Amazon Launching AmazonCrossing to Publish Foreign-Language Books (and e-Books) in Translation

Amazon announced yesterday the launch of a new publishing imprint, to be called AmazonCrossing, that will release foreign-language books translated into English. It’s the second such imprint from Amazon, after AmazonEncore, which takes self-published books and re-publishes them for a wider audience.

AmazonCrossing is an interesting case–it’s not necessarily a traditional Amazon move, meaning it’s not particularly tech-focused. Instead, Amazon’s filling a niche left vacant by traditional publishing companies, who feel translated books are often too expensive and low-selling to bother with.

Publishers say the number of books published in translation each year remains low. Paul Bogaards, a spokesman for Alfred Knopf, an imprint owned by Bertelsmann AG’s Random House Inc. publishing arm, estimated that fewer than 5% of the 150 new titles that Alfred Knopf is publishing in 2010 will be books in translation.

But many classics and even pop-literary successes have been translated–the Wall Street Journal, which originally reported the story, names Umberto Eco, Haruki Murakami, and Stieg Larsson as examples (I’d add Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jorge Luis Borges, Javier Marias, and Milan Kundera to the list) of more popular foreign-language writers.

Sounds like the typical problem is that of cost and sales: Traditional publishers often assume translated foreign works won’t be as successful as English-language works, and translation can often be expensive. It’s not mentioned how much Amazon intends to pay for translations, but evidently they think there’s a market for these books, which will be released both in print and in e-book formats.

The first AmazonCrossing book, “The King of Kahel” by French author Tierno Monenembo, will be released this November.

Dan Nosowitz, the author of this post, can be followed on Twitter, corresponded with via email, and stalked in San Francisco (no link for that one–you’ll have to do the legwork yourself).