“Which ones should we not publish?”

Icelandic publishing has a weird problem. Nearly every book in Iceland is published around Christmas. The tradition grew out of World War II scarcity, but with thousands of books being published in Iceland nowadays, it’s feast or famine in the bookstores, according to Elliot Brandsma. While the tradition of jólabókaflóð was fascinating to read about, what really caught my attention in this piece was a quote from publisher Guðrún Vilmundardóttir: “We could publish fewer books—and many think we should—but which ones should we not publish?”

Icelandic publishers are confronting a question that American publishers encountered years ago (albeit for different reasons). The jólabókaflóð (Christmas book flood) means that a lot of new voices are crowded out. In the United States, publishing consolidation is making it harder for new and niche authors to even get published, let alone get marketed. What pleased me about Vilmundardóttir’s question was the fact that her publishing house, Bjartur, isn’t automatically culling their authors—something I wish the Big Five would reconsider.

Brandsma’s article, “Too Many Books: Do Icelandic Publishers Need To Chill Out?” gives an intriguing insight into a somewhat isolated literary culture. There are still hundreds of independent booksellers in Iceland, each of them ordering thousands of books from the publishers. What would it be like to live in a country with so many bookstores? Where I live, there are a few independent stores, a few bookstores catering to the religious, and a Barnes & Noble here and there. The stores that are in my area are mostly limited to stocking bestsellers. I go online because the books I want—the genre-benders, the debut authors, the backlist—just aren’t there.

I hope Iceland figures out how to avoid culling and consolidating. More authors mean more voices. More voices mean we all gain.

Interior of Icelandic bookstore, Bókin, by Sam Rohm.
Interior of Icelandic antiquarian bookstore, Bókin Antikvariát , by Sam Rohm.

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