How does translation licensing work? Does the press buy foreign rights and then approach a translator? Do translators approach the press and suggest that they buy the rights? Do translators buy the rights and then propose to the press?
Translation licensing has two directions, one where the publisher sells translation rights and one where a publisher buys translation rights. Not all university presses have active translation rights–buying programs, but some do. Most university presses sell the translation rights of the books they publish to foreign publishers, since it’s part of most university presses’ mission to make the work they publish available to as many people and markets as possible. The main opportunities university presses have to present our titles to foreign publishers and agents are at book fairs, like the Frankfurt Book Fair, the London Book Fair, Book Expo, and others. We try to match our titles to the expertise of the foreign publisher and to the market in which the translation will be sold. The subject matter makes a huge difference in a successful effort. If the content is too focused on the United States, it may not be of interest to non-American audiences. Libraries around the world buy titles in English, so there needs to be a market beyond scholarly research to make the translation viable—for use in courses, or for a large retail market.
NYU Press often hears from individual translators who think one of our titles should be translated or would have a large market in a specific language. That’s always interesting to hear, but unless the translator has a publishing house willing to produce, market, and distribute the translation, we will not grant the rights. To protect the copyright, and the revenue we realize from the sales of the content, we need to sign a contract with an organization that can guarantee the protection of those rights.
—NYU Press, November 2020