In July 2016, the UK voted to leave the EU in the (in)famous Brexit referendum. The Guardian recently reported that "British 'linguaphobia' has deepened since Brexit vote, say experts" (28 May 2018). In other words, the foreign language deficit in the UK has gotten worse since the Brexit vote. However, has the outcome of the Brexit referendum also had an impact on sales of foreign language literature, including translations, e.g. from French, Spanish, German etc.?
Has the Brexit referendum had a negative impact on sales of foreign-language literature in the UK?
Before Brexit, sales of European and international authors had increased in the UK: Paula Erizanu wrote in September 2016,
according to Nielsen, which undertook research for the International Man Booker prize this year, the number of translated books bought in Britain increased by an astounding 96% between 2001 and 2015. Translated fiction sells better, overall, than English literary fiction and made up 7% of all UK fiction sales in 2015.
The increase looks impressive, but Erizanu adds that "only 1.5% of all books published in the UK are translations", which is a considerably lower percentage than the book market for translations in Germany (12.28%), France (15.9%) or Italy (19.7%).
Blogger Ann Morgan, who read one book from each of the world's independent countries in 2012, said that
at school in the UK we don’t really read translations, we just don’t develop that habit.
The above article was published in September 2016 but was based on data that predate the referendum. So what happened after the referendum?
According to Alison Flood, who consulted research commissioned by the Man Booker International,
overall sales of translated fiction in the UK were up last year  by 5.5%, with more than 2.6m books sold, worth £20.7m – the highest level since Nielsen began to track sales in 2001.
French literature accounted for 17% of these sales; Leïla Slimani's novel Lullaby alone was sold around 100,000 times.
Other literatures were often represented by authors that sold particularly well, for example, Jo Nesbø (Norwegian literature), Jonas Jonasson (Swedish literature), Olga Tokarczuk and Andrzej Sapkowski (Polish literature) and Liu Cixin (Chinese literature). (Porter's article for Publishing Perspectives contains a list of the top 20 translated fiction works sold in the UK in 2018.)
Anderson Porter's article also mentions that there was a significant growth in sales of translated short stories and anthologies between 2017 and 2018, i.e. 96 %.
Flood's article concludes with a comment by Charlotte Collins, co-chair of the Translators Association, who said that
the amount of international fiction now available for sale in the UK has almost doubled in recent years, now accounting for 5.63% of all published fiction.
Apparently, Brexit has had no negative impact on sales of foreign-language literature in the UK. (Since this trend already existed before the Brexit referendum, I don't see a causal relationship, though.)
- Carr, Lucie: "The boom in translated texts", The Boar, 24.03.2019.
- Erizanu, Paula: "Translated book sales are up, but Britain is still cut off from foreign literature", The Guardian, 30.09.2016.
- Flood, Alison: "Translated fiction enjoys sales boom as UK readers flock to European authors", The Guardian, 06.03.2019.
- Porter, Anderson: "Nielsen Reports Translated Literature in the UK Grew 5.5 Percent in 2018", Publishing Perspectives, 06.03.2019.