Italian books translated in the USA & the 3% issue

I have always had this habit of reading English books in Italian and then reading the same book in the original version. I like taking notes on how I would have translated a word or a concept, as well as recording effective translations. This is why I decided to become a translator. The magic of translating is making a text available in another language so that other people can enjoy the same experience.

And this is the problem. In the American Publishing market, an estimate says that only 3% of the total number of  published books are a translation. This figure is taken from the well-known website Threepercent, created by Rochester College, NY, to establish a database to keep track of all the (adult fiction and poetry) books translated in America from foreign languages.

What is the consequence of this 3%? No space to outsider voices is given in a self-defined “saturated market.” In many ways the literary world is “disappearing from the map because of English (and American) publishers’ resistance to books from other countries,” quoting from “Lost:Translation”, the discouraging article from the The Guardian.


The chart below is taken from the database of Rochester University. If you are intrigued to know more about which titles are translated in America, you can have fun playing around with statistics available from January 2008 and finding data about who is publishing who, when, who is translating. All in Excel format.

More statistics on non-fiction books translated in America can be found at Index Translotium, an on line database by the Unesco for all the languages of the world.

So, this is my snapshot of the translated fiction books in 2014.

Translated books in America
Snapshot of translated books in America in 2014

Yes, of all the titles published in America last year, only 34 have the Italian Accent, which is roughly a 5.7% of all the translated titles. The biggest player is France followed by Germany. After a big gap, here it comes Italy. My personal reading of the results? Money and Politics…If you want to promote your culture, you need a government with a long-term goal and money to invest in translations…Yep!


Now, with a close-up look, we can see that Surprise! Surprise! The trend is positive. Yes, still 34 titles is nothing if we think of all the talented authors we have in Italy. Though, something is changing and maybe the “Elena Ferrante effect,” so popular in America to gain a 4-page-long article on the New York Times, is paving the way for a brighter future for our literature.

Chart representing the trend of Italian titles translated in America since 2008
Trend of Italian titles translated in America since 2008


What is missing from the statistics of Italian translated books? I have to tell you that the first books in English that I read to my sons when we moved to America, were from the Geronimo Stilton series. Nobody knew they were translated from Italian, but us. Or those who carefully read the third page. So, where are the statistics for Italian children’s literature translated into English? Is really Geronimo Stilton the exception, the only national pride in its field? I really believe John Green is a great author and I personally like American Children’s and YA literature. Only I would like to read other “Geronimo Stiltons” out there. I am sure more thoughts will come out after this post.

Italian and American versions of Geronimo Stilton
Italian and American versions of Geronimo Stilton

3 thoughts on “Italian books translated in the USA & the 3% issue

  1. Very interesting and I understand your focus but would have liked to have seen a more complete breakdown of translations. Thinking about which non-poetry books I have read in translation, in the past 12months, I’d have to include Portuguese (Saramago), Chinese (Ellen Chang) and Russian (Chekov, Pushkin).
    I also read Deledda “After the Divorce” last year and have “Reeds in the Wind” on order. I”d love to see your thoughts on this writer and apparently her self-translation from Nuorese to Italian.


    1. Ciao! I will be writing more about translations and which titles and authors entered the American market. As I said, 3% only tracks a certain genre and public. I am doing my research to up-date the database of Italian translated books. As for Deledda, I haven’t read much of her. But sounds interesting the Nuorese/Italian translation! Thanks for the info…I’m checking it out.


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