"Frisch & Co." by EJ Van Lanen


Today we'd like to highlight the blog updated by Frisch & Co., a German publisher that specializes in contemporary literature translated into English and made available as electronic books. This publishing house was founded by EJ Van Lanen, who has edited many well known international authors for Ecco, Dalkey Archive Press and Open Letter Books, which he co-founded in 2007.

A couple of months ago, he posted a very comprehensive article about literary translations: Why I Publish Ebooks, or the Future of Literary Translation. It's a personal look that talks about his main motivations in making translated books available, and contrasts what the industry used to be like before the big shift in the publishing paradigm facilitated by digital books and self-publishing platforms.

The article also has a breakdown on translation costs following both the traditional setup (including printed books) and the new digital environment. According to EJ, large publishers are reluctant when it comes to investing in the book translation segment, as opposed to pursuing the next big thing coming from an author who writes in the native language of the target market.

"The large publishers have decided that publishing translations is a waste of time, effort, and money, leaving a gap that has been gamely filled by smaller publishers. Smaller publishers have limited financial resources, however, and publishing books, it turns out, is an expensive business."

Despite this bleak look, he proposes a different view for the future of literary translation, leveraging what electronic books have to offer in terms of savings with printing and distributing paper copies.

Since we’re publishing ebooks, there are no printing costs, and the distribution costs are only charged on a per-book basis—there are no up-front distribution costs. And we don’t have to ship the books to any bookstores, or reviewers, so this cost is also zero. This leaves a ‘profit’ of $3 per copy sold for the translator and publisher to split.

This arrangement actually is very beneficial to translators, because it includes them in the value chain, giving them some ownership of the work they helped to bring to light, instead of seeing translators only as service providers who perform a task and are no longer invested into it.

Thanks Mirna Soares Andrade for reminding us of this great blog post!