The Finnish book scene

It’s my last night in Helsinki, and I’ll post photos when I get home. In the meantime, wanted to write a bit about what I’ve discovered on my whirlwind, wonderful first trip to Finland.

Although it’s a small country in terms of population (only a little over 5 million people live here) it’s a country of avid readers. As I mentioned earlier, the largest newspaper in the country has a circulation of over 400,000. That tells you how important newspapers are here. The Finnish language is fascinatingly unique – not derived from the Indo-European language family, but instead from a small subgroup that includes Hungarian and Estonian. While a number of Swedish authors seem to be making inroads into the American market, so far, it’s the rare Finnish novelist who has his work translated to English.

Not many American authors come here on book tour, so I felt very special, being invited to the country. During the three days I was here, I was interviewed by six journalists and had four book signings. And the crowds that turned up at those booksignings were indeed impressive — today, in the city of Turko, long lines of 50 or more readers waited patiently for me to sign their copies. The Finns love their crime fiction. Popular U.S. authors include Patricia Cornwell and Mary Higgins Clark. Many other bestselling U.S. crime authors, however, are complete unknowns to them. Romance seems to be a tougher sell here, and the only name that they really seem to recognize is Nora Roberts.

Because it’s a small population, it doesn’t take many copies sold in retail stores to make the national bestseller lists. If you sell eight thousand copies in a month, you will almost certainly make the top lists here. But this is only part of the picture of the bookselling business in Finland. A major number of books are sold through the book clubs, with members receiving books through direct mail. And here’s an astonishing statistic: In this country of 5.3 million, over 300,000 people belong to the Great Finnish Book Club, which sells my books. A title chosen as a main selection in this club will easily sell 20,000 copies.

If you extrapolate this to a proportionate sale in the U.S., this is the equivalent of selling 1.2 million copies in the American market.

5 replies
  1. ec
    ec says:

    Finland ranks first in standardized tests and their education system is studied as a model. And looky here–they read!

    Hmmm. Wondering if there might be a corelation there….

  2. joe bernstein
    joe bernstein says:

    WOW-your blog is back!!
    The Finnish language group is called Finno-Ugric.I have an old book on Finno-Ugric mythology by U.Holmberg-it is fascinating.
    Finnish and Estonian postage stamps of the interwar period shared a lot of similar design characteristics.Both languages contain quite a few double vowels at the beginning of a word,which is quite unusual.

  3. joe bernstein
    joe bernstein says:

    The fish look like sprats,which are a canned staple in the Baltic.Sprats are little herrings,often smoked.Also big in the Netherlands.

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