Iceland’s Forlagið Names New Top Management in Reykjavik

In News by Porter Anderson

In the wake of its top management’s departure, Iceland’s Forlagið has three new executives at the top of the 16-year-old company’s leadership.

Jón Heiðar Gunnarsson, Sigþrúður Gunnarsdóttir, center, and Stella Soffía Jóhannesdóttir lead the newly announced management of Iceland’s Forlagið, as announced to the staff. Image: Forlagið

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

A New Rights Agency in Development
Following Tuesday’s announcement of interim CEO Nihar Malaviya’s restructuring of Penguin Random House’s top management, we have news from Reykjavik of a similarly substantive, if less extensive, set of changes in the C-level executive range.

Forlagið is the Icelandic market’s largest publishing house. In fact, in English, its name simply means the publisher.

It’s a company formed in 2007. Reportedly, it was 10 times the size of its next largest competitor when established and in 2017 had captured 50 percent of the market’s share in general publishing. Its nearest rival since then, Bjartur-Veröld, is said to be at roughly 25 percent of the size of Forlagið.

With net profits reported at some 50 million Icelandic kroner (US$354,584), it had been expected that some 70 percent of the company would be acquired in 2020 by the Stockholm-based Storytel, a company very familiar to Publishing Perspectives readers.

However, as board chair Halldór Guðmundsson tells us, “We wanted to make this deal, and had signed a contract with them, but it was clear that the Icelandic competition authorities would not have allowed it, so both parties withdrew.

“So Forlagið is 100-percent owned by Mál og menning, a literary society founded in 1937, of which I am also chair. Storytel holds no part in us.”

As a point of policy, we’d like to explain to our industry readers that this news of a top-level change-out in command at a market-dominant house reaches the criterion for our coverage because it’s an international market’s largest publishing company and the officers being put into place are going into the top leadership positions (the result of departures a month ago from top ranks).

At Publishing Perspectives, we limit our coverage of personnel changes to such top-level figures such as these in influential market-leading companies because such officers will be in contact with peers across markets. Our international industry scope makes it impractical to cover less consequential personnel changes.

Guðmundsson: ‘The Company Is in Good Hands’

On Thursday (March 2), Forlagið’s board of directors informed the staff that Sigþrúður Gunnarsdóttir has been named the new CEO of the company, succeeding Egill Örn Jóhannsson.

Jóhannsson, the former managing director, resigned in early February, as did his wife, the company’s financial director, Þórhildur Garðarsdóttir, “to face new challenges,” as press reports at the time put it. Their departure was described as amicable.

The newly announced changes since those February resignations include Jón Heiðar Gunnarsson as a new marketing director following the departure of yet another top executive, Guðrún Norðfjörð.

In addition, Stella Soffía Jóhannesdóttir—the director of the biennial Reykjavík International Literary Festival and formerly at Storytel Iceland as a senior editor—is making a return to Forlagið as its senior agent, working with Valgerður Benediktsdóttir and Kolbrún Þóra Eiríksdóttir in the international rights division of Forlagið. This development, in fact, is intended to help create the Reykjavik Literary Agency, a company expected to be opened later this year.

Halldór Guðmundsson

Guðmundsson, chair of Forlagið, made the announcements, saying that Gunnarsdóttir, who becomes CEO, “has demonstrated a passionate interest in the advancement of Icelandic literature, and we are confident that the company is in good hands under her leadership.” Gunnarsdóttir has been with the company since its 2007 founding and is a member of the board of directors.

Gunnarsson, now the lead in marketing, has come to the company from an advertising background with the agency Sahara, which had Forlagið as a client. Jóhannesdóttir, as many of our readers know, worked with the organizing group for the 2011 Guest of Honor Iceland project at Frankfurter Buchmesse.

Guðmundsson, in welcoming her and Gunnarsson to the company, is quoted, saying, Their diverse backgrounds and expertise will be valuable assets as we navigate the changing landscape of the publishing industry.”

While the rest of the management team begins this month and in April, Jóhannesdóttir will start in May, following this year’s iteration of the Reykjavik festival.

More on the Icelandic market is here, more on international literary festivals is here, and more on Storytel is here

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.