Q&A with Christopher Norris of the Jolabokaflod Book Campaign

By   Jantien Abma 6 min read

Christopher Norris is a media, publishing and social entrepreneur with over 25 years’ experience of joining the dots between crowdfunding, book publishing, digital media, television, music and film by being passionate about making things happen, publicising excellence, and helping others achieve their creative goals.

Chris is the Founder and Curator of the Jolabokaflod Book Campaign, a not-for-profit enterprise to introduce the Icelandic tradition of Jólabókaflóð to the UK and beyond. He is also Head of Crowdfunding at CrowdPatch, the crowdfunding platform for social entrepreneurs.

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Tell us a little bit about the history of Jolabokaflod, and why you felt the need to bring it to the UK.

The retail cycle each year, from the launch of new books to the reading of these books at Christmas, is known as Jólabókaflóð, which translates roughly into English as ‘Christmas book flood’.

This tradition began during World War II once Iceland had gained its full independence from Denmark in 1944. Paper was one of the few commodities not rationed during the war, so Icelanders shared their love of books even more as other types of gifts were in short supply. This increase in giving books as presents reinforced Iceland’s culture as a nation of bookaholics – for example, a study conducted by Bifröst University in 2013 found that half the country’s population read at least eight books a year.

Every year since 1944 the Icelandic book trade has published a catalogue – called Bókatíðindi (‘Book Bulletin’, in English) – that is sent to every household in the country in mid-November during the Reykjavík Book Fair. People use the catalogue to order books to give friends and family for Christmas.

During the festive season, gifts are opened on 24 December and, by tradition, everyone reads the books they have been given straight away, often while drinking hot chocolate or a Christmas ale cocktail called jólabland.

As I was a pioneer of World Book Day in the UK, serving on the steering committee for the inaugural event in 1996-7, I realised that the Icelandic tradition of Jólabókaflóð offered a fabulous opportunity to promote book buying and reading within the same initiative, so the seeds of the Jolabokaflod Book Campaign were planted.

Between March and October 2016, I set up and ran the first Jolabokaflod Patch project at CrowdPatch – called The Icelanders Cometh – which built on the strong connection with Icelandic literature by seeking funds for UK libraries to spend on books published in English by Icelandic authors. The project successfully raised £2,365.00, 103% of its target figure, which will soon by available for five participating library authorities to spend.

What can we look forward to during or as a result of Jolabokaflod this year?

In November this year, two concurrent digital media campaigns were launched: one to introduce the spirit of Jólabókaflóð to the UK and beyond, to encourage people everywhere to make the Icelandic tradition part of the way they celebrate Christmas; and the other to promote a UK version of the Book Bulletin online, to capture book recommendations to share with people seeking to buy Christmas gifts for their friends and families.

From the book trade perspective, Jolabokaflod creates a fabulous new opportunity to promote and sell books. A publisher, for example, only has to sell one book to be in profit after making a financial contribution to the Book Bulletin crowdfunding campaign, which is raising money for the Jolabokaflod 2017 programme. The Jolabokaflod Book Campaign publicises book recommendations in the catalogue via digital media, so we actively support publishers in their ambition to sell more books

My overriding hope for this year’s Jolabokaflod campaign is to create market awareness and increased recognition of the tradition in time for a bigger campaign next year.

How can we help to spread the tradition of Jolabokaflod?

Jolabokaflod is essentially a simple, viral concept – to encourage people to buy books as Christmas presents to give to friends and family for reading over the festive season. There are many ways in which you can help this Christmas tradition to spread. Here are a few ideas:

  • Tell friends and family about Jolabokaflod in person: word of mouth is still a potent way of sharing messages.
  • Include the org website URL in your email signatures.
  • Follow and ‘like’ Jolabokaflod on social media – Twitter: @Jolabokaflod; Facebook: /Jolabokaflod – and like and repost messages you would like to share with your networks.
  • Think of an innovative crowdfunding campaign you would like to set up and run via the Jolabokaflod Patch at CrowdPatch in 2017, and tell other people about this opportunity as well.

What do you feel is the most important thing to communicate when appealing to strangers for funding?

Although crowdfunding has been a method of raising money for centuries, its online manifestation remains a fairly new concept. Once people understand that crowdfunding has a long and illustrious history – Alexander Pope and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart ran campaigns to fund their creative works, and money to pay for the plinth to support the Statue of Liberty was raised via crowdfunding – fear of ‘the new’ will dissipate. Normal rules of fundraising apply: for example, potential contributors can do due diligence research on project owners.

Here are some basic features of a crowdfunding campaign that project owners need to address when pitching to strangers:

  • Enthusiasm – They need to convey their love their campaigns, via social media, blog postings and visual media, including video.
  • Experience – They need to demonstrate that they are a capable and credible person in the field in which they seek to raise funds.
  • Transparency – They need to show how the money raised will be spent.
  • Excitement – They need to create an aura of infectious positivity around the project that makes a compelling case for people to make contributions.
  • Opportunity – They need to see the project from the viewpoint of potential contributors and tailor the project’s features and benefits to people’s needs.
  • Reward – They need to offer compelling perks that ‘close the deal’ for contributors that can be delivered cheaply, efficiently and in a timely fashion.

Why do you feel it’s important to support crowdfunding campaigns that resonate with you?

We are social beings: it makes us feel good when we give of ourselves to other people. Giving is emotionally sticky: it generates personal happiness and enhances professional reputation.

We all have personalities that reflect and communicate our identities with the world around us. Making a contribution to a crowdfunding campaign is essentially communicating an aspect of who we are, a process similar to giving to charitable causes.

Therefore it is important we feel connected to the crowdfunding campaigns that we support, as they are ciphers for the ways in which we engage with the world. If we love a campaign, we will feel great when we volunteer to help and contribute funds to the project.

What are your three favourite books of all time, fiction or non-fiction?

A tough choice, this, but I have chosen books that have made a real impact on me personally and professionally:

  • Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh
  • Understanding Media by Marshall McLuhan
  • The Curve by Nicholas Lovell