Estonia’s year of digital culture 2020

Written by Martin Aadamsoo

The outgoing 2020 is a thematic year of digital culture in Estonia, proclaimed by the Ministry of Culture five years ago. Little did anyone suspect at the time just how topical the chosen theme would turn out to be. For long spells throughout the year, digital was the only form that culture could be produced, distributed or consumed.

The Year of Digital Culture is organised by a group of four public institutions led by the National Library of Estonia. From the outset, we set ourselves two primary goals: to make culture part of digital Estonia’s success story, and to launch initiatives with long term outcomes far beyond the frame of one calendar year. Here’s a quick walk through of what the Year of Digital Culture 2020 achieved.


Regardless of Estonia’s digital savviness, the local market for audiobooks and e-books has languished at a measly 2–3% of the total publishing sector. In fact, a commercial audiobook offering was all but non-existent until 2020. When the Spring lockdown set in, we quickly assembled a list of 50 books by Estonian authors for all age groups, rendered into audiobooks by professional actors who had little to do during the closure. The audiobooks have since been launched by two commercial publishers, and two platforms — web- and app-based- have been launched. The number of audiobooks on sale has doubled during the year and we are looking forward to strong long-term growth in the sector in the years ahead.

Joint museum card

Estonia boasts of being the country with the highest number of museum visits per capita in Europe, and — arguably — the world. Although we do have world-class museums, a digitally extended museum experience, and joint digital marketing has been missing. We commissioned a study on the business prospects of creating a joint digital Estonian museum card for visitors that provides live statistics, allows the creation of joint digital marketing campaigns, and adds new layers to the country’s digital museum experience. The card will launch in 2021, a perfect Christmas present for the next holiday season.

Virtual festivals

All festivals and event organisers were stranded with the COVID lockdown and had to quickly realign their plans for the year. We experimented with new forms of hybrid festivals, including the Intsikurmu music festival and the A-list Black Nights Film Festival or ‘PÖFF’, which duplicated their live content and international industry events online. The main takeaway from the experience is that hybrid festival formats are here to stay for a long time, and this may not be so bad after all.

Fair streaming platform

Streaming platforms like Spotify, Deezer, Tidal and others are ubiquitous these days. Yet, it is hard to find a musician satisfied with the way revenue is shared, or not shared, with the authors and performers. Enter Fairmus — a very early-stage private initiative to launch a streaming service with monthly subscriptions and no skimming off the top by third parties and middlemen. Fairmus, created by Reigo Ahven, manager of Philly Joe jazz club in Tallinn and an active musician himself, will be rolled out in the first half of 2021. In the future one can see what the site is up to from here:

2020 turned us all into lab rats of digital culture experiments. Let’s embrace the positives and move on.



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Liina Luhats-Ulman

The tales of Estonian digital culture, that I write down are brought to you by The Estonian Institute and The Year of Digital Culture 2020