Tuija Laine and Kirsti Salmi-Niklander
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Literature. Please check back later for the full article.
Literacy among common people got its start in Finland during the Reformation. Michael Agricola, the first Finnish Reformer, studied in Wittenberg and, after coming back to Finland, translated the first books into Finnish. At first, books were only for priests, but in the middle of the 17th century, a literacy campaign throughout the Swedish Realm produced good effects. Some bishops in the diocese of Turku were also very active in writing basic religious literature, primers, catechisms, hymnals, and other materials for common people. The church examined parishioners as well, to check their reading skills. People were not allowed to get the status of godfather or godmother, or attend Eucharist, or marry without proper reading skills and knowledge of basic Christian doctrine. In the first phase, reading was only reading by rote, but by the last decades of 17th century, reading from the book and understanding the content were underlined by bishops and priests. During the 18th century, literacy emerged further, and literature published in Finnish became more varied.
During the 19th century, the literacy rate gradually went up in Finland. However, for the vast majority of the rural population, literacy meant only the very basic reading skills required and tested by the Lutheran church. The statute for primary schools was laid down in 1866, but the law of compulsory primary education was not enacted until 1921. From the 1860s, Finnish language was promoted by the Russian government. The Finnish-language literature and press afforded reading for large groups of population. The popular movements that began to be established during the last decades of the 19th century (temperance movement, agrarian youth movement, labor movement) provided possibilities for literary training. Among the lower-class people in rural Finland were many self-educated writers who submitted manuscripts to the Finnish Literature Society and sent news from their home parish to newspapers. Some of these became professional writers or journalists.
The Swedish book business began as a poorly developed market with serious economic, social, and infrastructural issues, but transformed over the course of two centuries into a well-functioning, albeit small, market with strong international ties. The 19th-century book market was hampered by poor infrastructure and underdeveloped publishing and book sales. Technological innovations in printing techniques and the new wood-based pulps for paper, in combination with better infrastructure, improved matters. The book business was increasingly professionalized at every stage, and by the turn of the 20th century could fairly be described as industrial and modernized. Access to forestry (and hence inexpensive pulp), inexpensive hydroelectric power, and strong industrial growth have been important factors in the advances in the Swedish book trade: they contributed to making printing cheaper and faster and thus paved the way for the low-priced books that were to dominate the business throughout the two centuries. Regardless of the era or the ideologies and purposes involved, cheap books have always driven the industry and have also been one of the most important factors in breaking down the social and cultural barriers to reading.
Developments in Sweden’s book trade generally followed the same course as socioeconomic history, with the notable exception that Sweden’s book trade has always been more liberal and commercial than other forms of trade and industry. The book market was regulated through trade agreements between 1843 and 1970. These created a stable, but strictly controlled, market. A deregulation of the trade in 1970 saw the pendulum swing far back. In comparison with other Western European countries since 1970, Sweden has had fewer restrictions and regulations and thus a highly commercial and price-conscious market.
A further notable aspect of the Swedish book trade is that despite the smallness of the country in terms of population and language, exports and imports have been far larger than most comparable countries. The international ties in terms of business-to-business relations, translations, and foreign rights sales remain strong, with the Swedish book trade very dependent on the international trade.