Earlier this year, I discovered Babelcube, a translation service that pays translators by splitting royalties between the author, the translator, and the site itself. The royalty split idea is similar to that used by ACX, but rather than the 50/50 split that ACX uses, Babelcube employs a sliding scale (details here). The rights holder of the original book (generally the author or publisher) owns the copyright of the translated book, but Babelcube owns the distribution rights for the translated book for the first five years (measured from the “effective date” – the date the translation and distribution agreement is signed). Babelcube distributes to the large global retailers (Amazon, Apple, Kobo, etc), and to over 300 regional retailers.
I decided to put two books up on the site as a trial, though I didn’t really expect anything to come of it. When adding a book to Babelcube, the book text is uploaded as a Word file. A description of the book and author biography are also added via an online form (both of these are translated along with the book). It is also possible to add information about sales, rankings, etc to make the book more attractive to translators. The book text should not include a cover, title page or copyright page, as they are added later by Babelcube’s system. If the book is not available for translation into some languages (if it’s already been translated, for example), this can be specified.
Within a couple of weeks I had offers to translate A Damn Close-Run Thing into Italian and Spanish. As part of the process of adding books, I’d provided a short sample text, and the offers included a translation of this text. I don’t speak Italian or Spanish, so had no idea if the translation was good or not. However, a friend was able to take a look and didn’t find any problems. I also used Google and the links in the translators’ profiles on Babelcube to get some information about them. If they’ve already got translated books on Amazon or other book sites, it’s worth checking the reviews to see if they mention the quality of the translation. In my case, I accepted both offers. Once the translator confirms that they also accept the terms, a link to a signed copy of the translation and distribution agreement is sent by email. This includes the “effective date”, which is useful for determining when Babelcube’s exclusive distribution period ends.
The translator initially translates the first ten pages of the book, which is delivered as a Word document. If the rights-holder approves that translation, the rest of the book is translated and the rights-holder has the opportunity to approve the final translation. Comments can be included when approving a translation, which may be helpful for clarifying things, especially when approving the first ten pages. Note that some translators don’t translate the title until the end, when they have a better understanding of the text. In my case, there were a few minor issues caused by mis-understandings, but these were easily cleared up using Babelcube’s messaging system to communicate with the translator. In the case of the Spanish translation, a couple of sentences had to be edited slightly, so I provided the translator with a slightly edited version of the text to translate. Babelcube’s messaging system allows attachments, so this didn’t present any difficulties.
When the translation is approved, a “Publish book” button appears in the Translations tab on Babelcube. Publishing is a four-step, guided process. A translated cover image will be required (my cover designer provided this at no extra cost). The entry for publisher defaults to Babelcube, but something else can be specified if required. Babelcube adds standard text at the beginning and end of the book, and provides a Word file for checking. If necessary, this file can be edited (though the Babelcube text must remain), and can be re-uploaded as a Word or ePub file. Once the final ePub file is checked and approved, the price is specified (in US dollars). Babelcube recommend a price between $2.99 and $9.99, but will accept any price between $0.99 and $39.99.
As the book goes live at each major vendor (Amazon, Apple, B&N, and Kobo), Babelcube sends an email with a link to the book’s entry on that site. The book’s “Publishing status” page on the Translations tab is updated with links to the book in the major stores where it has been published. A “Book sales” link is added to the Translations tab, providing access to sales data. Sales are reported daily for most major retailers and monthly for the smaller retailers.
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