Semi-annual Finnish Book Market Bulletin 1/2022

Subscription services have changed consumer behaviour – Growth in book sales dependant on digital

The sales of general literature by Finnish publishers increased by 10 per cent last year, rising to record levels based on comparable past statistics. The growth was entirely due to digital publications, sales of which increased by 29 per cent. Sales of print books remained at the previous year’s level.

The digital transformation in publishing has been rapid and dramatic in Finland. Electronic publications already account for 42 per cent of sales of general literature in euros.

A comparison of 2017 and 2021 gives a good picture of the change in recent years. Since 2017, large publishers’ sales revenue from general literature has increased by 55 per cent. Over the same period, sales of print books fell by 11 per cent.

An even bigger change can be seen in consumer behaviour. For each print book sold last year, nearly two books were sold in a digital format, as either an audiobook or e-book. This can be explained by the high popularity of subscription-based audio- and e-book services.

As subscription services continued to grow, sales of individual audio- and e-books clearly decreased compared to the previous year, in terms of both units sold and revenue.

Of the audiobooks sold in Finland last year, 97 per cent were sold through subscription services and only 3 per cent as individual copies. As the average selling price of individual copies of audiobooks is higher than that of audiobooks sold through subscription services, the share of audiobook revenue earned through sales of individual copies was slightly higher, but still only 5 per cent.

Figures show that when selling to subscription services, Finnish publishers received an average of €2.40 per audiobook and €3.40 per e-book. Publishers’ revenue from the sale of an individual copy of an audio- or e-book was on average €4 higher. For print books, publishers received an average of €10.30 per book sold.

Number-one seller on nightly repeat

Sales volumes of digital books are not directly comparable to sales volumes of print books, since when using a subscription service, a consumer might ‘buy’ the same book multiple times. This phenomenon is also reflected in bestseller lists.

On the combined print and digital bestseller list, Finland’s bestselling book last year was Carl-Johan Forssén Ehrlin’s Kani joka tahtoi nukahtaa (The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep), of which a total of 130,000 copies were sold. The book was published in Finnish back in 2015, and print copies are no longer available in bookstores. The success of this short bedtime storybook is due to audiobook sales. The book’s loyal fans want to hear the story night after night.

On the combined formats list, translations of Delia Owens’s Where the Crawdads Sing and Lucinda Riley’s The Missing Sister were also fantastic successes, along with children’s books of jokes.

The number-one Finnish book was Suo, kuokka ja Hollywood (A Bog, a Hoe, and Hollywood), written by stand-up comedian Ismo Leikola with his ex-wife. In it, the Leikolas, who live in the United States, compare Finnish and American culture. The audiobook, read by Ismo Leikola himself, is like an hours-long stand-up gig. The number-one book in domestic fiction was Ainoa kotini (My Only Home), a debut novel by choreographer Hanna Brotherus examining womanhood from an apparently personal perspective. All of these books were particularly successful as audiobooks.

As usual, the top of the print books chart was claimed by a thriller by Ilkka Remes, followed by a popular fiction novel by Enni Mustonen. The third and fourth spots on the bestsellers list were taken by Rosa Liksom’s Väylä (The River) and Jukka Viikilä’s Taivaallinen vastaanotto (Heavenly Reception). Liksom’s work was a 2021 Finlandia Prize nominee, and Viikilä’s was the winner.

Even more copies were sold of the most popular children’s picture books, such as Aino Havukainen and Sami Toivonen’s latest Tatu and Patu book and Mauri Kunnas’s Kuka kaappasi auringon? (Who Kidnapped the Sun?).

In print non-fiction, biographies of Finnish singers were the bestsellers.

Werner Söderström celebrated revenues, Otava awards

Werner Söderström Osakeyhtiö, the second largest publishing group in Finland, boosted its turnover by as much as 30 per cent last year. About half of that growth came inorganically, as Werner Söderström acquired both Docendo, a Jyväskylä-based publishing house specializing in nonfiction, and Minerva, a Helsinki-based publishing house, at the very end of 2020. Along with Docendo came CrimeTime, which specializes in detective novels.

The eight publishers belonging to Werner Söderström Osakeyhtiö have succeeding in building a list of adult fiction titles that have been hits as audiobooks. The publishing group, which is owned by Bonnier, boasts titles by Delia Owens and Lucinda Riley in translated fiction and Hanna Brotherus and Ilkka Remes in Finnish fiction, for example.

On the other hand, it was Otava, Finland’s second-largest publishing house, that celebrated last year’s Finlandia Prize, Finland’s most important literary prize. Books published by the Otava Publishing Group won the award in all three categories.

In adult fiction, the winner was Jukka Viikilä’s novel Taivaallinen vastaanotto (Heavenly Reception). In children’s and young adult literature, the winner was Anne-Maija Aalto’s YA novel Mistä valo pääsee sisään (Where the Light Comes In). And in non-fiction, composer Osmo Tapio Räihälä’s essay collection Miksi nykymusiikki on niin vaikeaa (Why Contemporary Classical Music is So Difficult) took the win.

Karo Hämäläinen, journalist
translation: Christina Saarinen