Translation rights
July 23, 2011 10:33 AM   Subscribe

Is there an industry standard royalty rate for translation rights?

I am trying to obtain permission to publish a new English translation of a short foreign-language novel. My financial resources do not allow a one-time buyout fee, so this would have to be a royalty-based arrangement.

What might be a fair royalty rate, as a percentage of wholesale price for a print title? What about an e-book version, as a percentage of net proceeds? The title in question is a classic novel, published sometime in the previous century, and not very popular. I am interested in non-exclusive, limited territory rights.

Anonymous because Mefi account can be linked to my company.
posted by anonymous to Writing & Language (1 answer total)
It depends to some extent, but I think you'd need to budget initially for between 8-12.5% of the published price as royalties for sales within the home market. (see disclaimer below)

I think you'll be lucky to get a publisher to agree that all the royalties were going to be based on net receipts: they'd be concerned you'd sell the books off cheap and they'd not get much from the deal. If it's a non-exclusive deal then there may be an additional problem of paying less royalties (and/or potentially being able to undercut) the other English edition(s).

The publisher will almost certainly expect an advance. Naturally it would be in your interest to negotiate the advance as small as possible, otherwise you're bearing more risk if the book doesn't sell well/quickly.

If this work is being published 'for the love of great obscure literature' as opposed to 'for your huge filthy profits', then you may find the publisher more reasonable and settle for a rate nearer the bottom of the range I quoted above.

Are the author/descendants still alive? Would they be keen to see a new English language edition? If so you could also try to get them on your side, this could be your trump card if the publisher were being stubborn about the financial aspects of the deal.

Big disclaimer: I've worked in a few different large UK publishers, but I haven't been in that business for 10yrs, I'm not sure things have changed except I have no idea about e-books. I can't ever remember dealing with a non-exclusive new translation either.
posted by selton at 2:32 PM on July 23, 2011

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