He also said that if he were a foreign publisher he would ensure that he has world rights and publish the author in English as well. He was challenged from the floor by Anne-Solange Noble, rights director of French publishing house, Gallimard. Surely, she pointed out, he contradicted himself.
Richard Charkin explained that as English is a lingua franca, authors want to be published in English and the (foreign) publishers should do that as it's important to maintain a good relationship with their authors.
During coffee break, a Swiss-German publisher said to me she thought it was rather pompous of the speaker to assume that all authors want to be published in English.
I agreed with Richard Charkin and what he said was not new. Raman, publisher of Silverfish Books had said the same often enough - ie UK and US publishers do not need more books from us. On the other hand, Southeast Asia alone, for example, has a total population of 600 million and we are already each other's important trading partners, so why not books.
However, I paused for a moment to consider whether most authors want to be published in English. In Malaysia, we publish both English-language and Malay-language books and it's certainly better to be published in Malay as the market for Malay books is many times bigger.
I believe authors may want to be published in UK or in America because they believe, rightly or wrongly, 'if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere,' not to mention the reach and marketing power of the large publishing houses there.
As to non-English publishers publishing themselves an English translation of their books, Richard Charkin has surely underestimated the cost and time involved in producing a good translation. Admittedly, as Richard Charkin also pointed out, having an English edition will increase the chances of being translated into another language as most people can read English.
I would like to propose something different. I believe foreign publishers must make their books heard and known - not necessarily by translating every book into English but by spreading their news in English, which has the advantage of being a lingua franca, or in the language of the market they specifically wish to enter. Translations of a few chapters are necessary to gauge the writing style. In addition, trade books especially, must be backed by numbers. There are gut feelings and hunches involved in publishing but the numbers cannot be ignored.