A small country with big numbers

How Norway’s book sector thrives despite the country’s small population

M. Michael Brady
Asker, Norway

Norway is a country of readers. Some 93 percent of the population reads books other than schoolbooks and required course curricula. Some six of 10 Norwegians read up to 10 books a year, while four in 10 read more than 10 books a year.

The book sector is robust and increasingly international, thanks in part to income from oil having made Norway a rich country. There are more than 400 publishers in Norway, of which Aschehoug, Cappelen Damm, Gyldendal Norsk Forlag, and Vigmostad & Bjørke now are the most significant. The sibling sector of media also is prominent in Norway, and many professionals work in both sectors. The Oslo-based Schibsted Media Group is among the largest in Europe, with 6,900 employees in 30 countries.

The governmental Culture Fund supports Innkjøpsordningen (Purchasing Scheme), a funding program for books administered by Kulturrådet (Arts Council), under which new books are bought and used to stock public and school libraries. For a single title, the Innkjøps­ordning may buy 1,000 to 1,500 copies of a book, a significant quantity for smaller publishers as well as authors.

NORLA (acronym for “Norwegian Literature Abroad,” a Ministry of Culture initiative) supports the publication of translated Norwegian books. From 2004 to 2017, NORLA helped fund translations of more than 4,250 books into some 65 languages. Of the world’s languages, Norwegian is among the 15 most translated.

Norwegian literature is well traveled. Norway’s best-selling author worldwide now is Jo Nesbø, known for crime fiction novels featuring antihero police inspector Harry Hole that have been translated into 50 languages. In non-fiction, documentary and journalistic books now lead. Åsne Seirstad’s The Bookseller of Kabul (2002) has been sold to 40 countries and was on the New York Times bestseller list for 40 weeks. In books for children and young adults, Jostein Gaarder’s novel Sophie’s World (1992) has sold more than 40 million copies in 60 languages and in 1995 was the most-sold fiction title worldwide.

On the domestic market, books once were comparatively expensive. No more. In terms of U.S. dollar prices, books now are cheaper than they were 10 years ago. The prime cause of the drop is the weakening of the Norwegian krone (NOK) against the dollar, from 5.7879 in July 2007 to 8.3870 to the dollar in July 2017. In turn, as most of Norway’s income comes from oil, the weakening was largely due to a significant drop in the price of crude oil.

A 2017 average retail price comparison of hardcover adult fiction and non-fiction books:
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Type of book USA1 Norway2
Adult fiction $25.97 $29.14
Adult non-fiction $28.16 $27.84

1) School Library Journal figures, link: www.slj.com/2017/03/research/sljs-average-book-prices-for-2017

2) Norwegian Publishers Association, NOK figures converted to U.S. dollars at exchange rate of July 1, 2017, link: www.forleggerforeningen.no/statistikk-og-publikasjoner/statistikk

Further reading:
Information on Norwegian literature, Oslo, 2017, NORLA, 10-page PDF brochure (NORLA_brosjyre_3.pdf), downloadable at norla.no/en/information.

This article originally appeared in the July 28, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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