Iceland, We Have a Jólabókaflóð Problem: Too Many Books!

In News by Dennis Abrams

Though the annual jólabókaflóð (Christmas Book Flood) is a tradition, Icelandic publishers are rethinking the logic of pushing so many books out at once.
Jólabókaflóð come the wave of books.

Iceland’s annual Jólabókaflóð often results in a wave of unsold books.

By Dennis Abrams

Writing for the Reykjavik Grapevine, Elliott Brandsma looked at the longstanding Icelandic tradition, the annual jólabókaflóð(or Christmas Book Flood), when publishing houses across Iceland “unleash a deluge of new books on the marketplace and inundate bookstores with stacks of fresh titles for the holiday season.”

But are there too many books being released?

According to Brandsma, bookstores are reporting that they’re forced to “resort to steep sales and heavy discounts” to move inventory, and Icelandic state television has reported that Iceland’s largest publisher, Forlagið, is having a hard time finding storage space in its warehouse for all their unsold inventory.

Anna Friðríksdóttir, manager of Mál og Menning bookstore, told the paper that, “I definitely think we could do some ‘editing’ in the book market here in Iceland. I would say that the excessive amount of books published is, in a way, reckless. Sometimes it’s cheaper to print in bigger volumes, but it ends up wasting paper because some books naturally don’t sell as well as others.”

Case in point? One year, publishing companies in Iceland published close to a hundred new cookbooks. “Herd behavior in the market is a common thing,” Friðríksdóttir noted.

And, she says, the “follow-the-leader” mentality is a source of difficulty for booksellers. “We return the books that don’t sell to the publishers, and they end up selling them at discount book markets,” she told Brandsma. “It causes some tension between the bookstores and the publishers when they end up selling books at these markets for a ridiculously low price, lower than they sold them to the bookstore the previous year.”

Publishers, though, do realize that things need to change. Jóhann Páll Valdimarsson, director at Forlagið, told the paper that, “Until recently, books were marketed only at Christmas. This is changing a lot, though. Publishers originally thought that there was no market for paperbacks. The books at Christmastime are usually published with the best paper and the best covers because they are designed to be gifts.”

He told the paper that one solution to the problem might be “scaling back” the number of booksellers in the country. “We are selling to 150 stores across Iceland, so our stock is spread all over. We have to print 1,500 copies of each book just to be able to cover and fill all the bookstores, and even if there are only five copies left in each shop after the Christmas season, then that still leaves 750 copies that we have to buy back and store in our facilities. We eventually have to destroy books that we can’t store any more because it would simply take too long to sell them.”

About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for news, children's publishing and media. He's also a restaurant critic, literary blogger, and the author of "The Play's The Thing," a complete YA guide to the plays of William Shakespeare published by Pentian, as well as more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers.