April 16, 2014

Four publishers in Norway suspected of violating competition laws


Norwegian grocery stores are missing one thing: books. Photo via Shutterstock.

Norwegian grocery stores are missing one thing: books. Photo via Shutterstock.

Evan Hughes nearly convinced us all to move to Norway this week in an article for The New Republic. Norway seems like a great place to work in books: the literacy rate is 100%. Publishers own the bookstores. Deep discounting is banned, books are exempt from sales tax, and Arts Council Norway buys 1,000 copies of every book that passes inspection (1,500 copies if it’s a children’s book). Pretty sweet deal, huh?

Hughes reported last week that there are some challenges you might face as a successful writer in such a small country. In his profile of Karl Ove Knausgaard, he suggested it’s probably not ideal to sell a half million copies of a book based on your life when your country’s population is roughly the same as Alabama.  Knausgaard has to run into the basis for many of his characters in the grocery store, and they’re not all pleased with his Struggle.

There are other reasons to move to Norway if you’re in the book world. Renowned artists receive a guaranteed income. Every member of the Authors’ Union is subsidized $19,000 a year. If these writers can’t bear to face the grocery store, at least they can afford to eat.

But even a country that’s otherwise perfect (aside from the endless winter, etc.) isn’t immune to law suits. Four Norwegian publishers are going through their own battle with accusations of collusion.

This week, these big publishers and their distributor were suspected of refusing to deliver books to grocery or convenience stores. The Norwegian Competition Authority (Konkurransetilsynet) conducted unannounced searches on April 9, looking for evidence these four were colluding to keep their books out of grocery stores. They’re analyzing those findings now.

It is too early to say anything about how long the analysis work will take,” legal director Karin Stakkestad Laastad told Aftenposten.

These articles are translated from Norwegian papers, so it’s not clear why selling editions in a grocery store would be undesirable. But we might guess from the quotes that mass market editions are less profitable than other editions.

Publisher Erling Kagge said,

“It is unfortunate that Gyldendal, Aschehoug, Cappelen and Schibsted fight tooth and nail to limit the choice of books in several thousand outlets. The publishing houses have systematically and over a long time made it very difficult for other publishers to release significantly. If a publisher today sells a book through Bladcentralen, the book must first be approved by one of the four publishing houses.”

If you were planning to buy a plane ticket to write in Scandinavia, you may want to hold out until this collusion case works itself out. Well, you can go ahead, but don’t expect grocery store editions along with your Norwegian grocery money.

Pros: best place in the world to be a writer, free education, high literacy rate. Cons: mass market editions aren’t available in convenience stores, winter is endless, and a can of soda costs $6.


Kirsten Reach is an editor at Melville House.