Barbarians at the Borders

Invasion of North America

One of my favourite books is Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. It has such grand themes: the collapse of the greatest civilisation of the western world and its replacement by the younger, more virile barbarians. Many readers and reviewers have noted similar themes in my book The Decline and Fall of Nokia. Equating Nokia with Rome, Apple with the Goths and Google with the Vandals might be a stretch, but the theme of great transformation remains the same. People in the high-tech industry like to call this process disruption, but it applies to much more than consumer electronics.

The period of the fall of Rome used to be referred to as the Barbarian Invasions. This brings to mind the hairy, fur-wearing, illiterate savages who destroyed the wealth and culture of a greater civilisation. While there is some truth in this, it isn’t a fair picture. Today the period of human migration coincident with the fall of Rome is more likely to be called the Migration Period.

Many of the immigrants to the Roman Empire were freely welcomed. They farmed the land, swelled the armies and even helped to govern. They wanted to be part of Rome, not to destroy it. But regardless of whether they were savage barbarians or friendly migrants, they helped to disrupt the classical civilisation.

Today’s Great Migration

Invasion of Europe

Today we are going through a similar great migration period. In 2013 almost 4 per cent of the world’s population were immigrants. Tens of thousands of people from Africa and the Middle-east are moving into Europe. People throughout central and southern America are migrating up to the United States, while Australia is the target of people from southern Asia. Similarly, we have the two narratives: the savage, destroying invaders and the peaceful, assimilating migrants.

There has long been a fear among Europeans and the descendants of Europeans about a repeat of the barbarian invasions which coincided with the fall of the Western Roman Empire. In the Eighteenth Century Edward Gibbon suggested that if it happened in his day Europe could flee to the American continents in ten thousand ships where it would ‘revive and flourish.’ Ironically, Europeans did in fact move to America, and they did revive and flourish, but they were the barbarians destroying the established Native American civilisation. It’s all a matter of perspective.

During the fall of Rome it was not uncommon for locals to feel overwhelmed by migrants. They felt ignored by the central authorities and took matters into their own hands. The same thing is happening today with local militias patrolling the Texas border on the lookout for illegal migrants. Here in Finland a group called The Soldiers of Odin patrol the streets with the stated purpose of protecting Finns from violent refugees.

Lolita and kebab

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The conflicting narratives of invading barbarian and peaceful migrant continue with the same problems as in Late Antiquity. Donald Trump’s idea of a wall on the Mexican border and his plan to refuse entry to Muslims isn’t going to work. Hadrian’s Wall and the Roman persecution of different religious sects didn’t work either. On the other side of the argument the idea that an immigrant will become 100 per cent American or 100 per cent Finnish is no more realistic than saying the Huns became Romans.

The current great migration period will help disrupt and transform our current society, just as waves of migration in the past did the same thing in those eras. Instead of trying to stop it a better idea is to manage it where possible and adapt to it when management is impossible. After all, a lot of good can come out of such disruption. It’s happening whether we like it or not, so it is better to treat it as an opportunity than a threat.

The developed world has a poor birth rate, and these migrants will be needed for the future labour force. They can also enrich the culture. America loves Mexican cuisine while Finland loves Turkish. Vladimir Nabokov, one of the greatest writers in the English language, was in fact a Russian. A world without immigration would be a world without kebab and Lolita, and that would be a poor world indeed.

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Fat book shaming and literary thigh gaps

There are millions of people around the world who are making New Year’s resolutions to lose weight. Almost all of them will fail.

I had a long relationship with someone who was overweight. I got to see the process first hand, played out year after year. The current diet fads. The yoga. The countless celebrity exercise videos. Quack diet pills, wasted gym memberships, a progression of workout machines (the last one was not used even once, I believe), weights, jump ropes, online self-help groups, books…

None of it ever worked, of course. I tried to help but it was no use. Her personality was simply hardwired to obesity. It was a sad time when I finally had to tell her she was just too fat and it was time for me to start a new relationship.

By the way, I’m not talking about fat people. I’m talking about fat books.

Book obesity

Admit it. This looks like one fine book.

Admit it. This looks like one fine book.

Obesity in manuscripts is almost as prevalent as obesity in people. This is when the story branches off into unnecessary digressions, wordplay, social commentary, subplots, descriptions… A book should start at the beginning, tell what happens, and then stop. If you are doing more then you are overeating.

Sometimes when you are blinded by love for a book you don’t see it is too fat. I needed an editor to tell me the harsh truth. That book was morbidly obese. No one would ever pick her up at a bookstore.

At first, I tried to get my manuscript on a diet to get her to a healthy weight. It was the literary equivalent of a fat camp or seaweed diet. I tried calorie counting: cut out adjectives, adverbs, every instance of the word ‘that’ and unnecessary metaphors. That didn’t work so I tried liposuction and extracted a subplot and supporting character. This might have succeeded if my book was simply a bit chubby, but it failed because she was hardwired to obesity.

The problem with this editing approach is the same as the problem with the diet fad approach with people. At the end, you still have something obese. You know what I’m talking about. Probably everyone has read a book that only had 100,000 words but was still too damn fat.

Instead you need to start fresh. That doesn’t mean you have to completely reject your book like I did, but it does need a new life. This is exactly the same as how an obese person needs a new life to really lose weight.

Fat acceptance

This book of poetry at the University of Iowa is too obese to leave the library. Via Press-Citizen.

This book of poetry at the University of Iowa is too obese to leave the library. Via Press-Citizen.

But wait, some of you are saying. This is intolerant. This is prejudice. This is fat shaming of worthy chubby literature, you say. What about literary social justice? What about fat book acceptance? Some of us just happen to like every sweaty kilo of our Victor Hugo and all of Ayn Rand’s chins. You take your anorexic Albert Camus and bony little Amélie Nothomb and get the hell out.

I concede that there is indeed a market for big books. But most big books aren’t fat; they are just larger than normal. Think of a professional basketball player: they are gigantic, but they aren’t obese. The Count of Monte Cristo is enormous, but I don’t consider it fat. Don DeLillo writes big books, but they aren’t unhealthily chubby. True obesity has an extremely small literary market of fat book fetishers.

Normally big books are accepted once you know the author. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is much larger than Philosopher’s Stone, but by the time of its publication we knew J.K. Rowling and were willing, if not eager, for a bigger book. Once you have the relationship you can afford a little flab.

If you are taking your manuscript on a first date with a reader, it is a good idea to make sure it is slim and in shape. Let’s be honest. At first glance there aren’t many readers who will be interested in a waddling, gasping novel. But they will give consideration to something with prominent hip bones and a nice thigh gap. As do we all.

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Finland’s national New Year’s Resolutions 2016

People around the world are making their resolutions for the coming year, yet I believe this annual goal-setting could be taken further and be applied to entire countries. For a number of years I have published my suggested resolutions for Finland in the Helsinki Times newspaper and here are my proposed national resolutions for 2016.

Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson, originally published on 3 January 1988. Calvin seems to represent many Finnish politicians, unfortunately.

Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson, originally published on 3 January 1988. Calvin seems to represent many Finnish politicians, unfortunately.

1) Promote digital security as an industry. Finland has funding programs to promote innovation and entrepreneurship in specific industries where we have special strengths, such as health tech or mobile tech. There is a huge global demand for digital privacy and security and we already have a powerhouse in that industry thanks to F-Secure. Tekes had dabbled in this with their Cyber Security program but we could and should do much more.

2) Approach asylum seekers as a long-term investment. The governor of the Bank of Finland, Erkki Liikanen, has explained that our current influx of refugees could help finance the welfare state. This is because Finland’s working age population is shrinking and we will eventually need new workers – one estimate by the Confederation of Finnish Industries says we will need about 10,000 new workers annually. Some Finnish towns are offering cash bonuses for people to move there or for current residents to have babies. Meanwhile we have thousands of people begging to get into the country. It will take work to get them trained to fit the economy’s needs, but here is a problem solved.

3) Reform the retirement system. Weak compromise measures will no longer suffice. We must tie the retirement age to life expectancy and make strenuous efforts to encourage individuals to make use of private retirement accounts.

4) Improve our capital markets. So much depends on capital, and our capital markets are dying. Entrepreneurs complain about the domestic venture capital market, and the Helsinki Stock Exchange seems to be comatose. The best way to do this is to simplify tax laws, lower tax rates for investors and encourage equity investments by private persons.

5) Sell our stakes in unnecessary state-owned companies. Finland does not need to own retail stores, airlines, real estate firms and insurance companies which compete against private corporations. The money these sales would generate would be better served elsewhere.

Finland's economy in recent years. This is not acceptable.

If you want a reason why Finland needs a fiscal stimulus program, look at this graph of our GDP.

6) Engage in a fiscal stimulus program. The Austerians have won the battle against the Stimulusarians, right? Well, yes, they have. But the Austerians say it is impossible to afford fiscal stimulus, and this doesn’t apply to us. Finland can borrow at such low rates that investors will actually pay us for the right to lend us money. Yes, you read that correctly. The yield on Finland’s long-term bonds is 0.85%. However, the short-term expected inflation rate is 1% while the long-term is 2%. This means that in real terms we will pay back less than we borrow. Why the hell aren’t we taking advantage of this?

7) Cut wasteful spending. One program which particularly annoys me is our gargantuan subsidies for agriculture. This increases the price of food, encourages inefficiencies in our own industry, and unfairly hits developing nations.

8) Tie the pay of public sector employees to goals. In private companies the salary plus bonus structure works beautifully. Finland should be a global leader in taking this to the public sector, even to members of parliament. This will encourage and reward hard work.

9) Follow Estonia’s digital strategy. Estonia’s e-residency program is brilliant but Finnish policy makers are simply whining about how it can hurt us instead of taking advantage of it. We copy Sweden’s policies all the time. When Estonia has a great idea we should copy them, too.

10) Reform the labour market. This remains the largest obstacle for a sustained recovery, but the will for reform is weak among labour leaders. We let labour costs get out of hand and now we have priced ourselves out of the global market. Prime Minister Juha Sipilä has tried to drag the employers and workers together to work out a deal, and since they refuse to realistically negotiate he needs to beat them into submission. This is too important to avoid as the past Government did. We must improve labour market flexibility as well as reduce fixed and variable costs for the employers. This is the best way to lower our unemployment rate as well as to get those who have given up ever finding a job back into productive work.

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Opponents of refugees to Finland should remember history

About 30,000-35,000 people will file for asylum in Finland during 2015. Many Finns aren’t happy about it. Common complaints are that the refugees are slow to integrate, cause crime to increase and are expensive to maintain. This is generally true, but only in the short term.

Integration takes time. A lot of time. In fact, I would suggest that true integration doesn’t happen until the second generation. The first wave of immigrants can check off many of the boxes of integration, such as learning the language or getting a job, but they will always remain a bit of an outsider in their adopted society.

Accepting refugees will cost more money over the short term. However, studies have consistently shown that immigrants are net benefits to an economy over time. One of the most cited studies suggests GDP will increase by about one percent thanks to immigration. Some countries – like Finland – have a declining number of working-age people and immigration helps them even more than average.

History

This photoshopped image was made to satirise the immigration policies of the Green Party, but many people strangely think it is real.

This photoshopped image was made to satirise the immigration and refugee policies of the Green Party, but many people strangely think it is real.

Finland has extensive experience with refugees in its recent history. During the Winter and Continuation Wars about 70,000 Finnish children were sent as refugees to Sweden. The fact that Sweden helped us then but we are unwilling to help refugees today is a bit of an embarrassment. Swedish Foreign Minister Margo Wallström pointed out our hypocrisy in case we had missed it.

When the wars were over practically the entire population of Karelia – about 12 per cent of Finland’s population – was internally displaced and moved to the rest of Finland. In comparison the current number of refugees coming into Finland equals 0.6 per cent of the population, a miniscule amount compared to what Finns have dealt with in the past.

It is important to note something interesting about these episodes. I have never heard anyone, anywhere say that Sweden shouldn’t have helped Finnish children or that Finland shouldn’t have helped the Finns of Karelia.

No regrets

These immigrants to Michigan still aren't integrating.

These immigrants to Michigan still aren’t integrating.

While refugees are one thing, economic migrants are another. Up until the mid-20th Century America was the prime destination for Finns looking for a better life.

Let’s be honest: at the time many Americans were not happy about these immigrants. Reading through old articles is fascinating: in 1921 the Baltimore Sun wrote: ‘We have trouble enough of our own, without importing new ones from Europe’s slums.’ People today are saying the exact same thing, but substituting Syria or Africa for Europe.

There was a great deal of worry about immigrants’ lack of integration at the time and even anger towards the host nation. In 1920 the American Legion Weekly asked ‘Why are thousands [of foreigners] actually hostile in spirit towards the country and its institutions?’ This sounds eerily familiar to worries today about the imposition of Sharia law by migrants or terrorists slipping in with other refugees.

But fast forward to the America of today. In America there are no regrets about these past generations of migrants. This is an important point which is rarely, if ever, mentioned. The simple fact is that these migrants of years past enriched American culture and improved the economy. Why would they lament it when it was so beneficial to society? Those opposed to current immigration would do well to think about this.

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Looking for the perfect Christmas gift? Follow this handy flowchart.

Christmas shopping 2015

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Why I didn’t change my Facebook picture after the terrorist attacks in Paris

Once when I was a teenager I was reprimanded for not praying out loud during a funeral. Everyone except me was audibly praying together and I heard about it afterwards. At the time I felt this rebuke was unfair because I had been fervently praying silently, but that didn’t matter.

Back then I had the idea that prayer was a personal communication between you and your God. If that was true then it wouldn’t matter if you prayed audibly or silently – the message would presumably get through. But that wasn’t necessarily the case in the context of a funeral. The audible prayers at a funeral was directed at the other mourners, not the deceased or God. It was a social interaction, a communal activity displaying solidarity in grief and faith. A silent and personal prayer would not do; it must be an open demonstration to your social circle.

World burn France

Today our social circles have changed yet the same social habits remain. After the terrorist attacks in Paris the popular act on social media was to change your profile picture with an overlay of the French flag. This showed your solidarity and support to the French people as well as our collective grief. In this way it was very similar to an audible group prayer at a funeral.

I understand the attractiveness of the French flag overlay, but it was too easy for me. It would have cost me neither time nor effort and this made it less meaningful. In fact, in regards to actually solving the problem of terrorism all of us are making the least effort possible. We bomb ISIS from afar. We change our profile pictures. Poland and various US states refuse refugees. An American presidential candidate wants to identify and track Muslims by putting them in a national database. Maybe he will order them to wear a yellow crescent as well.

There is no effort here. This is water taking the path of least resistance. To deal with this phenomenon, to understand it, is going to take some work.

Mark Zuckerberg france

For almost two years I have been thinking and writing about this. My next novel will seem disturbingly familiar to people who have been following the news in Europe. Mass migration, terrorism, religious extremism, the rise of nationalist parties: it’s all there. My editor has been wishing that it was ready for publication now because it is eerily prescient.

But why should I put so much time and effort into writing about this when I could change my profile picture in three seconds? The end result is the same: a demonstration of my empathy. Well, to be blunt I find writing of value and changing profile pictures to be of no value to me. In fact, if I had changed my profile picture it would have demeaned all the work I have done in writing.

Writing is like prayer to me. It is an act of creation with a higher power, while your editor and readers are like priests who see if your theology is up to snuff. So while so many of my friends were changing their profile pictures to show their solidarity with Paris I was writing about it. Much like I said when I was a teenager, just because you didn’t hear me praying out loud didn’t mean I wasn’t.

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Finns love Kurt Vonnegut because they are lonely

I was walking my dog the other day and ran into an older distinguished gentleman. We started the usual chit-chat and, upon hearing that I was a writer, he launched into a spirited panegyric about Kurt Vonnegut. This wasn’t the first time this has happened. Finns seem to have a special affinity for him.

Kurt Vonnegut in Rolling Stone. Photo by Peter Yang.

Kurt Vonnegut in Rolling Stone. Photo by Peter Yang.

Even though Finland is only the 113th most populous country in the world, it is ranked number five in internet searches for Kurt Vonnegut. His books still sell well, even though he has been dead for eight years. It is common to see his novels on display alongside books which have just been released. So what is it about Finns and Vonnegut?

Vonnegut only visited Finland twice to my knowledge. On both occasions he wasn’t particularly interested in Finland, but instead in the fact that it was easier to pass the Iron Curtain here than anywhere else. During his research trip for Slaughterhouse-Five he and his friend Bernie O’Hare stayed one night in Helsinki. They were, of course, kept awake by drunk Finns partying outside his window.

So as far as I can tell there were no direct connections between Kurt Vonnegut and Finland. Instead, I think Finns are interested in Vonnegut for three reasons. First, Vonnegut was a master at dark humour. Finns love dark humour. Toss in a bit of sarcasm and satire and cynicism spices and you have a tasty dish Finns love.

‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’

Vonnegut's famous tombstone from Slaughterhouse-Five.

Vonnegut’s famous tombstone from Slaughterhouse-Five.

Finns also like Vonnegut because he was a global humanist who wasn’t afraid to moralise. Vonnegut famously said ‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’ He didn’t say this from some supposed religious authority – perhaps because organised religion doesn’t seem to stress kindness much nowadays – but instead from his simple humanity. Finns distrust organised religions but appreciate ethical humanity.

Finally, and most importantly, Vonnegut wrote for lonely people. Most of his protagonists – Billy Pilgrim, Malachi Constant, Kilgore Trout – are solitary figures, even if they are married and have families. Many of his plots are about lonely people dealing with the world in which they live.

In Slaughterhouse-Five we have the hero struggling to communicate with other people as he tries to come to terms with the horror of the Dresden firebombing. When Billy’s mother visits him in the hospital he can’t talk to her and instead hides under the blankets. If you think this sounds like the lonely social awkwardness of Karoliina Korhonen’s comic strip Finnish Nightmares, you’re right. Finns identify with these characters.

Timequake is full of direct addresses to the lonely. He reassures them in some places: ‘Many people need desperately to receive this message: “I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.”‘ In others he gives them a call to action: ‘We are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.’

In Slapstick a key plot point is about the creation of artificial extended families because modern families tend to be ephemeral and much smaller. Nowadays individuals are more isolated and we don’t have that huge emotional safety net of relatives living with us or at least nearby.

‘We are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.’

Finns wait at a bus stop. The rule is not to come close to other people.

Finns wait at a bus stop. The rule is not to come close to other people.

This is particularly true in Finland. One in five Finns live alone, compared to one in ten Americans. The Nordic welfare state has been justly praised for its compassion for the individual, but it also has the unintended side effect of supporting the disintegration of the family. There are not many places in the world where an unemployed teenager can move out of the house into her own place, but it is standard procedure in Finland.

Vonnegut had a deep empathy for the lonely. He tried to speak to them, for them, in a world which is cold and dark and doesn’t make a lot of sense. Finns are lonely people. It is a popular joke about how Finns shun human interaction – so popular that comic strips like Finnish Nightmares can thrive. It’s funny, but it is also true. Just because they choose to be alone doesn’t mean they aren’t lonely.

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Nokia and Finland’s official emojis

Finland is the first country in the world to release its own set of emojis. The first three to be unveiled by the Foreign Ministry are a heavy metal headbanger, some naked people in the sauna, and the good old Nokia 3310.

ThisisFINLAND / Bruno Leo Ribeiro

For years people have complained that Finns were good at innovation but terrible with marketing. I think that is true, generally speaking, but this is a brilliant little bit of national marketing. The Foreign Ministry’s Finland.fi website is releasing thirty emojis in all, and they are doing it via an online Christmas Advent calendar. Christmas is a big time for Finland because Santa Claus is Finnish, you know. Don’t believe what those Canadians and Alaskans claim about Santa’s residency.

I am a frequent writer for the Finnish Foreign Ministry so I might be biased, but from the Finnish perspective these emojis are a good idea. They have already generated a lot of international attention. The emojis perpetuate some Finnish stereotypes, but they are stereotypes which Finns have generally embraced.

ThisisFINLAND / Bruno Leo Ribeiro

Nokia’s place in all this is rather curious. Nokia is famous around the world for their ultimately failed role in the mobile phone business. The idea of the unbreakable Nokia 3310 has been around for a number of years, from back when Nokia still made mobile phones. At that time the meme poked fun at the new generation of smartphones. The screen on the iPhone would shatter with the slightest drop, while the old 3310 could be thrown against a brick wall and still work fine.

When that Nokia meme began in 2011 the company’s social media accounts began to play it up because it was complimentary to the quality of Nokia’s hardware. Their operating systems may have sucked but one thing Nokia could do better than anyone else was make good handsets. Yet soon Nokia seemed to have given up and ignored the meme. After all, when you think about it people were looking to the good old days of great Nokia products instead of the crap they were then selling.

ThisisFINLAND / Bruno Leo Ribeiro

Today Nokia has once again embraced the old ‘indestructible’ meme. The official Nokia Twitter account has proudly talked about the 3310 emoji. It is interesting to think about their corporate motivations.

For one, the emoji is generally positive from their point of view. Additionally, Nokia has never quite retreated from the consumer electronics industry despite the sale of their handset division to Microsoft. They have the N1 tablet currently on the market in Asia and have a fascinating new professional camera for virtual reality applications.

Nokia has repeatedly hinted that they were not done in the smartphone business and recently some images of a concept C1 device has been leaked to the press. Nokia are contractually forbidden from getting back into the industry until 2016 but there are multiple signs they are planning a comeback.

The current smartphone market is becoming more than a bit stale, not unlike the situation before Apple and Google created a marvellous new industry. It would be nice to think that Nokia is planning a similar revolution and is not intending to come back to the business with cheap Android commodity devices like dozens of other manufacturers.

In my book The Decline and Fall of Nokia I predicted that Nokia would return to the consumer product industry at some point, but they are doing it much sooner than I imagined. Perhaps these new emojis will be available on their first product.

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There are no ‘last words’ in writing

I love J.K. Rowling, but the control she exercises over Harry Potter bothers me. Rowling insists upon having the last word in regards to the Harry Potter universe. She has the right, of course, because she is the creator of it. The universe is also a significant business asset, and Rowling is shrewdly controlling and marketing it by her release of new information.

But Rowling is refusing to leave her creation to her fans. There is no room for reinterpretation or independent exploration. You can’t wonder about Dumbledore’s love interests or speculate about the fate of Dolores Umbridge, even though these issues aren’t explained in the books. Rowling has since said that Dumbledore was gay and Umbridge spent the rest of her life in prison. Her authority silences other ideas. The public must wait until her death before the Harry Potter world really passes to them.

NOKIAomslag.6.3.2014.front coverLORES

I have always believed that when a book is published the author is opening it up for interpretation. I am happy this is the norm in nonfiction, because there are rarely any definitive final words regarding an issue. When my book The Decline and Fall of Nokia was published I had no belief or desire that it would be the final word on the company’s failure in the mobile device market. What I did want was for it to be used and discussed to better understand what happened. I also wanted it to be a damn good story. Luckily, that has turned out to be the case.

The book wasn’t even a month old before I was contacted by the University of Haaga-Helia who wanted to use my ideas in their International Business Management classes for their Master’s Degree Programme. I delightedly said yes.

Since then my book has been cited by academics and researchers in their own work. Last year Harry Bouwman of the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands used it for his paper How Nokia Failed to Nail the Smartphone Market.

This year Sandra Lubinaite of the Jyväskylä University School of Business and Economics used it for Strategic Technology Management of Nokia Corporation 2003-2013: Faulty Choices and the Collapse of the Handset Business, as did Timo O. Vuori and Quy N. Huy of Cornell University in Distributed Attention and Shared Emotions in the Innovative Process: How Nokia Lost the Smartphone Battle. I hope more academics cite it in the future.

Carl-Gustav Lindén's Nokia och Finland.

Carl-Gustav Lindén’s Nokia och Finland.

There are more books coming about Nokia, too. One I am particularly interested in is Nokia och Finland from Carl-Gustav Lindén. I have talked to Carl-Gustav several times over the past couple of years, and he knows his stuff. He even kindly agreed to be on-call during my book launch in case the first interviewer wasn’t able to make it.

There will certainly be even more interpretations to come in the future. The nice thing about the Nokia story is that all the information is out there: you just have to gather it, analyse it and make some conclusions. There is no one to jealously guard the story and squash external theories like Rowling is doing. Having your work reinterpreted is part of the fun.

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The new Moomin-backed Finnish publisher is good news

Förlaget is a new publisher in Finland, but it is filled with old names. The CEO of Förlaget will be Fredrik Rahka who has experience in WSOY and Otava. Jonas Forth is an expert in digital media. Tapani Ritamäki and Sara Enholm-Hielmin are coming from Schildts & Söderströms. A large number of writers have said – either publicly or privately – that they also intend to join. The biggest name, of course, is Jansson, as in Tove Jansson’s family.

The new publisher Förlaget.

The new publisher Förlaget.

The Moomin characters and business

Tove Jansson’s Moomins first appeared in print with Småtrollen och den stora översvämningen (The Moomins and the Great Flood) in 1945. They have since appeared in television shows, comic strips and even the theatre.

Everyone is familiar with the characters but the business side of the Moomins is less well-known. The companies are still controlled by the Jansson family. Tove’s niece Sophia Jansson chairs the board of Moomin Characters Oy and also serves as artistic director. Her husband Roleff Kråkström is managing director. He, incidentally, also has 15 years’ experience in publishing.

They have carefully controlled the Moomin brand and focussed on quality rather than quantity. Licensing has been particularly important. They have also embraced digital media, such as mobile games and apps. The results have been good: in 2014 sales from the various entities jumped 21% to over €20 million while profit grew to €4.6 million. The Janssons have been able to grow and develop the Moomin brand, which is not easy. Just ask Rovio about Angry Birds.

Finnish-Swedish literature

I was excited to see my Nokia book on display next to Tove Jansson so had to get a picture.

I was excited to see my Nokia book on display next to Tove Jansson so had to get a picture.

The book market in Finland is not large, and the Swedish language market here is even smaller. A couple of years ago the two main publishers merged to become Schildts & Söderströms. At the time Söderströms was publishing my first book Mohamed 2.0. One insider recently reminded me of a conversation we had then: I had warned that corporate mergers never went as well as what the consultants promise. That has certainly been the case.

I have generally been pleased with Schildts & Söderströms, as they produce great content and I like the people there. The company itself is still struggling from the merger hangover and a failed business venture. The only complaints I personally have is regarding their sales and marketing, which seemed rather disturbingly moribund. Other writers have complained that the company was a near-monopoly which reduced the choices available to both writers and readers. Still others were not particularly happy with the way they were treated.

Förlaget hopes to change all that. They have recruited the best names in the business and have significant resources in their war chest. The Moomins alone are a major asset, and bringing their publishing rights home to the family business is a smart move. With Ritamäki and Enholm-Hielmin they are also likely to attract even more writers.

I am very happy that Förlaget is opening for business, because they will be good for writers, good for readers, and good for Finland both at home and abroad. I wish them all possible success.

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