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The Future Viability of Afrikaans as a Commercialized Language

Afrikaans is a language spoken by more than seven million people. However, as a publisher of Afrikaans fiction books, I have recently been confronted with the commercial viability of the language, meaning whether products like books and movies can make money of a sufficient quantity for subsistence living.

Applying the Pareto Principle, the answer appears to be YES. We have seven million people as a base; if, of those, twenty percent read fiction books, then we have one-million four-hundred thousand readers.

Let us assume that those readers each read on average one book per month: this gives as sixteen-million eight-hundred thousand books that are read every year by Afrikaans-speaking readers. We apply the Pareto Principle again to factor in secondhand books and calculate that then three-million three-hundred and sixty-thousand new books should be bought by these readers.

A search on WorldCat returns that on average 600 new Afrikaans fiction titles are published every year. Using this in our figure for new books bought, we determine that on average each published title should sell five-thousand six-hundred copies. At a publisher’s profit of twenty rands per copy, it means a publisher of Afrikaans fiction will make just more than one-hundred thousand rands profit per title published!

Very viable indeed.

Really?

No.

Statistics from publishers, bookshops and my own experience indicate that an Afrikaans fiction book rarely sells more than three-hundred copies, of the printed version. So somewhere in our calculations above, we missed a step of applying Pareto’s principle. Maybe make a distinction between fiction and non-fiction by saying only twenty percent of Afrikaans readers read fiction, instead of assuming all readers of books read fiction?

This would give us an average of one-thousand one-hundred and twenty copies sold per title. This is actually close enough, because we also need to apply the principle to the distribution of the titles, meaning that twenty percent of the titles will make up eighty percent of the total number of copies sold. This means that a non-bestseller will sell on average 280 copies. Spot on!

(A best-seller will on average sell four-thousand four-hundred and eighty copies. That’s a huge difference!)

Back to the commercial viability of Afrikaans fiction books: if the publisher makes twenty rands profit per copy, then the total profit on a title will be five-thousand six-hundred rands. Wow!

Not only does this explain why Afrikaans fiction books are so expensive (because publishers need a higher profit margin), it also shows the importance for small publishers to dominate the eighty percent of titles to capture as much of the twenty percent of the revenue left by the best-seller books.

Conclusion: the numbers show that Afrikaans is not a commercially viable language for fiction books, unless a publisher is able to bring three or more titles to market every month, while cutting expenses to the bare minimum (no salaries, no book-launches, and minimum royalties).