February 4, 2009, [MD]
I love seeing material in multiple languages, even languages I don't understand. As populations have become more diverse around the world, public libraries have risen to the challenge, and whether you visit the Public Library in Oslo, or in Toronto, they have wonderful collections of children and adult books (and often films, DVDs, magazines and newspapers as well) in a wide variety of languages. In Toronto it's fun going "branch shopping", since the library has something like 99 branches, and each branch tailors its material to the local population - thus you can see many Indian languages at the Gerrard branch, and Polish and Serbian at the Roncesvalles branch.
However, the big chain bookstores in Canada are anglo-only. If you visit a Chapters (pretty much the only chain bookstore in Canada), and ask for books in other languages, they'll show you the dictionary section. They don't have anything in French (in Toronto at least, maybe in Ottawa it's different), nor in Spanish or Chinese. Certainly, in the various Chinatowns there are great Chinese-language bookstores, but I always wondered - if you are successful Chinese lawyer living in a nice house in the suburbs, why is it that you have to drive downtown to Spadina (or to the huge Chinese mall in North York) to pick up the latest Hong Kong novel? Why can't you do it while taking your kids to a movie at the mall?
I've also noticed that US bookstores tend to carry more and more materials in Spanish. Of course, the Latinos in the US probably make up a bigger percentage as a single linguistic group (especially in the south) than any group does in for example Toronto (even the Chinese). In addition, at least for the Chinese, a lot of the second-generation kids cannot read Chinese, and there's the added complication of traditional vs. simplified characters. But still. Canada keeps thinking of itself as the fruit bowl and the US as the melting pot, but I wonder. As I've written about before, I found people much more confidently speaking different languages in New York than Toronto (anecdotally).
All this to say that I came across an interesting piece on books translated into English through Ethan Zuckerman's always excellent blog. It contains some very interesting news about the rise of Spanish publishing within the US, including the fact that El Código Da Vinci (The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown in Spanish) sold 300,000 copies. Here's an excerpt from the paper:
The Bilingual Publishing Trend in the US Spanish is the second most commonly used language in the US after English. According to the 2006 American Community Survey conducted by the US Census Bureau, Spanish is the primary language spoken at home by over 34 million people aged five or older. The US is home to more than 40 million Hispanics, making it the world’s fifth-largest Spanish-speaking community after Mexico, Colombia, Spain and Argentina.
A little over a decade ago, Spanish-language books occupied the smallest slice of shelf space at bookstores around the country. But the 2000 census and its revelations about the fast-growing Hispanic population sparked renewed interest among US publishing houses in meeting the reading wishes of Spanish speakers. Then came Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, which not only shot up the international charts but quickly became one of the best-selling translations into Spanish of all time. While successful Spanish-language titles in the US typically sell between 15,000 and 20,000 copies, more than 300,000 copies of El Código Da Vinci were scooped off bookstore shelves across the land, ushering in what some described as a new era for Spanish-language books in America.
Now publishers are starting to time the release of English and Spanish versions so they coincide. Best-selling translations have helped the book market overall by alerting readers to the broadening selection of Spanish titles available at their local bookstores.
That was when several major US publishers began establishing divisions to cultivate new Hispanic talent and focus on the sale of both Spanish-language books and English books geared for the Hispanic market. About that time, large chain booksellers began hiring Spanish book-buyers to study market demographics and expand their Libros en Español sections. Publishers from Spain were for many years the only players serving the Hispanic market. But now they are competing with US houses for new authors and translation rights.
The author goes on to say that perhaps the rise of e-book readers (which I have been experimenting with lately, with excellent results) will enable publishers to sell directly to customers abroad, for example Spanish and Latin-American publishers could set up websites marketed directly to the diasporas in the US. I personally would love to buy Chinese and Indonesian novels online, if they were in an open format (no DRM), and I could easily pay a reasonable price.
StianStian Håklev February 4, 2009 Toronto, Canada comments powered by Disqus