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.
Mandelgren Prize to Michael Neiß
13 april 2017
Svenska fornminnesföreningen (the Antiquarian Society of Sweden) has decided to award PhD student and archaeologist Michael Neiß the 2017 Mandelgren Prize for his research on Scandinavian animal art.
Archaeologists at the vanguard of environmental and climate research
26 februari 2017
The history of people and landscapes, whether natural or cultural, is fundamentally connected. Answering key historical questions about this relation will allow us to approach our most important environmental issues in novel ways. Today in the ope...
New database of Swedish archaeological research in Greece
09 januari 2017
In a recently completed project at the Swedish Institute in Athens, materials from more than a hundred years of Swedish archaeological research in Greece has been made available through the database PRAGMATA. The database includes, among other thi...
Bokrelease - Vicke Lindstrand On The Periphery
18 november 2016
Den australiensiske designhistorikern Mark Ian Jones lanserar sin nya bok Vicke Lindstrand On The Periphery. Detta är den första engelskspråkiga publikationen som beskriver Vicke Lindstrands liv och verk.
Digitisation of cultural heritage discussed at AIMday
03 november 2016
Cultural heritage has become a field of great importance for the development of modern society. Modern technology creates new opportunities for communicating and presenting cultural heritage, as well as making it accessible. The potential and chal...
Archaeologist appointed new honorary doctor
05 oktober 2016
Archaeologist Jeremy B. Rutter, Professor Emeritus at Dartmouth College, USA, has been appointed a new honorary doctor at the Faculty of Arts.
SEK 5 million grant to art project
27 september 2016
The Swedish Research Council has selected seven art research projects to receive grants, out of a total of 51 applications. One of the grants is awarded to Katarina Pirak Sikku and the Uppsala University Centre for Gender Studies.
Augmented reality app presents Old Uppsala in a new way
24 augusti 2016
In Old Uppsala lie the remains of one of Scandinavia’s most fascinating royal estates from the Iron Age. Once there were numerous houses and other buildings here, which visitors up until now have had to imagine from sketches. A new app called ‘Aug...
Innovative games win prizes at the Swedish Game Awards
20 juni 2016
Game Design students from Uppsala University Campus Gotland won half of the prizes at the Swedish Game Awards on 11 June.
Major international meeting on cultural heritage held
16 april 2016
Uppsala University’s Vice-Chancellor Eva Åkesson and Professor of Building Conservation Tor Broström at Campus Gotland participated in a large international conference on cultural heritage and cultural preservation at Yale University in mid-April....
New book documents terrorism from Shakespeare's time
02 december 2015
There was no word for terrorism in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but outbreaks of terrorist violence were frequent. In his new book on terrorism in history and literature, Uppsala University Professor of English Literature, Robert Appel...
Heléne Lööw to be awarded the Martin H:son Holmdahl Scholarship
10 november 2015
The Martin H:son Holmdahl Scholarship is Uppsala University’s most prestigious award for the furthering of human rights and liberty. This year, the award is being given to docent Heléne Lööw at the Department of History for her important contribut...
Faculty of Arts awards honorary doctorates
02 oktober 2015
Robert Darnton, Professor Emeritus and previously university librarian at Harvard, and Hiroshi Maruyama, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Muroran Institute of Technology, Japan, have been made honorary doctors by the Faculty of Arts, Uppsala Uni...
Uppsala University recruits Professor Don Kulick
27 januari 2015
The internationally recognised anthropologist Professor Don Kulick is being recruited by Uppsala University. He will lead a broad, multidisciplinary research programme funded by the Swedish Research Council which will allow us to better understand...