Guest of Honour Finland, five years on

Castrén hopes new formats will boost Finnish market five years after guest spot

The head of Otava Publishing, one of Finland’s largest books beasts as well as an owner of its biggest bookshop chain, says the domestic market has been ‘bipolar’—but reckons new formats present a massive opportunity for brave publishers

Tom Tivnan @tomtivnan I

catch up with Minna Castrén at a prety eventful time: publication day for Margaret Atwood’s Testimentit (The Testaments), which has been as feverishly

anticipated in Finland as it has been in the rest of the world. Castrén’s Otava Publishing—part of the largest Finnish books group Otava, which also owns the biggest retail chain, Suomalainen Kirjakauppa—has published Atwood since the 1970s, and the excitement and hype for The Handmaid’s Tale sequel has been building. She says: “It is a big book for us, but in a way not just for us, as it is one of those titles that comes out at the right time: in this case because of world politics, the TV adaptation, because of the long gap between the novels. It hit the zeitgeist, and it makes you remember how exciting a publishing event like this can be. It is a celebration for the whole industry.” We are chating in order to take a look back at the

biggest-ever pan-industry Finnish books celebration, the country’s Guest of Honour stint at the 2014 Frankfurt Book Fair. There are a number of fiſth anniversary events at FBF 2019 under the Finnish Literature Exchange’s (FILI) “Finnland. Cool. And Happy” campaign (an update on the 2014 “Finnland. Cool” slogan, reflecting that the country has been named the happiest place in the world for the past two years in the World Happiness Report).

Guest appeal

We are not losing readers [to new digital formats], we’re gaining new ones... We have to be able to find new ways to target this audience

Text by Tom Tivnan

Castrén has no doubt that the 2014 Guest of Honour slot was an unqualified success, with many positive tangible and intangible effects, which continue to this day. She explains: “It was a fantastic experience, and not just for the book industry but the whole country, and it was an example of how [many sectors] could work together. It was great to be the centre of atention, as a small country with a language relatively few people speak. It helped in practical terms with rights sales, of course, and it was a boost of self-confidence. It created

this feeling that Finland is strong and internationally appealing, with books that can work in other markets. Ultimately, it changed [Finnish publishers’ and authors’] perspectives on how we thought about what was possible.” Yet while the Guest of Honour was a fillip, the Finnish

26 18th October 2019

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