Christmas Book Flood | Recommending reading

Founding story

book-tree-2How Jólabókaflóðið became

The retail cycle each year, from the launch of new books to the reading of these books at Christmas, is known as Jólabókaflóðiðwhich translates roughly into English as ‘the Christmas book flood’.

This tradition began during World War II once Iceland had gained its independence for Denmark in 1944. Paper was one of the few commodities not rationed during the war, so Icelanders shared their love of books even more as other types of gifts were short supply. This increase in giving books as presents reinforced Iceland’s culture as a nation of bookaholics – a study conducted by Bifröst University in 2013 found that half the country’s population read at least eight books a year.

Every year since 1944, the Icelandic book trade has published a catalogue – called Bókatíðindi (‘Book Bulletin’, in English) – that is sent to every household in the country in mid-November during the Reykjavik Book Fair. People use the catalogue to order books to give friends and family for Christmas.

During the festive season, gifts are opened on 24 December and, by tradition, everyone reads the books they have been given straight away, often while drinking hot chocolate or alcohol-free Christmas ale called jólabland.

How Jolabokaflod CIC became

In October 2015, Christopher Norris – a senior executive-level media, publishing and social entrepreneur – was invited by BookMachine to write a regular blog posting for members of this international publishing community to read, having written a well-received piece about the future of publishing: ‘Publishing 2020: an Advent calendar of change‘. As he researched topics to write about, he read an in-depth review in The Bookseller about the book trade in Iceland, ‘In depth: Iceland’s book market‘, and came across Jólabókaflóðið for the first time.

As Christopher was a pioneer of World Book Day in the UK, serving on the steering committee for the inaugural event in 1996-7, he realised that the Icelandic tradition of Jólabókaflóðið offered a fabulous opportunity to promote book buying and reading within the same initiative, so the seeds of Jolabokaflod CIC were planted.

Urged on by the BookMachine team, Christopher launched the UK-version of Jolabokaflod at an RSA Bounce event in London for entrepreneurs in November 2015.

In December 2015, on a business trip to New York, Christopher met with Hlynur Guðjónsson, Consul General and Trade Commissioner at the Consulate General of Iceland in New York, to share the vision of spreading the custom and practice of Jólabókaflóðið to the UK and beyond. Mr Guðjónsson gave Christopher’s Jolabokaflod plans his endorsement and facilitated contact with Icelandic organisations of potential mutual interest, including embassies and book trade bodies such as the Reykjavik UNESCO City of Literature and the Icelandic Literature Center, both players in annual ‘Christmas book flood’.

At Christmas 2015, Christopher encouraged people all over the world to experience Jólabókaflóðið, the joy of giving books as gifts and reading them over the festive period, in a series of published articles and blog postings.

Between March and October 2016, the Jolabokaflod initiative launched its first crowdfunding project at CrowdPatch – called The Icelanders Cometh – which built on the strong connection with Icelandic literature by seeking funds for UK libraries to spend on books published in English by Icelandic authors. The project raised £2365.00, 103% of its target figure.

In November 2016, Christopher started a new Jolabokaflod-related crowdfunding project, to publish a UK version of the Book Bulletin that captures book recommendations and personal/professional profiles for sharing with people seeking to buy Christmas gifts for their friends and families. This project concluded successfully in February 2017, just after a Gala launch party held at the Hotel Café Royal. The Book Bulletin is now an annual campaign.

In spring 2017, Christopher established two companies to promote the ‘Christmas book flood’ tradition: Jolabokaflod CIC (a not-for-profit social enterprise); and Jolabokaflod Book Campaign Ltd (a commercial trading company).

Global interest in Jolabokaflod CIC at the London Book Fair in March 2017 sparked a year of visiting trade expos to spread the word around the world about the Christmas book flood tradition, notably to BookExpo America in May 2017 and the Frankfurt Book Fair in October 2017. International trade fairs continue to be vital to sharing the Jólabókaflóðið concept with the global book trade.

Jolabokaflod CIC and Jolabokaflod Book Campaign Ltd are on rapid growth curves, with interest expressed from people everywhere in the book trade and externally from the general public. Our founding story is far from complete.