The coronavirus epidemic has had a significant impact on Icelandic book publishing. The year started well, with sales in the first two months of 2020 about 20% higher than at the same time last year, but then they fell sharply in March and April according to figures published by Statistics Iceland on August 20th.
Heiðar Ingi Svansson, chairman of the Association of Icelandic Publishers, told RÚV that this is where the COVID effect becomes abundantly clear. “Customers disappeared from bookstores at that time. The book publishers’ association’s book market was happening at that time, then COVID barged in and had a big impact on turnover.”
One eye-opening event was the dramatic downturn of sales at the Eymundsson store at Leif Eiríksson Air Terminal due to the lack of customers. “I think everyone that I know well in this area has realised just how much of an effect this has had on the decrease in novel publications,” Heiðar Ingi said. “I do not trust myself to name any figures in that context, but I trust myself to say that Eymundsson in Leifsstöð is crucial in novel publishing in general.”
This is not to say that Icelanders have stopped enjoying books during the epidemic. At the same time that sales of printed books declined, sales of audio books increased significantly. Heiðar Ingi believes that this development is permanent. “We have also seen in all the markets around us that audio book sales and publishing are increasing, but what effect it has on print publishing is another matter,” he said. “Audio book sales are also gaining ground in new markets, new readers and new consumer groups, and in some ways are competing with other online entertainment like podcasts.”
Statistics Iceland’s figures make it abundantly clear that despite the decline in book sales, the unique Icelandic phenomenon called Jólabókaflóðið, or the Christmas flood of books, is still projected to do well this year. This phenomenon could be why e-book sales are not as high as in other markets. “E-book publishing has not gained the same foothold here as elsewhere,” Heiðar Ingi said. “It is hardly measurable here in total turnover, but it’s considerable both in the Nordic countries and other European countries with which we compare ourselves.”
UPDATE: A previous version of this article stated that Eymundsson in the airport had closed, when it fact it was open the whole time. The article has been updated with the correct information.
As ever, those looking for more information or advice should go to the Icelandic Government’s excellent COVID-19 help page.
Note: Due to the effect the Coronavirus is having on tourism in Iceland, it’s become increasingly difficult for the Grapevine to survive. If you enjoy our content and want to help the Grapevine’s journalists do things like eat and pay rent, please consider joining our High Five Club.
You can also check out our shop, loaded with books, apparel and other cool merch, that you can buy and have delivered right to your door.
Buy subscriptions, t-shirts and more from our shop right here!