Much, much, much excitement: the big bad guys are launching the publishing imprint AmazonCrossing, "which will introduce readers to voices of the world through English-language translations of foreign-language books." (See press release.)
In case you don't know, the English-speaking publishing world isn't currently all that keen on translations. There are a few standard excuses - so many people around the world write in English, it costs more, the names are hard to pronounce, we don't speak any foreign languages so we can't tell if there are any good books out there... I won't go into what I think of these arguments.
Amazon tells us it will now be using its humongous resources to pick books for translation:
AmazonCrossing uses customer feedback and other data from Amazon sites around the world to identify exceptional books deserving of a wider, global audience. AmazonCrossing will acquire the rights and translate the books and then introduce them to the English-speaking market through multiple channels and formats, such as the Amazon Books Store, Amazon Kindle Store, and national and independent booksellers via third-party wholesalers.
That's what I find interesting, and the inaugural title gives us an idea of how that might work. Guinea-born Tierno Monénembo's The King of Kahel was originally published in France, and is a prize-winning debut novel about an explorer in West Africa. A fairly canny choice, then - exotic, proven quality, exciting fiction. It comes out in November, but Amazon is already pushing all the right buttons to promote it. Scroll down this page to see how they've really made the most of those humongous resources - highly respected voices on the imprint itself, a brief introduction to the book and the author with links to further information (and pre-ordering), AND an interview with the translator Nicholas Elliot. With a photo.
So not only is Amazon biting the bullet and translating fiction, it's actually foregrounding the translator. And just to warm the cockles of my heart, they've even given Elliot his first chance to translate fiction, a notoriously difficult field to get into. The whole thing gets Amazon so many translator Brownie points that it's hard to imagine it not going to international fiction heaven (if it weren't for its crippling effects on booksellers and small publishers).
So I'm now anticipating a paradigm shift in English-language publishing. No more hiding the translator on the copyright page, no more "but it's hard to pronounce," no more "nobody wants to read that freaky stuff." Just wait, soon there'll be a boom in translated fiction, with publishers tripping over each other to grab up great German books and Arabic essays and Czech poetry and Brazilian drama. Translated fiction will be the new World Music - without the ponchos.