Translate Your Book With Babelcube – Guest Post by Russell Phillips

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.

DCRT-ESI 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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23 Comments on "Translate Your Book With Babelcube – Guest Post by Russell Phillips"

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  1. I like the business model here. Thank you for sharing, Russell. I think the big question everyone wants to know is if sales are happening?

    • I June, I had one book translated into one language. Translations accounted for 2% of total sales.

      In July, my first book was translated into a second language. Translations accounted for 9% of total sales for that book. A second book was translated into one language, and translations accounted for 5% of total sales for that book.

      So yes, sales are happening, but this is still very early, so I have no idea if those are indicative of how sales will be in the longer term.

  2. Erin Sands says:

    I had a very NEGATIVE experience with Babelcube.
    They advertise that they do distribution in China but this is NOT true. When I spoke with Mark, the representative or founder of Babelcube and i asked him simple pointed matter of fact questions about distribution in China he could NOT answer simple questions like where do they get the ISBN number from? Was it Beijing, which is basically the only place you can get an approved ISBN number to distribute in China because content is so policed there. When I asked Mark who were the distribution retailers in China he initially did not know and then told me, Media Corp. I contacted Media Corp and they told me blatantly in writing that they DO NOT distribute ebooks in China and had no plans to do so. When I contacted Mark to point out the disparity and ask him quite frankly why the company could not answer a simple question and when they did answer it turned out to be a lie, he went radio silent on me. WRITER BEWARE. Babelcube is not an honest company who does what they advertise to do.

  3. Geraldine says:

    Do they give you discount if you order print copies? Did you make your cover similar to your English version?

  4. For me this is a dream come true, I made this kind of translating offers to some translators, that is to split the revenues and they never came back to me. I uploaded three of my books and in one week I had a translator into English. There is a very positive side to the fact that the translator chooses the book he is willing to translate and already knows the author´s work. I believe this is much better than a publisher sending a book to a translator who knows nothing about the author´s work and the translator taking the job because he nees the dow (I know that. I was on the side of the translator a few times). I believe a lot of good unexpected things will come out of this venture.

    The splitting of revenues is in my opinion very fair to all sides.

  5. I asked Babelcue about print copies, they are working on a POD program and from what they said pretty soon it will be available, a matter of months.

    Indeed this is a down side of the whole project because they hold all the distribution rights for 5 years, electrnic and printed.

  6. Lidia Capone says:

    My opinion with Babelcube as translator: the translation and publishing process are OK, but sales … oh my God! I’ve translated 4 books from June to December and in the meantime their sales didn’t even reach 20 copies globally (and books have very good sales in their original language). At this rate my whole work wil never be repaid! IMHO spreading the news through social networks is not a winning marketing strategy, I really hope Babelcube will improve it, otherwise – much to my regret – I think I’m not going to use them to find translation assignments in the future.

    • Lise Alain says:

      Hi Lidia! Thank you for sharing your side of the story. What’s your language pair? Feel free to contact us at LAT Multilingual for assignments. We are always looking for experienced freelance translators.

  7. Lislaine says:

    I have to agree with Lidia! Unfortunately, selling a book through 300 different websites is not enough to promote it. I think Babelcube could work better on that, maybe spreading the word when a translation is finished and sharing the book cover through its blog/fb/twitter accounts.
    Regarding the printed books, I think they started doing it in the beginning of this year. However, this option is only available through Amazon – and only the American one. So far it seems quite pointless if the original book was already in English.
    Anyway, I still think it’s a good platform – at least good practice for us translators 😉

  8. Lidia Capone says:

    @Lise: Sorry to get back so late: my language pairs are EN>IT and DE>IT. Thanks for asking! 🙂
    @Lislaine: Regarding the paperback feature, books can be purchased on any Amazon site, I could buy a couple of ‘my’ books on and they were printed in Germany, I suppose they have (or simply use) some print shops scattered around the world, the only problem is that – apart from the cover – the printing process is only b/w, printed children books (like mine) have quite a poor look. Besides, books are printed ‘on demand’, so the delivery times are twice or three times longer than standard times.

  9. I had an experience quite similar to Lidia’s: lots of promises, very few sales to back them up (and those have come from books by international bestselling authors). Not to mention a near total lack of transparency from Babelcube, who refuses to show any sales statement from the retailers and in general cannot answer basic questions.

    The real problem with revenue sharing in general is that the translator takes all the risk (if the book doesn’t sell, we don’t get paid for our work, while the author, who didn’t invest anything, doesn’t lose anything). That’s not a partnership, as Babelcube claims, but pro bono work.

    Also, I think that nobody mentioned how Babelcube forces translators to sign a contract in which they promise to market the book. Translators aren’t marketers and shouldn’t be expected to act like marketeres (for no extra pay, on top of that). Also, chances are that marketing done by someone who has no training isn’t going to be very effective.

  10. My opinion on Babelcube is not so good. Due to my job as an Italian book promoter, I receive many books translated into Italian with Babelcube. I found many mistakes in these translations, typing mistakes, the most of times. Sometimes, I found myself to read bad translations into Italian. Book translation is a paid service and freelance translators who work for free can’t do an additional job of editing of a translated book. For a good translation, translators must be paid! Only quality translations can assure literary success. Babelcube is useful to get free literary translations, but not to sell quality books internationally. I hope my experience will be useful to understand that the hard job of translators and authors must be paid upfront and not with revenue sharing!

  11. Chris Ward says:

    Thanks for this blog post, I found it pretty useful. I’m trying to get into Babelcube, after hearing about it on a writer’s podcast. I appreciate that its a far better deal for writers than translators, and pretty much everything I’ve read from a translator’s standpoint has been negative. From my viewpoint, I’m interested because the service exists, but I would advise translators to choose carefully. Also, I’m seeing a lot of translator profiles that actually advertise pay-for rates when you click on them, and have even been contacted a couple of times by people willing to do the royalty share on top of a bonus private payment.

  12. I think some of the points mentioned here are worth merit. Why not have the best of both worlds? It seems like authors could benefit from using a service like Babelcube to translate the book and then have a freelance human translator read it over and fix an aggregious errors. Perhaps this could even be something that Babelfish offers — a freelance translator service for an additional fee.

  13. I have 3 books ( I did have 5 but have taken them down) on babelcube, and I have had one finished and corrected by a professional, I am glad I did, it was riddled with mistakes… (Italian) I have been trying to contact bablecube , to no avail, as I want to find out if we can add our own isbn? T I have a fellow author friend who has hardly sold any? I am concerned as my English versions do well.

    It was good to read all your comments.. great advice…


  14. Ps.. I actually used a translator from which was really good, as it gave the manuscript a second glance, she asked me who the hell translated it.. so I was rather worried. It is always good to get it edited and proofread separately.

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