Open Letter To Authors: Please Choose Your Publisher With Care!
recently I had a discussion with a publisher where I asked for a translation of a popular non-fiction book from English into German, and offered to create it. The background for this discussion was that there are certain works, which are most relevant to their field and not easily, or even usefully, replaced, nor re-created, but which set the "gold standard" in their respective fields. Re-doing such a work is usually futile and amounts to throwing away the already-accumulated knowledge, and makes it harder for people to quote a common reference to each other. If only - in this example - an English language edition of the book exists, one can expect that people with little command of the English language will not benefit from such a book and, as a consequence, may not get into the field covered by the book, have a harder than necessary time acquiring proficiency, and/or may opt out of the field completely, turning, or staying with possible alternative technology, for which sufficient coverage in their native language is being provided.
To return to the original topic, the publisher claimed that maintaining translations was too much of a burden to them, but also declined to support, or authorize, or sub-license, content in order for me to create a translation. I can understand these arguments, as a translation will either create cost, if the publisher does it himself, or possibly (imho marginally) lost opportunity, if someone else publishes a competing book - and a licensed translation is bound to eat into the sales figures of the original book. So at first glance, immediate greed suggest that such - let's say - "derivative works" must be shot down.
However, I strongly disagree with this position, as I think the general disemination of knowledge must not be artificially restricted. In my opinion, the publisher does not only have a moral obligation to satisfy obvious market demands, but that not doing so is against the interests of both the original author of the book, as well as the - in this case - user community at large, who are factually excluded from a significant part of knowledge. The adverse effect on the author is easy to see: His name will not be known as widely as it could be, and his book sales will hit an upper bound rather sooner than later, thus directly limiting his potential revenue. For the users, the adverse effect is also obvious: Being cut off a knowledge pool requires more investment into one's own research, thus driving up cost for the topic covered in the book. And for the supplier side (where I am located), this also creates a problem, as it impedes user adoption and thus contributes to limiting the market share.
I therefore ask authors to please double-check your contracts, or the contracts proposed to you, to either force the publisher to supply translations upon request and in a timely manner, or to grant reasonable licenses for third parties to create and publish such translations, or to exclude translations from coverage, so you are free to contract someone else to create such a translation if you deem them to be useful, and in the event that publishers demand complete control over your work, that you go with a different publisher who does not require you to sign such an adhesion contract.