Tuija Laine and Kirsti Salmi-Niklander
Vernacular literacy began in Finland with the Reformation. Michael Agricola, the first Finnish reformer, studied in Wittenberg, and, after returning to Finland, translated the first books into Finnish. The books were originally intended for priests, but in the middle of the 17th century a literacy campaign was conducted throughout the Swedish realm, one that was quite effective in expanding the reading audience. A number of bishops in the diocese of Turku were also active in writing basic religious material for the common people, including primers, catechisms, and hymnals. The church also examined its parishioners’ reading skills. People could not acquire the status of godparent, attend the Eucharist, or marry without proper reading skills and a knowledge of basic Christian doctrine. In the first phase of the campaign, reading was only learning by rote, but by the last decades of the 17th century bishops and priests were emphasizing the importance of reading from books and understanding their content. Literacy progressed further in the 18th century, and literature published in Finnish became more varied.
During the 19th century, Finland’s literacy rate continued to rise gradually. For the vast majority of the rural population, however, “literacy” meant only the very basic reading skills required and examined by the Lutheran Church. The statute for primary schools was laid down in 1866, but the law on compulsory primary education was not enacted until 1921. The Russian government began to promote the Finnish language in the 1860s. The consequent growth of Finnish-language literature and the expansion of the press allowed for reading by large segments of the population. The popular movements established during the final decades of the 19th century (the temperance movement, agrarian youth movement, and labor movement, for example) provided further opportunities for literary training. Among the lower classes in rural Finland, many self-educated writers submitted manuscripts to the Finnish Literature Society and sent news of their home parishes to newspapers. Some of them 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.