For the Love of Literature

Magazine

For the Love of Literature

Jóhann Páll Valdimarsson, who runs the largest publishing house in Iceland, discusses the affection Icelanders have for reading, how foreign publishers are increasingly discovering the talent of Icelandic authors and his love affair with book publishing.

Published in the 2013 August-September issue of Iceland Review – IR 04.13. By Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir. Photos by Páll Stefánsson.

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Book publisher Jóhann Páll Valdimarsson greets me with a warm smile when we meet at the bustling Reykjavík wharf one breezy day in June. Opting for tea himself, he invites me to a cup of latte before we take a seat in one of Café Haiti’s vintage sofas. He accepts a glass of water, stressing the importance of staying hydrated throughout the day, adding that what keeps him energized in his busy life is having a fruit boost for lunch. Jóhann runs Forlagið, the largest publishing house in Iceland with a 25 percent market share.

Bookworm in the Family

Forlagið is as family-run as a company can get. Jóhann’s son Egill Örn Jóhannsson serves as managing director, daughterin-law Þórhildur Garðarsdóttir financial director, wife Guðrún Sigfúsdóttir editor, daughter Sif Jóhannsdóttir project manager for publishing, son Valdimar Jóhannsson office worker, brother Ásgeir Már Valdimarsson sales representative and Egill’s motherin-law Aðalheiður Sigurðardóttir works in bookkeeping. “Forlagið publishes about 200 new titles annually, which includes translated works of literature, and, in addition, there are many republications,” says Jóhann. “Our policy is to publish good books of all genres.” Releasing books under the labels JPV, Mál og menning, Vaka Helgafell and Iðunn, Forlagið is one of the few success stories in Icelandic book publishing, earning Jóhann and his son Egill the title Businesspeople of the Year from prestigious business magazine Frjáls verslun in 2012.

“I founded JPV as a small family-run business in 2001,” Jóhann says of the forerunner to Forlagið. “I did it because of my passion for books and wanted to keep it small and cozy. It proved successful and the business grew. It was never my policy to become big or the biggest.” Jóhann launched his career at Iðunn, a publishing company founded by his father, Valdimar Jóhannsson, in 1945. Jóhann took over the reins in 1974, making Iðunn the largest company in book publishing in Iceland, but after ten years he decided to found his own business. Eventually, JPV merged with other publishing houses in 2007 and became Forlagið.

You can read the remainder of this article in the August-September issue of Iceland Review – IR 04.13.

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