novel publishers. But nothing from Yen Press or Digital Manga or TokyoPop.

And Yen Press is a Hachette imprint. I'd bet the database is one guy scraping data together from wherever. Wikipedia seems a better source, but it's incomplete too. Alas, even if "all the rest" matched the "Three Percent" database, we're still barely into double digits.

Viz Media published 10 titles in 2010 and none in 2014; Vertical peaked at 6 in 2012 and fell to 1 in 2014.

This is what I experienced first-hand: a tiny "light novel" bubble that has since popped, with TokyoPop catching (and causing) a lot of the fallout, including the loss of the "Twelve Kingdoms" licenses. Digital Manga isn't currently active in the light novel market.

Yen Press and Vertical are. Yen Press has acquired licenses for manga and anime tie-ins such as A Certain Magical Index and Sword Art Online. But for all of these companies (even Japanese-owned), novels are an afterthought at best; it's manga that keeps the lights on.

As the Wall Street Journal reports, the Japanese government is attempting (once again) to address the problem. The "Cool Japan" concept has been around since 2002, a belated reaction to the belated realization that anime and manga abroad were really popular abroad.

And yet government-directed efforts have been so halfhearted as to be practically invisible. South Korea spends six times as much as Japan on similar programs. But with the 2020 Olympics right around the corner, politicians and bureaucrats are getting serious once again.

Japan's government is paying to have Japanese-language nonfiction books translated into English . . . The move is one of several nontraditional public-relations steps by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's administration . . . as it engages in a public relations battle with China and South Korea.

So what's the connection to the Japanese Literature Publishing Project (JLPP) "initiated in 2002 by the Japanese Government Agency for Cultural Affairs"? No idea. Either multiple bureaucracies duplicating each other's efforts or multiple manifestations of the same project.

The "Japan Library" (the name of the imprint) has a goal of publishing 100 books by 2020. Selected by "outside experts" and avoiding works "with an overt political message," the books will be distributed free to libraries and sold at cost on Amazon. I'm looking forward to it.

I only hope that while skirting "overt political messages," they also skirt literary snobbery and include some popular genre titles in the mix. In the meantime, though, AmazonCrossing has become the most prolific publisher of translations in the U.S.

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# posted by Anonymous Anonymous
5/30/2015 12:15 PM   
It is such a sad turn of events. I remember being so very excited about Twelve Kingdoms and Crest of the Stars novels being translated into books (bought them all), the Suzumiya novel series (quite clever!). Not to mention more obscure titles I only heard about but could never read. It has all since stopped.
Thank god for dedicated fan translations!

Do Amazon Publishing carry translated light novels? Can you expand more on this?
# posted by Blogger Eugene
6/01/2015 8:36 AM   
Unfortunately, I found only one Japanese writer published by AmazonCrossing, and the book is a collection of short stories.
# posted by Anonymous Anonymous
6/12/2015 9:42 AM   
Ah, that's too bad. Still, maybe some day. One can hope.