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Translation Project Impact Study

Summary of results from Bulgaria, Lithuania and Ukraine
Saturday 19 February 2005


Translation Project (TP) is a network program of Soros Foundations since 1995. Its twofold goal, as articulated in the OSI strategy is:

-  to make available certain number of translations crucial for the transformation of the higher education in humanities and social sciences and - in a broader sense - to contribute to the multiplicity of languages in which people think about their society in the newly emerging democracies in the region;
-  to support the growth of independent and sustainable publishing sector;

Within those three general goals, all countries participating in the project are developing national strategies tailored according to the local needs and the priorities of the respective national foundation. Project priorities are generally defined having in mind local publishing and translation capacities, budget constrains, traditions in academic translations, etc.

The three impact studies summarized below are conducted in the period April 2002-January 2003 in Bulgaria, Lithuania and Ukraine by local researchers and Soros foundations’ staff, under the guidance of Next Page Foundation. The studies’ major aim is to answer the question to what extent the project had fulfilled the above goals. In what sense it had or had not influenced the politics of translations? Could it claim to have produced any significant change in education, in publishing, in opening the academia? Are its mechanisms and procedures appropriate for the project’s goals?

At the time the studies have started, a complimentary aim was to provide recommendations for the future development of the project. With the OSI decision, however, to discontinue the project in 2003, this goal was realized only partially, with short-term recommendations being provided at the end of the studies.

A fully comprehensive study of the impact of translations would "map" the whole field of translations and academia in the last years without confining it to foundational support thus allowing a clearer picture of the context and the role of Translation Project in it to be drawn. Due to its limited resources, though, the current study was restricted to two major areas:

1. evaluating the impact of books supported with view of the academia, readers’ demand, broader audiences’ response;

2. evaluating the impact on the publishing sector and translation capacities.

Research in the 3 countries followed a single model only in very general terms – scale, methodology and emphasis differ significantly. Despite that, certain methodological tools common for the three (publishing sector statistics, bibliographical data, questionnaires, in-depth interviews, citation indexes, sales reports, etc.) allow for comparisons and generalizations to be made without the risk of manipulating the data.

Here is a table with basic information about the project:

country period supported titles published titles total budget for grants (in USD)
Bulgaria 1996 -2001 125 84 402 432
Lithuania 1992-2001 259 NA app. 1 842 707
Ukraine 1998-2001 331 143 1 054 302

TP continues functioning beyond 2001 but the study covers only the periods indicated above.

Summary of major results

I. TP and the publishing industry

The fall of communism brought about a great boom in publishing of both translation and original works. In the last 5-6 years, however, both in Bulgaria and Ukraine the number of translations of all genres decreases (it is 5 % at the moment in Ukraine, in Bulgaria it dropped down from 35 % in 1995 to 28 % of all books in 2000) but at the same time non-fiction books increase as percentage of all translations published annually. In Lithuania the opposite tendency is observed: production of translations is growing steadily, from 3.9% of all books in 1990 to 11% in 1999.

Due to the strikingly low number of translations published in Ukraine, OSI-supported titles form a significant part of all translations in the country – 15 % and thus influence the field significantly.

Analysis of sales data and interviews prove the intuition that publishing translations of non-fiction is still a highly risky business which is bringing low revenues. In Bulgaria, for example, non-fiction literature forms up to 30 % of the production, the revenue is up to 5 % of their total revenue. For Ukrainian publishers for whom non-fiction is 3-10 % of their total production, it brings only from 2% to 5 % of their total revenue.

On the overall, translations of non-fiction have a slow turnover. Sales report show that 60% of the print run in Ukraine is sold in the first year after the publication and 100% - in 3 years period while in Bulgaria and Lithuania this period is longer – up to 5-6 years (with extremes up to 8 years in Lithuania). Thus, second editions are rare – only 3 titles from 143 in Ukraine and 1 from 84 in Bulgaria. Still, 38 % of the publishers claim that they make profit from sales of the supported books.

Different level of outside funding is declared as an absolute condition for continuing publishing translations in humanities by all publishers. Ukrainian publishers usually look for funding even for publications with commercial potential. Provided that Translation project ceases to exist 95 % of the Bulgarian publishers interviewed will choose either to simply stop working on such titles or look for alternative funding sources. Only 5 % declare that they would invest in more commercial publications in order to cross-subsidize translations in humanities. At the same time, in Bulgaria the top 20 publishers in humanities receive support from various donors for only 25 % of their annual production. There is no sufficient data, however, to help interpret this finding. One possibility is that individual grants for only ¼ of the publishers’ list effectively and indirectly support the overall viable functioning of the house and facilitates financial planning. A more problematic assumption is that subsidies are used directly to cover costs of the whole publishers’ lists.

The only 2 commercially viable publishers taking advantage of TP grants in Bulgaria stress that participation in the project contributes to their public image and helps them to establish contacts with publishers and academics both internationally and at home.

Translation Project is positively the biggest grant-giving program in the field of translations in social sciences and humanities. Other major donors include governmental agencies for promotion of a national culture (e.g. Goethe Institute/Internaciones, French Cultural Center, KulturKontakt, American Cultural Center), national governments (Ministry of Culture) or international bodies (Fund for Central and East European Book Projects – Amsterdam). Apart of the scale of funding, a major general difference between TP and those other programs is that more often than not there are fluctuations in those programs’ strategies and implementation techniques while TP carries out a continuity of its strategic goals throughout the years. TP is also the only program (with the exception of CEEBP) whose mechanisms of support actively promote a market-oriented approach.

In each of the three countries, the project greatly contributed in raising professional standards in publishing. TP-supported titles have higher than average quality of translation and editing. In Ukraine, where the development of a tradition of translation is a program priority, the project has also parallel activities (translators’ workshops, discussions) to advance this goal. Furthermore, the project encourages young translators – about 20% previously unknown names take part in the competition annually. Bulgarian publishers stress that the project’s grants allow them to pay higher that average fees for translation and editing – provided that translation fees are ridiculously low and do not allow for a translator to make a leaving out of his/her work, this provides an incentive for quality translators and editors to stay in the profession. The project also promoted a culture of respect of copyright and raising standards of business operations.

Publishers view the project as an “eye-opener” for the world publishing scene – the lists of recommendations help them to get reliable information on current quality titles and tendencies in humanities publishing. They also stress that the project was helpful in encouraging active and diverse marketing strategies and in linking publishers with academics.

61% of the publishers in Bulgaria pointed that print-runs of the supported books is higher then the average thus allowing for the book to be available at the market for a longer period.

II. Audiences: transformation of higher education and general audience

Effective transformation of higher education in humanities and social sciences in Central and Eastern Europe required much more than availability of translations – it required legal changes, new approaches to teaching and new institutional culture. However, without free access to key texts in one’s own language for students and professors alike changes in the curriculum are hardly possible. All interviewees and other data support the claim that the project strongly influenced the processes of transformation in higher education. The degree and the forms of this influence vary in the different countries. While in Bulgaria, the most tangible impact is observed in the departments of Sociology, Cultural Studies and Philosophy, in Lithuania it was detected in Communication Faculty where Political studies, Journalism and International Relations are taught. Supported books are widely used in courses preparation but are also strongly presented in universities’ reading lists – they form an average of 40 % of all titles in the reading lists of 11 disciplines in Sofia University; the figure is also 40 % in Ukraine while this percentage is only 8,4 % in Lithuania. Surprisingly, answers of the professors in the same faculties in Lithuania contradict the results of the reading lists’ analysis – they claim to recommend more than half of the books in their reading lists. On the overall, Lithuanian TP books are more often quoted in bachelor degree thesis than in master degree thesis.

The usage of translations in general varies enormously between different faculties in Bulgarian universities. Students and professors in, say, economics read predominantly in original - 95 % of the books, textbooks and articles in their reading lists are in English or other Western language while in Philosophy, Cultural Studies and Sociology up to 70 % of the books are translations. Consequently, students in those departments are mostly using TP-supported books: 66% of them claim that the availability of those translations had influenced the choice of topics for their writings (course works, MA and BA thesis, etc.) and academic interests. This data is confirmed by statistics of quotation in the thesises.

The above differences, of course, reflect not only the different dynamics of the project development but also the diversity of the higher education system in the 3 countries.

A major impact of the project, most often pointed to by the respondents from all of the 3 countries is the fact that due to the project’s translations new concepts in humanities and social sciences are introduced in the academia and become an integral part of the “academic landscape” and the local language. At the same time, this claim is difficult to prove as a quotation index survey shows that only 36 from all 83 titles published so far were quoted in Bulgarian books and periodicals. The average index of quotation is 3,5 quotations per title. Anderson’s Imagined Communities holds the first place in quotations, followed by Kissinger’s Diplomacy and Dahrendorf’s The Modern Social Conflict. However, the study cannot cover Bulgarian university textbooks which as a rule are published without bibliography (!).

Furthermore, supported books influence decision- and opinion-makers such as politicians, experts on cultural, social and political issues, media and NGOs. An interesting example for such indirect influence is the wide usage of TP-supported books as theoretical ground for numerous sociological studies which form the ground for policy actions. Another example mentioned in interviews is that a more complex understanding of political concepts such as “left’/”right”, “liberalism”, etc. have started being used in Bulgarian public debate after the publication of authors such as Hayek, Bobbio or Dahrendorf. Those have indisputably also influenced much more the politically active NGOs in the country than the academia.

TP-supported books in the 3 countries are highly covered by electronic and printed media, not only professional one. All publishers in Bulgaria, however, stress that media advertisement does not have direct effect on sales. The study in Ukraine shows that there is a lack of well targeted strategy and promotion in academia. On the contrary, the results from Bulgaria and Lithuania confirm that the academia is identified as the most important target group and the publishers promote their books through relations with professors, university libraries, and direct contact with students. While the titles supported are widely known, the project itself lacks visibility, at least in Bulgaria: as many as 80 % of nearly 300 students do not recognize the name and the logo of Translation project.

Distribution of TP-supported books faces all the drawbacks of the distribution systems in the 3 countries. Lithuanian project is the only one which chooses to distribute significant number of copies (300) for free by donating them to libraries. Ukrainian study does not focus specially on distribution, but points that a survey at bookshops proves that in 2001 the only bestselling books in humanities are philosophy titles in Russian translation. The Bulgarian study also provides some thought-provoking results. All publishers admit that the appearance of new bookshops in the capital is a positive development which for the first time allow for the books to be on the market for a longer period and for publishers to get in-time payments. In fact all of them sale in the same 5-6 bookshops, with “Nisim” bookshop occupying the absolute first place due to its professional staff. While number of bookshops is increasing, however, there is a gradual decrease in print runs: from 1000-1500 in 1997 to 700-1000 in 2001. There is almost no distribution in the country: the few sales there are made by direct orderers or during the promotion trips of publishers.

Reading in libraries still seem to be the most popular way of accessing the books - research on libraries demonstrates that the readers demand for TP-supported books exceeds the average demand for titles of this kind. In Bulgaria the supported titles are read, borrowed and photocopied more often than the average readers’ demand. Titles in cultural studies, sociology and philosophy are more requested than the others - those disciplines are the predominant in the list of supported titles as well.

Ukrainian data is even more remarkable: for 16 weeks period there were 9 001 queries of the books. Again, books in philosophy (26.4 %), cultural theory (20%), political history (12.6%) and history (12.4%) are mostly asked for.

III. Project development and project management

-  Disciplines

The ratio between titles from different disciplines remains relatively steady throughout the years of the project implementation. In Bulgaria titles in political science and political theory are the most popular (18 % of all titles supported); in Lithuania the lead is taken by philosophy titles (22%) and by cultural studies and sociology (25 %) in Ukraine. In Ukraine and Lithuania, both analyses of the applications versus approved grants as well as interviews demonstrate a clear tendency of the decision-takers in promoting certain issues so that almost all applications in philosophy, sociology, cultural studies and on civil society issues receive grants.

The program promotes contemporary tendencies in social sciences and humanities by supporting titles originally published after the 70s: The percentage of the contemporary titles is high (average 65 % in Bulgaria and 77% in Ukraine) and is increasing during the years. In 2002 the titles supported in Bulgaria are exclusively contemporary.

The lists of recommended titles in Bulgaria are used more as guiding framework than as an obligation concerning the approval of application. The numbers and the percentage of the submitted applications from the lists is decreasing and for the last two years more than 45% of the submitted and more than 60% of the supported are out of the lists, without being out of the disciplines’ priorities of the program.

-  Applicants

Interest in the project’s competition is permanent and often growing year after year: in Ukraine on the average only 40 % of all applications are supported, in Bulgaria the figure is above 50 %.

The studies show that while in Lithuania “the number of applying publishing houses is stable”, in Ukraine and Bulgaria the project actively seeks to diversify the publishers it cooperates with by supporting 13 % (Ukraine) and 16 % (Bulgaria) previously unsupported publishers each year. Further, the Bulgarian board takes a deliberate decision not to grant more than 2 titles to one publisher per year. Notably, the project in Ukraine makes systematic efforts to promote decentralization of the industry – only 60% of supported publishers are from Kiev.

-  Unit grant levels

Average grant amounts as well as percentage of the grant from the total publishing costs decrease steadily over the years in all of the three countries: in Bulgaria and Ukraine the decrease is almost 50 % since 1996. No concrete figures from Lithuania can be quoted as data is highly controversial but the tendency of decreasing grants is present there as well.

-  Management

Project staff in the 3 countries evaluates the project as one of the most successful projects of their foundations. The staff points that the major obstacle for better project implementation is the inability of the publishers to meet their contract obligations in terms of publication dead-lines and proper reporting.

In Bulgaria, both successful and unsuccessful applicants alike declare that procedures of the competition are transparent and the criteria is clear while focus-groups interviews in Lithuania claim lack of clear criteria in decision-taking.

Both grantees and board members evaluate highly the work of the project staff in terms of efficiency, professionalism, correctness and equivalent treatment (Bulgaria) and quick information delivery, communication skills, efficiency and transparency (Ukraine). Ukraine is a notable example of a high level of synergy between the publishing program and other foundational programs, hardly visible from the studies in the other two countries.

-  Conclusions

Whereas the cliché that “a book can change your life” is still intuitively acknowledged, the extend to which certain books have (not) changed somebody’s life or a society’s life is difficult to measure. The studies summarized above attempt to overcome this very difficulty by trying to grasp indicators on how Translation project alters the contemporary life of the East European societies. This attempt is and can be only partially successful when it comes to measuring such a complex systems.

The three studies demonstrate that book market, academia, public life and the national language would have been much poorer had a project such as TP had not been put into practice. The project contributed to improvement of quality of education and in promoting critical thinking. In the context of increasing commodification of culture, domination of mass-media and decreasing social standing of any intellectual activities, the project has endorsed reflexive thinking and has introduced key concepts and ways for looking at social issues.

The studies do not provide for evidences on how academic publishing would look like had the project did not exist. Fluctuations in the economies of countries in a never-ending transition severely affect readers’ purchase power, publishing-related taxation, prices, etc. so the project’s intention to contribute to publishers’ sustainability is often neutralized or undermined by factors from the bigger economic picture.

Results of the TP impact studies from Bulgaria, Lithuania and Ukraine and the lessons learned in the project’s 7-years of history are a valuable source of information for anybody interested in East European publishing, book support or translations. Full-texts of the studies are available at Next Page Foundation upon request.

Translation Project impact study was carried out by:

-  in Lithuania: by Arunas Poviliunas, Julija Zinkeviciene and Remigijus Misiunas
-  in Ukraine: team of researchers under the supervision of the project coordinator Irina Kuchma
-  in Bulgaria: consulted by Prof. Petya Kabakchieva, implemented by team of students from the Theory and History of Culture Department at Sofia University and Mr Kaloyan Haralampiev, under the supervision of the project coordinator Sofiya Zahova and the director of Next Page Foundation Yana Genova