Norway’s literary system in brief

How does a country with only 5 million people support a robust literary industry?

Norway's literary system

Photo: Flickr / Abhi Sharma

Ali Ashrafi
Norway Today

Norway’s literary system is based on the fact that Norway is not a big country. Therefore, most of its literature is either not marketable or has a small market. Additionally, this very small population is concentrated in one corner of the world.

Since the 1960s, a consensus has emerged that the advancement of literature is the responsibility of society. Following this principle, the authorities undertook several supportive plans to both ensure the existence of literary diversity and to inspire the creation of modern Norwegian literature, allowing that cultural heritage to be published in the original language but also available to the world. Today, the Norwegian literary system is defined by these indices.

The most important factor in the recent development of Norwegian literature is the extraordinary support of the country’s government. The government, with direct and indirect help, is trying to maintain the status of Norwegian literature in the world, which I think has been extremely successful. The goal of the state is to support the creation and distribution of literature, to create a motive for innovation and creativity.

Exemption from excise tax

The exclusion of excise taxes on books is one of the most important contributions of the government in support of literature. The Norwegian government levies indirect taxes on types of goods and services. The rate of this tax for most goods is up to 25% of the retail price. In 1967, books were exempted from this tax. The goal was to reduce their price and encourage people to read books.

The Book Purchase scheme

The government also helps literature by purchasing books directly. The Norwegian Culture Council buys a fixed number of the various titles every year. It distributes a number of these to Norwegian libraries. By doing so, the government provides publishers with a minimum circulation and reduces risk. The funding of the scheme is provided through the state budget.

Literary grants

Norway also subsidizes authors through the Norwegian Culture Council. Government-funded libraries provide facilities for writer organizations. These are subsidized with government funds, paid out to writers and translators.

Norwegian Writers’ Union

The task of the Norwegian Writers’ Union is to organize literary writers. The union was founded in 1893 and now has more than 600 author members. The goal of this union is to protect Norwegian literature and support Norwegian authors, and it’s also a literary council. The members of the council are well versed in literature and have extensive insights; hence the name, Council of the Literary Union Experts.

The council examines the members’ requests and offers grants. The organization also monitors issues such as freedom of expression.

Any author who lives in Norway and has had at least two works of literary value published, as judged by the board of the Writers’ Union, can become a member.

This article was originally published on Norway Today.

This article originally appeared in the July 12, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American.

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The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.