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:
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.
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!