Semi-annual Finnish Book Market Bulletin October 2021

The return of the bookstore?

When the word ‘bookstore’ appears in a news headline, you hardly need to keep reading to know what will follow. ‘Closed’, ‘shut down’, ‘ceased operations’…

We’ve become accustomed to such headlines in the past decade as the dramatic drop in the sales of print books has shaken up the operating models of traditional bookstores. In Finland, not only did the scythe cut down independent bookstores in smaller cities around the country, but the Akateeminen kirjakauppa in the centre of Helsinki, once the largest bookstore in the Nordic countries, shrank to a mere shadow of its former self.

Recently, the trend has shown signs of reversing. It’s tempting to see the opening of the Rosebud Sivullinen bookstore in the centre of Helsinki at the end of September as a symbol of the return of the bookstore and the physical book.

The number of titles available at Rosebud Sivullinen will grow to 40,000 this autumn, giving it the largest selection of books in Finland. The store plans to hold events several times a week throughout the year, not only during the autumn and Christmas bookselling seasons.

Rosebud focuses on general literature, sales of which have remained brisk in bookstores.

Independent operator

Retail sales of books in Finland are concentrated in the hands of two large publishing groups. The largest by far is Suomalainen kirjakauppa, which belongs to the same parent company as Otava Publishing Company with its various imprints. Suomalainen kirjakauppa’s turnover tops 100 million euros, and it has about sixty stores across Finland.

The other large publishing group, Werner Söderström Osakeyhtiö, is owned by Bonnier, which also owns Finland’s other national bookstore chain, Akateeminen kirjakauppa, which has clearly shrunk over the past decade. Bonnier also owns the online bookstore Adlibris, which is strong in the Nordic countries.

Rosebud, on the other hand, is the project of Hannu Paloviita, a book industry entrepreneur, and is not tied to a publishing company. Paloviita is the founder of Like Publishing and raised the capital to establish his bookstores through the sale of Like to Otava in the first decade of the 2000s. In addition to Sivullinen, its flagship store, Rosebud has several smaller locations.

Finland’s turn?

Scandinavian crime fiction has proven to be an enduring trend. The Swedish crime writers who started the trend have already been joined by Norwegian, Danish and Icelandic authors, but the coronavirus era seems to have finally marked the large-scale emergence of Finnish crime literature.

Antti Tuomainen has received international acclaim for several years now for his unique, humorous crime novels. Max Seeck‘s well-crafted thrillers have elevated him to international bestseller lists. Authors like Leena Lehtolainen and Matti Rönkä have been international players since the early days of the Scandi crime boom.

These authors have now been joined by a whole host of new writers, who despite having written only a few books, have immediately gained access to the international market. Arttu Tuominen writes traditional police novels, refreshing in the midst of a thriller boom, Elina Backman combines elements of thrillers with romance and Martta Kaukonen‘s debut novel is a psychological thriller.

A. M. Ollikainen, a name that emerged through a publisher’s thriller-writing competition, is not a debut writer, but rather the pen name of the married couple Aki and Milla Ollikainen. Aki Ollikainen is an author of critically acclaimed literary fiction. In 2016, his novel White Hunger (tr. Emily Jeremiah & Fleur Jeremiah) made the long list of the Man Booker International Prize. Milla Ollikainen is a professional writer who has written three thrillers in addition to her work as a journalist.

The couple’s debut joint work, Kontti, deliberately draws on the Nordic Noir tradition. Its foreign rights were sold to a dozen countries even before the original work was released.

Finnish literary exports defy the pandemic and remain strong in 2020, proves a study commissioned by FILI. Link to the news & report:

Storytel buys Aula

Sales of publishing houses have continued, with Swedish audio and e-book service Storytel acquiring Aula & Co, a publisher established only five years ago. Previously, Storytel had already acquired Gummerus, one of Finland’s large traditional publishing houses.

Publishers Niko Aula and Nora Varjama of Aula & Co have had long careers in the Finnish publishing world. Aula & Co had successfully anticipated the re-emergence of Holocaust literature (Heather Morris) and of Lucia Berlin, for example.

In addition to purchasing publishing houses, Storytel has also established its own editorial staff in Finland. Storytel publishes books under its own brand that are available only to users of its service. Hiring at Storytel has been one factor in the turnover of staff at Finnish publishing houses, with editors changing from one house to another.

Karo Hämäläinen, journalist
translation: Christina Saarinen

The previous bulletin:
Semi-annual Finnish Book Market Bulletin January 2021