Jan Erola (b. 1969) has been diagnosed with severe bibliophilia. He is the publisher of Helsinki Books Ltd (Helsinki-kirjat).
Between 2004 and 2009, Erola was the publishing manager of Ajatus Kirjat, a non-fiction imprint of Gummerus Publishers.
Previously, he has worked as a journalist for various magazines, newspapers, radio and television.
The Ice Age is Coming!
According to some Polish climate researchers, the coming winter will be the coldest in a millennium. That would be bad news for mammoths, if they still were any around – at least if you believe in the plot of the movie, Ice Age. I do.
Actually, there are still some mammoths around in Finnish publishing. I also believe that there will be some pretty chilly times in the Finnish publishing world. And soon. No, not because of the e-book revolution. The e-book will only open new markets for publishers and authors. In some marginal categories, the e-book may indeed kill the printed version, but in general, it’s not a threat. Electronic books have just been a sorry excuse for outsourcing and major layoffs for the four biggest publishing houses here in Finland. The real reason for a climate change in the book business is that too many top executives have lost their touch and passion – if they ever had any – with and for the core of the whole business: good literature and genuinely interesting non-fiction.
In the last three years, all the four major Finnish publishing houses have fallen into some sort of chaos. It was exactly three years ago when all of them had hired outsider CEOs, lawyers, and economists, without any openly expressed passion for books. I’m not saying that publishing shouldn’t be run by business professionals or that it shouldn’t be a profitable business. Of course it should. How else can we publish ambitious books and take risks, if we can’t pay bills, wages, and dividends to owners to keep them happy?
My point is this: the calculator obsessed bosses should not run the whole show. Publishing is all about people and interesting content. If you cannot give at least the illusion that authors and their wonderful books are most important thing in publishing, all is in vain. Without ambitious authors, publishers have nothing. And the best way to get rid of ambitious writers is to treat them only as money-producing milk cows. Or call Finnish book publishing “small potatoes,” as did Jacques Eijkens, the CEO of Sanoma Learning and Literature, the mother company of Finland’s biggest publisher, WSOY. Sometimes it would be wiser not to say what you think. This may have been one of those moments.
When you have bosses who themselves read only books on golf or business, the only way to get, e.g., poems published, is to explain to these calculator-hearted people that publishing poems is actually brand investing. The most interesting fiction and non-fiction authors would rather work for a publisher who treasures cultural values as well as generating profits. Some of the most brilliant and best-selling Finnish novel writers started as poets or wrote non-commercial short stories. For instance, Jari Tervo and Kari Hotakainen.
So, when it comes publishing, I believe that the time of the mammoths is on the decline. A decade ago, the same thing happened in the Hollywood film industry. The mighty lost their hegemony, and many newer, smaller, talent-oriented companies took over. Some of these publishing mammoths may evolve into elephants, but some biggies will soon became extinct. There are quite a few new and promising publishing companies now in Finland. The day is coming when some of them will break through to the major leagues. Just wait and see. And remember to take you pullover and blanket with you, ’cause it’s going to be freezing for a while.
Helsinki Books Ltd
Thank you Jan, for an insightful take on today’s Finnish publishing industry!
My next blog will feature guest Pulitzer prize-nominated author Angus Morrison. He’ll discuss his fascinating debut novel, a thriller entitled, Bandwidth. Take a look in advance at the book, his five star customer reviews at amazon and order. Check out his Bandwidth website to learn more.