My first ebook, Take Control of Upgrading to Panther, came out just over a year ago. It has sold incredibly well and received rave reviews; it’s also now available in printed form as part of Take Control of Panther: Volume 1. In addition, it’s the first one of my books to have been translated into other languages. The arrangement the publisher has is that any willing and able party may translate the text into their language of choice but with no money paid up front. The translated ebooks are sold at 150% of the cost of the English versions, so that author, translator, and publisher can all receive equal shares of the profits at the same rate as the original. In other words, a translation becomes worthwhile for the translator only if he or she does enough marketing, and sells enough copies, in the target country to justify the time spent.
The first translation to appear, back in February (four months after Panther’s release) was Japanese, of which a respectable (if not stunning) 181 copies have been sold so far. In June (release + eight months), a German translation appeared; it’s sold only 26 copies, meaning the translator received a paltry reward for his efforts. Amazingly, just last month—a full year after Panther came out—a Dutch translation was released. Total sold so far: 17.
As cool as it is to be able to say my work has been translated into three other languages, I really feel for these folks who have invested so much of their time for virtually no pay. And yet, the reason seems fairly obvious to me: by the time the German and Dutch translations had appeared, the vast majority of potential customers had undoubtedly already completed their upgrades to Panther, with no further need for a book to help them. As it is, I’m only selling about one or two copies a day of the English edition (down from hundreds a day in the first few weeks), because most Mac users who have not yet made the move to Panther are now more likely to wait for Tiger (Mac OS X 10.4), due out some time in the first half of 2005.
Computer books always have a relatively short shelf life, because the products they describe change so rapidly. Thus, any hopes of making significant money from a translation require that the work be done as rapidly as possible after the book’s release. There will of course be an English edition of Take Control of Upgrading to Tiger when the time comes, and though no one has said anything to me yet about translations of that book, I certainly hope that if they happen, they happen quickly. Not just for the sake of the translators, either, but for the sake of the readers!