Only 3% of fiction in English is translated, and Amazon is on a mission to change that

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Penguin Random House, one of the largest book publishers in the US, put out around 20 new fiction books translated into English this year. Amazon, a tech giant, put out about 60.

A project from the University of Rochester called “Three Percent” tracks translated fiction and poetry for adults published in the US. (Only 3% of books published are translations.) By its newly released count, AmazonCrossing, Amazon’s imprint for translated books, has seen a big uptick since 2013:

In 2014, AmazonCrossing surpassed all other US imprints and publishers in putting out translated fiction, and last year it published 75 translated books, 50 more than the next biggest publisher, Dalkey Archive. Galen Maynard, its associate publisher, says AmazonCrossing aims to publish between 60 and 100 titles annually over the next few years.

AmazonCrossing has a different approach from other publishing houses, which often focus on translating “literary” works. Most of its titles are in genre fiction, such as mystery and romance, which has commercial promise. One forthcoming title is P.S. from Paris, by French romance writer Marc Levy, whose books have sold 31 million copies worldwide. AmazonCrossing has also acquired The House by the River, by bestselling Greek author Lena Manta.

There is more fiction available today in translation in the US than in 2008, says Chad Post, who runs Three Percent. Despite that, he says, AmazonCrossing’s efforts haven’t moved the needle much on the 3%, as book production seems to be tracking along with the increase in translations.

Still, the imprint’s increasing elbow room in translated fiction could be a win not just for readers, but for translation overall. Last fall, AmazonCrossing announced it would put $10 million toward translating new works over the next five years. That’s a lot of books: A quality translation for an 80,000-word book can run about $12,000 on the upper end.

The large sum for translation also shows a commerce giant flexing its creative muscles: Earlier this month Amazon launched an experimental fiction app for kids, and elsewhere it’s looking more and more like a film studio.