Translation Project Impact Study: Summary of results from Bulgaria, Lithuania and Ukraine
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 these 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.
The Translation Project study was conducted in the period April 2002 - January 2003 in Bulgaria, Lithuania and Ukraine.
Project's major areas are:
- Evaluating the impact of books supported with view of the academia, readers’ demand, broader audiences’ response;
- Evaluating the impact on the publishing sector and translation capacities.
The research followed a single model in the 3 countries. Scale, methodology and emphasis, however, differ significantly.
Summary of major results
I. The Translation Project and the publishing industry
- 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. Only 5% of Bulgarian publishers declare that they would invest in more commercial publications in order to cross-subsidize translations in humanities.
- 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).
- 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.
- The project encourages young translators – about 20% previously unknown names take part in the competition annually. The project also promoted a culture of respect of copyright and raising standards of business operations.
- Publishers view the project as an eye-opener to 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.
II. Audiences: transformation of higher education and general audience
- All interviewees and other data support the claim that the project strongly influenced the processes of transformation in higher education, as supported books are widely used in courses preparation but are also strongly presented in universities’ reading lists.
- A major impact of the project pointed out by the respondents from the 3 countries is the fact 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
III. Project development and project management
The program promotes contemporary tendencies in social sciences and humanities by supporting titles originally published after the 70's: 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Full-texts of the studies are available at Next Page Foundation upon request.
- The three studies demonstrate that book market, academia, public life and the national language would have been much poorer if 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.
- 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.
Translation Project impact study was carried out by:
- in Lithuania: by Arunas Poviliunas, Julija Zinkeviciene and Remigijus Misiunas
- 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