Friday, January 13, 2006

off topic, but writing related

When I saw this in Publishers Lunch, I just had to post it. I know a lot of people who don't get either versions of Lunch, and yet as authors, this is something we need to be aware of. It certainly has the capacity to seriously impact overseas incomes--especially if it spreads futher:

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Translator Compensation Cases Could Rock Market for German Licenses

Agents, authors and publishers should brace themselves for complex legal developments in the world's largest market for books translated from English that could both reduce proceeds and restrict demand in the future. Three court cases now on appeal in Germany regarding the compensation of translators are expected to reach final resolution shortly, and already some German publishers are telling agents to prepare for different terms of business as a result. As one prominent German agent puts it, "It's highly explosive and will probably change the entire translation landscape in Germany. The question will now be, 'Do we really need that book?'"

In a number of recent cases, German courts have ruled that translators are entitled to share in some measure in all royalties earned by books they work on--a demand for as much as a 3 percent royalty on both hardcovers and paperbacks in one case--and in the cases currently on appeal, the courts also ruled that translators should receive of 25 percent of all gross subsidiary rights income, including paperback licenses. If prior rulings, which apparently derive from a copyright law passed by the German Parliament three years ago, are upheld, publishers would be considered liable for back payments on previous works, which reportedly could amount to hundreds of thousands or even millions of euros for the translators of the most successful authors. Additional complexities remained unresolved, including how the 25 percent share would apply to paperbacks issued within the same group as part of hard/soft rights purchases.

A group of trade publishers is scheduled to discuss the issue as part of a larger meeting in Munich today, though our correspondent reports that "they have explicitly excluded agents because they want to discuss it among themselves but they have invited the press." For the moment, in a situation that remains unresolved until the appeals are adjudicated, some publishers are formulating new positions. Head of Hanser Verlag Michael Kruger told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that under the proposed new rates, approximately 85 percent of their titles would not be publishable. Agent Sebastian Ritscher at Mohrbooks echoes this sentiment, observing that "This is going to have a tremendous impact, especially on publishers who depend on income from paperpack licences (like Hanser or Antje Kunstmann). What translators are asking for would reduce the publisher's share to 15 percent and make a lot of translated books impossible to calculate."

Ritscher notes "the outcome is as yet uncertain," but confirms that "most publishers assume that one way or another translators will be getting a higher share in royalties and, possibly, a share in subrights income." His particular concern is that "We have to protect the authors who in some cases (especially mass-market genre paperback fiction) already get less out of their German editions than the translators."

Last month another publisher, Luebbe Verlag, sent a letter reportedly announcing a reduction in standard royalties and a different split in other income in advance of any final court decision. As one agent explained, "It created a lot of unrest as it seemed to indicate that the publishers are ready to cave in." The recent FAZ article indicates that publishers are also exploring outsourcing translation work to Austria and Switzerland as one possible solution.

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Personal opinion? This stinks. How can translators justify getting more than the authors? (in some cases). They didn't create the book, they're just translating the words. Without the damn author, they wouldn't have words to translate in the first place, and then where would they be? Look, I'm all for people demanding and getting a decent living wage, but surely somewhere along the line, common sense has to come into it. Translators should not be getting more than the authors, plain and simple!

4 Comments:

Blogger Rachel Vincent said...

Oooh, I don't quite know what to think of this, but thanks for posting it. Until (and unless )I move beyond the hobby stage, I only get the free version.

7:15 AM, January 13, 2006  
Blogger Kez said...

tsk, tsk, Rachel. You've finished books, you have an agent. This writing business can no longer be considered a hobby for you. You are a writer, my dear! :)

But yeah, Publishers Lunch delux can be costly--which is why I didn't start paying for it until I got a decent income from my writing :)

7:26 AM, January 13, 2006  
Blogger Rachel Vincent said...

Oh, bless your heart! I think you're the first person who's ever said that to me.

Okay, I'm going to make the link to your site (from my blog) REALLY big. ;-)

4:13 PM, January 13, 2006  
Blogger TexasT said...

"How can translators justify getting more than the authors? (in some cases)."

In my opinion, translators shouldn't get more than the authors, but they should also not get less. With a translation, you have a situation of co-authorship: the original writer(s) as one party, the translator(s) as the other party. I think the only fair thing would be to split royalties equally between both parties.

"They didn't create the book, they're just translating the words."

Not every person who happens to know two languages can be a translator, just as not every person who knows one language can be a writer, and not every person who takes piano lessons can be a concert pianist.

As a translator who sometimes has spent two or three hours researching one term, I resent the implication that it's akin to "just typing the words" or that all we have to do is wave a magic wand and shazzam, it's translated and all we have to do is type it in. There's a lot more to translation than most people realize. If it were not so, machine translation, such as is offered by Systran and others, would give great results --after all, they've had decades to develop those programs.

It's common for typists to do 60 words per minute, which extrapolates to 3600 words per hour. Translation speed is much less. Depending on how well-written the text is, how convoluted the syntax, how many idioms it contains, how esoteric the terminology might be and other factors, normal translation speed, on the average, can vary from 250 to 400 or so words per hour. A professional translator can produce around 1500 to 2500 words per day, which is far less than a good typist can do in an hour.

Yes, production can be higher at times, but it's not a pace that can be sustained hour after hour or day after day. Production can also be higher if one is dealing with very repetitive text and one uses a CAT tool to do the work [CAT = Computer-Assisted Translation]. CAT tools allow the re-use of previously translated sentences and phrases, but a human is still required to make sure that it fits in the new context, and they're only useful with repetitive text, e.g. technical manuals and similar works.

Translation is not a case of word-for-word correspondence -- if it were, Systran and other such systems would shine and leave human translators in the dust.

"Without the damn author, they wouldn't have words to translate in the first place, and then where would they be?"

Well, to paraphrase you, "Without the damn translator, the authors wouldn't have their words translated in the first place so they could tap into other markets, and then where would they be?"

11:35 AM, January 20, 2006  

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