Books in Finland: A Success Story

Books have been published in Finland since the 17th century. The roots of Finnish literature reach even further into history, all the way to Mikael Agricola, whose 450th death anniversary we celebrate this year. Currently 13,000-14,000 book titles are published in Finland every year. Book publishing is characterised by the large proportion of non-fiction works and the strong position of Finnish literature.

The history of book publishing in Finland reaches back centuries. The oldest Finnish enterprise still in business, Frenckell Printing Works Ltd., was established already in 1642. By the time of Finnish independence in the early 20th century, some of the current large publishing houses, for example Otava (established 1890), WSOY (1878) and Gummerus (1872), had been in business for decades. During the time of Finnish autonomy, when Finland was a Grand Duchy of Russia, the establishing of publishing houses was a part of the creation of Finnish cultural institutions.

Statistics on the numbers of book titles published in Finland have been compiled regularly since the 1930s. In 1938 a good 1,500 titles were published of which roughly 1,300 were Finnish literature and a good 250 translated titles (figure 1). During the war book production took a temporary dive, but the volumes produced in the 1930s were exceeded already in the mid-1940s. By the end of the 1970s, the 5,000 titles per year mark was close, and in 1988 the number of titles published per year exceeded 10,000. The inclusion of pamphlets into the statistics increased the number of titles as from the years 1973 and 1979. Nearly 14,000 titles were published in Finland in 2005. The development of lay-out and printing technology during the past two decades has lowered the cost of book publishing, which is also evident from the number of titles.

Figure 1. Literature published in Finland 1938-2005

After World War II Finland has gradually made its way towards the top of book producing countries in the world. UNESCO statistics on book production in different countries cover the period 1950-1996. In 1996 around 2.6 book titles were published per 1,000 inhabitants in Finland (figure 2). Relative to the population, book production in Finland is the highest of the European Union countries and the second highest in the world. More titles relative to the population are produced only in Iceland. In addition to Finland and Iceland, over two titles per year per 1,000 inhabitants are published also in the Netherlands, Denmark, and Switzerland.

Figure 2. Published book titles per year per 1,000 inhabitants in certain countries 1996

Figure 2 includes country-specific differences: the data for the Netherlands are from 1993, those of Luxembourg from 1994 and those from Malta and France from 1995.

Non-fiction and Finnish literature traditionally strong

The position of non-fiction has traditionally been strong in Finland. Since the 1930s, the proportion of non-fiction of all titles published has stayed at roughly two-thirds and that of fiction close to one-third. Nearly 9,000 non-fiction titles were published in Finland in 2005. In the same year, roughly 36 per cent of all published titles were fiction.

Another typical feature of publishing in Finland is the large proportion of Finnish titles. At least three-fourths of total title production has been domestic in origin since the 1930s (figure 3). The number of Finnish titles published in Swedish has grown, but over the years their proportion of Finnish book production has decreased from nearly 20 per cent in the 1930's to the present roughly 5 per cent. The proportion of books in other languages of the Finnish book production has grown from slightly below 10 per cent in 1930 to a good 20 per cent in the 2000s.

Figure 3. Finnish literature published in Finland 1938-2005

Roughly one-fifth of published titles are translations

The proportion of translated titles of all books published in Finland has ranged between 15-25 per cent, e.g. in 2005, roughly 17 per cent of all titles were translations.

Most often the source language of translations into Finnish has been English. The proportion of originally English-language translated literature has also grown clearly over the decades, and since the 1990s it has been roughly two-thirds. More and more titles are being translated into Finnish from Scandinavian languages, but their proportion of translated literature has decreased and has in the past few years been only roughly 10 to 15 per cent (figure 4).

The number of titles translated into Swedish was at its lowest between the 1950s and the 1970s, but has since then increased to roughly 100 titles per year.

Figure 4. Proportions of original languages of translated titles 1938-2005

Book sales increasing steadily

Finnish Book Publishers' Association statistics on the sales of books are available since the 1960s. According to the statistics, a good 28 million books published by the member publishing houses were sold in 2005. This is over 20 per cent more than in 1980 and over twice as many as in the 1960s.

Figure 5. Book sales by type of literature 1963-2005

The biggest change has occurred in the sales of encyclopaedic works, which have plummeted: in 1980 their proportion of titles sold was roughly 16 per cent, but in the 2000s it was down to roughly one per cent (figure 5). The cause for this is assumed to be the increased availability of information on the Internet.

The proportion of textbooks for comprehensive schools has also decreased, whereas the proportions of non-fiction and children's and juvenile books have grown. The growth of the proportion of children's and juvenile books has, however, been influenced by a change in the compilation of the statistics in 1994, when children's picture books and exercise books were included.

The sales figures include only the members of the Finnish Book Publishers' Association, so changes in membership have an effect on the comparability of different years: in 1963 the Association had 23 members and in 2007 it has 100 member enterprises. Currently the proportion of the members of the Finnish Book Publishers' Association is roughly four-fifths of total book sales in Finland.

1960s the golden era of book stores

In 1900 Finland had 56 book stores. In 1939, at the eve of war, there were already 478 book stores. The number of book stores reached its peak in the mid-1960s, when they numbered nearly 800. After that the number of book stores has gone down, and in 2004 there were 360 bookstores in Finland.

As late as in 1970 nearly all books were sold from bookstores. The fixed price system for books which was introduced in 1908 was abolished in 1971, and the pricing and selling of books was liberated. Books started to be sold also in other establishments besides bookstores and the consumer prices of books were no longer determined by publishers.

By 1975 the share of bookstores of the value of book sales had fallen to 51 per cent, and in 2005 it had fallen even further, to 38 per cent. In countries where a fixed price system for books is in use (e.g. Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands), the share of bookstores of book sales is still at least 60 per cent.

Tables

Inquiries: Mr Jukka Ekholm +358 9 1734 3370

Sources and links


Last updated 16.4.2007

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