The Three Percent Problem

So Three Percent, the great website and blog devoted to literature in translation and the travails of publishing it, is now four. Happy birthday! As readers of this blog probably already know, 3% is the estimated average percentage of books sold in the U.S. that are works in translation (as opposed to the 30% – 60% typical in Europe, for example). Three Percent is the brainchild of Chad Post (founder and publisher of Open Letter Books), who used to write all the content on the site himself; but now an entire host of bloggers and reviewers have added their voices, making it one of the best single sources of information about publishing literature in translation in this country. Chad is also the mastermind of the Best Translated Book Award, which honors two translated books each year – poetry and fiction – with cash prizes to both translator and author.

Today marks the release of the Big Book of Three Percent (my title), an e-book which is officially being sold under the title The Three Percent Problem: Rants and Responses on Publishing, Translation, and the Future of Reading. This volume collects the best of Chad’s posts arranged so as to provide, in the words of the official press release, “an introduction to the contemporary publishing world. Ranging from pieces about the economics of publishing literature in translation, to explanation of the very different publishing scenes found in different countries, to profiles of translators, to mini-rants about book marketing, technology, and 99 cent ebooks, The Three Percent Problem is kind of like Andre Schiffrin’s The Business of Books, but with more swearing (and jokes).”
That sounded good to me, as did the $2.99 price tag. I don’t own an e-book reader, so I downloaded Amazon’s free “Kindle for Mac” software to be able to read (browse, dip into) the book on my computer. They offer this softwarefor PCs and several other devices as well, for what it’s worth.
Today is an especially good day to buy this book, since Chad is hoping that a quick rush of sales will bump the book’s Amazon ratings up to the point where it will get noticed by people who aren’t already interested in translation – meaning, I would say, people who don’t yet realize they are interested in translation. In my experience, most people do tend to find the subject at least mildly mind-blowing once they start thinking about it.
Chad notes that, as an added bonus, 100% of the proceeds from the sale of this book “will go directly to paying translators.” Now, I can’t help finding this a tricky way of putting things, particularly as the subject line of the promotional e-mail he sent around reads “Help Support Translators.” It’s not as if the money from the sale of this e-book is going into a special welfare fund for downtrodden multilinguals; rather, the proceeds will no doubt go toward paying honoraria to translators employed by Open Letter Books, which would be contractually obliged to pay them for their work in any case. In other words, the money is in fact going to the publisher. But of course this claim about where the money is going does implicitly make the quite valid point that literature can’t get translated unless publishers can pay translators, and to do this they need to sell books. Such as this one. Which I would say, based on my long-time enjoyment of Chad’s informative posts on Three Percent, will be an important reference work to have kicking around your garret, for whenever you need the inside scoop on how this or that part of the publishing world works. Above all the translation publishing world. Including the dirt. And at $2.99 it’s cheaper than a latte. I just bought one. Would you do the same?

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