Nobel Prize-winning literature often published by small publishing houses
5 December 2022
During the Christmas trade period, books written by the latest Nobel Prize laureate tend to sell at least as well as the more traditional bestsellers. It is very important for publishers to have Nobel Prize winners on their lists, according to research by Jana Rüegg, doctoral student in literary studies at Uppsala University.
In recent years, it has become more common for small publishing houses to publish literature that is then awarded the Nobel Prize. This is demonstrated by Jana Rüeggs’s study on the Nobel Prize in Literature and publication trends in Sweden, for laureates in the period 1970-2016.
‘I have observed a shift from larger to smaller publishers and it has been particularly evident over the last ten years. This correlates with publishing trends in general for translated literature and perhaps particularly high prestige literature in translation, such as literature by Nobel Prize laureates.’
Why is this?
‘On the one hand, Sweden has a very strong trend of small publishing houses supporting this kind of literature in translation. On the other, their publications are very well suited to the various forms of support that are available. The Swedish Arts Council’s literary grant has a publication limit of no more than 5000 copies and focuses on high-quality literature that would otherwise be difficult to get published. The literature of small publishing houses often lies within these parameters’, says Jana Rüegg.
Big publishers in crisis
Another explanation is that big publishers such as Bonniers and Norstedt experienced a crisis in the early 2000s. Previous research shows that it is precisely the high-quality literature in translation that publishers cut back on in the event of a crisis. This is what seems to have happened in this case too.
‘For example, Elisabeth Grate, who runs the Grate publishing company, says that the big publishing houses let some high-quality literature go, allowing her to expand her range. She has two Nobel Laureates on her list, Patrick Modiano and J.M.G. Le Clézio. Modiano had been published by Bonniers and Norstedts since 1970. Then there was a long 19-year break before a smaller publisher picked up the author.’
Long breaks of this kind are not uncommon when it comes to the work of Nobel Prize laureates in Swedish translation. It often takes a while before a new publishing house takes over the publishing.
‘Annie Ernaux, this year's laureate, has a publishing history similar to that of Modianos, except that it was a large publisher who picked her up following a 22-year hiatus. She was introduced by a Bonnier imprint called Viva and subsequently moved to Wahlström&Wistrand. The latest publication there was in 1998 and in 2020, Norstedt picked her up’, says Jana Rüegg.
Good sales during the Christmas trade
For a small publishing house, prizes such as the Nobel Prize are of great importance. On the one hand, they provide a lot of good publicity and on the other, literature written by Nobel Laureates sells well, at least during the Christmas trade period. Jana Rüegg carries out spot checks in the trade magazine, Svensk bokhandel, to monitor how good sales usually are.
‘In particular months, such as December which is usually a major sales month, some authors can compete with other bestsellers in that specific month. However, Nobel Prize laureates have quite a hard time measuring up to traditional bestsellers on the best books of the year lists. So, they do not sell as well as the latest Läckberg, however, they stand out in relation to other high-prestige literature.’
As part of the research project, Rüegg created a database of the publications of all Nobel laureates from 1970 to 2016, from Solzhenitsyn to Dylan. The majority were published in Swedish long before they were awarded the Nobel Prize.
‘From their first work in Swedish translation to the year in which they were awarded the Nobel Prize, there was an average period of 20 years. This means that the Nobel Prize in most cases reintroduces an author that has already been translated into Swedish, rather than drawing attention to an author for the first time. It is commonly believed that Noble Prize is awarded to an entirely unknown author, however, this is not true from a market perspective’, says Jana Rüegg.
“Most people can relate to music”
20 juni 2023
Mattias Lundberg’s area of research is liturgical music from the Renaissance. However, as a professor of musicology, he is used to covering the history of music in its entirety, and in recent years he has done precisely this in radio broadcasts fr...
Music Professor Mattias Lundberg receives Royal Medal
06 juni 2023
Mattias Lundberg is familiar from several series on Sveriges Radio’s channel P2, most recently “Fråga musikprofessorn” (“Ask the Music Professor”). Now he is being awarded a royal medal. “I’m pleased that musicology and the humanities are receivi...
“The public is generally poorly informed”
29 mars 2023
Hello May-Britt Öhman, researcher at the Centre for Multidisciplinary Studies on Racism and expert contributor to the Government's Committee on Reindeer Lands.What is the purpose of this inquiry?
From living heritage to zombie churches
22 mars 2023
Churches are preserved by an antiquarian system that risks killing them instead of keeping them alive. The Swedish State and the Church of Sweden therefore need to define new joint visions and goals to enable the ecclesiastical cultural heritage t...
Democracy researchers to participate in literature festival
22 mars 2023
War, crime and literature as a path to reconciliation is the theme of the Uppsala International Literature Festival on March 23–25. One of the organisers is the Democracy and Higher Education research programme at Uppsala University. Christina Kul...
ERC grant for research into Swedish slavery
03 februari 2023
Fredrik Thomasson, researcher at the Department of History at Uppsala University, has received the ERC Consolidator Grant from the European Research Council (ERC). This grant relates to a project on Swedish colonial history on the island of Saint ...
The names given to the clouds, an important part of the university's history
04 januari 2023
The book “Molnspanare– en meteorologisk historia” (Cloud spotters – a meteorological history) tells of the emergence of meteorology as a scientific subject. Among other things, you can read about how the Latin names and classification of the cloud...
The history of Easter Island can teach us about sustainability
08 december 2022
Tourism has exploded on Easter Island over the last twenty years – something that has led to both financial gain and major encroachments on the island's environment. Researchers from Uppsala are now studying how history can teach us to build a mo...
Nobel Prize-winning literature often published by small publishing houses
05 december 2022
During the Christmas trade period, books written by the latest Nobel Prize laureate tend to sell at least as well as the more traditional bestsellers. It is very important for publishers to have Nobel Prize winners on their lists, according to res...
Conference: 30 years of EU citizenship
21 november 2022
This year marks 30 years since European Union citizenship came into being. It will be highlighted at an international, interdisciplinary conference in Uppsala on 22–23 November. Both researchers and all those interested are welcome to attend.
New honorary doctors in the Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences
03 november 2022
The faculties at Uppsala University have decided on the award of honorary doctorates for 2022. Among the new honorary doctors at faculties in the Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences are researchers in economic geography, family l...
The vulnerability of surrogate mothers in a global market
17 oktober 2022
A new dissertation on surrogacy highlights Thai women's experiences of having acted as surrogate mothers. The dissertation shows the women's vulnerability in a global surrogacy industry, but also provides a more nuanced picture of what makes women...
Historical discoveries as Linnaeus Garden is excavated
07 oktober 2022
Unique pots, eighteenth-century porcelain and the bones of countless fish and birds: archaeologists who have been excavating part of the Linnaeus Garden have come across a wealth of exciting objects that can tell us more about the people and anima...
Popular 18th-century medicine in a new form
05 september 2022
Hello to Nils-Otto Ahnfelt, PhD pharmacist and visiting researcher at the Department of Pharmaceutical Biosciences. Together with the historian of science Hjalmar Fors, you have developed a reconstruction of the 300-year-old medicine Hjärnes Testa...
Torgny Segerstedt Medal and Geijer Prize winners announced
05 september 2022
This year’s Torgny Segerstedt Medal has been awarded to Mikael Stenmark, professor in philosophy of religion at the Department of Theology. The Geijer Prize goes to Viktor Persarvet and Astrid Wendel-Hansen.
Digging from the present down to antiquity
30 augusti 2022
Welcome to the Viking Age! The archaeology students, with their trowels and their scrapers, have dug past the medieval layers and made their way down to the 11th century, approximately 30 centimetres below today's ground level. During the seminar ...
The sheep – Gotland’s symbol of sustainability
14 juni 2022
Sheep are the strongest symbol of sustainability on Gotland, according to Gurbet Peker. Not only do real ones graze all over the island, you can even find sheep sculpted in concrete in Visby. Peker researches the day-to-day lives of lamb farmers i...
Can democracy solve the climate crisis?
13 juni 2022
Hello Linda Wedlin, organisor and moderator of a panel discussion during Almedalen Week with the theme ‘What knowledge and what kind of democracy is needed for a successful climate transition?’ What are you going to be discussing?
Mapping people of the past by means of their bones
09 maj 2022
What is the best way to find out about a human being or animal that has been dead for perhaps several centuries? “Study the bones” is what Sabine Sten, professor of osteoarchaeology, would say. They can reveal an individual's age, body length, DNA...
Transforming space and society in Kiruna
24 mars 2022
State and corporate ideas about nature, people and the future played a decisive role in the development of Kiruna as a mining town over a century ago. Since 2004, when 6,000 Kiruna residents were informed that they would have to move because of gr...