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Suppose I'm a local publisher. If I want to translate a book, print it and sell translated copies, how much should I propose to pay to the copyright holder? Is there some acceptable percentage of book price at Amazon to start with?

Here is an example: Suppose there is a book called How to Jump High which I would like to translate into Ukrainian. I expect to sell 1000 copies of this translation. I know that one can buy it for $100 on the Internet. How much should I propose to the copyright holder for such a license?

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    Welcome to Writing.SE Yola, and thanks for starting off with a terrific question. Do check out our tour and help center as needed. I'm a bit confused by your reference to Amazon. Are you publishing the book through your company or are you an individual who wishes to translate a book and then sell it online? Both are perfectly fine things to do, and both totally above board, given the conscientious way you're going about it, but they will generate different answers. – Cyn Sep 9 at 14:11
  • @Cyn I would like to acquire a license with which I will be allowed to the book into my own language and then sell this localized version. – Yola Sep 9 at 16:09
  • I hear you. As Mark points out, you're not getting the rights to translate it, you're getting the rights to republish it in a different market (those who speak Ukrainian). I edited your example a bit. Please make sure I got it right. You're planning to translate the book into Ukrainian, right? – Cyn Sep 10 at 14:38
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I think the issue of translation is largely beside the point here. What you are seeking is the right to publish the book in a new form for a new market, presumably one that the current publisher does not serve. So, for instance, if you wanted to publish this Ukrainian book in Spanish, you would be looking to license the Spanish language publishing rights, either in Spain or worldwide. The fact that you would have to do a translation in order to exercise those rights is orthogonal to that negotiation. What you are after is publication rights for a particular language/territory. Translation is your problem.

The next question is, who owns those rights now? The original copyright holder owned them all initially. The publisher of the Ukrainian version may have licensed all rights or only the Ukrainian language rights in the Ukraine. If they author kept the Spanish language rights, then you are going to have to negotiate with them or their agent. If the publisher licensed them, then their willingness to sublicense them to you will depend in part on their contract with the author.

Publishing contracts can be structured in many different ways, so I don't think anyone is going to be able to give you one number or percentage. You would probably be better off writing to the publisher and simply asking them if they are interested in sublicensing those rights and see what they say. If they are willing, then ask what kind of terms they are interested in and negotiate from there.

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After reading the edits and clarifications and other answers, my suggestion is that you approach this in a similar way to publishing a book in general.

Offer royalties on sales of the book plus an advance.

The way advances works is they're a guarantee of payment, not in addition to royalties. For example, if the advance is $500 and the author has made $1500 in royalties, you pay the $500 up front, then another $1000 over time. If the advance is $500 but the royalties only come out to $400, the author does not have to pay back any part of the advance.

1000 copies of a $100 book online is pretty ambitious (especially if that's in American dollars), but you know your market better than any of us. So let's assume that's reasonable. Out of that $100,000, you only get to keep a portion of it. You mentioned Amazon. Kindle Direct Publishing royalties for ebooks are 35% (with a 70% option if you meet their requirements). Royalty structure is a bit different for other Amazon platforms. If you're selling a print book, it looks like you get more like 25% of the retail price.

To keep the math clean, let's average this out to 50% of retail. Which means a total of $50,000 (again, this is a very high number, but you can replace it with better estimates as you research the market and figure out your publishing strategy).

Some standard royalties to authors are 10% of the retail price or 50% of the publisher's net. These do not calculate the same and there are a lot of "it depends." I've seen a pretty wide range here and some publishers really lowball authors (don't be one of those publishers).

I'm assuming you're doing the translation yourself as a creative endeavor and that you'll be compensated from sales of the book. If you're hiring a translator, then figure that in. So what are your expenses? You'll want a professional editor to go over the translation and there are some services for getting it into ebook format. If you are printing, either you use a print-on-demand service or you have (or are) a printer and have those expenses. Dont' forget postage. Just factor it all in. Do not count overhead or salaries for you or your staff (the reason you don't pay yourself as an expense is because you're going to profit from sales; you can't (shouldn't) do it both ways).

Let's assume your expenses are $6000 (that's high but this is an example) and that you're willing to split your profits 50-50 with the original author (if you have a lot of overhead and/or staff and/or are doing more than translation and reformatting, you might give the author less). That means you expect that you'll earn $22,000 and the author will earn $22,000.

You might want to offer the author a $2200 advance with a contract specifying royalties of 50% (or whatever) of your net. Do not under any circumstances promise any income beyond the advance. Include in your contract that you have the exclusive rights to publish in Ukrainian (make sure you have a lawyer look over the contract and get it just so).

This all assumes that the author is the copyright holder and has retained the rights to translate and republish in other languages. If any of that is not true, you will need to negotiate with the original publisher. If the book was traditionally published, there will be a contract and there will be a clause about translation and republishing.

Larger publishers probably have set fees and standard contracts. They may sell you the rights or they may wish to use you as a subcontractor, assuming they had no previous ability or intent to capture the Ukrainian market. Smaller publishers may have buy-out fees or may want royalties.

You may need to make separate agreements with the author and the original publisher. For example, you might pay the publisher a flat fee then give the author royalties. Remember the calculation for expenses? Fees to publishers go in there. If the publisher wants royalties they will (we hope) split them with the author.

Just be careful that you don't overpromise and that you don't pay fees or advancements you aren't very sure you will make back in sales. 1000 sales of a self-published ebook on Amazon in English is not easy to do. If you're an established publisher in the Ukraine (or in a Ukrainian-speaking community abroad), you'll have a good idea of the sales you can expect, both print and electronic. But if you're taking on the translation task and selling this yourself, you may find sales are a lot less than you hoped.

This is why it's better to offer royalties than a flat fee. It may cost you more if the book does really well. But you pay less upfront and won't lose as much if the book doesn't sell well.

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As far as I'm aware, generally translators are paid to do a translation (by number of words, pages, ...) by the copyright holder or the publisher who will then sell this translation.

This might depend on how big or successful the copyright holder is.

Edit:
As for the price(range) or percentage you should offer to the copyright holder, this would be heavily dependent on how popular the original book is, how popular the author is, how well it has already sold in its current language (also in the country for which you want to translate it), etc.

The only real objective way of determining an initial price to go into a discussion with the copyright holder that I see is finding out from other translators in similar situations what their price ranges are. This way you can get a feel for what their prices are based on and come up with your own baseline.

  • I would like to buy a license to translate a book. I need to know with what price should i start my offer. – Yola Sep 9 at 11:42
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    Welcome to Writing.SE Blub, glad you found us. We have a tour and help center we encourage you to check out. While your answer is internally correct, it doesn't actually address the OP's question, which was about paying the author (or copyright holder, if different) for the rights to translate and republish the book. Could you perhaps edit your answer to add that information? Thanks. – Cyn Sep 9 at 14:09
  • Hi @Cyn, I made an edit trying to answer a bit more on the price. Hopefully it is at least a little bit helpful but this will probably vary heavily from author to author.. – Blub Sep 10 at 11:32
  • Thanks for the edit. The OP is hoping that this forum would be a place to hear from other publishers or authors who have been in a similar situation. To have a starting point. – Cyn Sep 10 at 14:33
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This is a fairly 'inside business' sort of question. Are there other, similar, works out there (maybe by the same author, or the same genre at least)? It probably wouldn't be feasible to contact those publishers/translators (that's likely propriety legal information, plus you're a competitor), but you might be able to discover what they are charging for their books and what their Amazon sales are. That would give you a sense of what sort of profits to expect, and then budget accordingly.

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