Norway pursues possible publisher cartel favoring own book chains
April 15, 2014 | 4:25 pm
After the reports of Amazon entering the Swedish market amid possible restricted competition, now Scandinavian neighbor Norway has reportedly seen a crackdown on anti-competitive practices in the local book trade. According to the Norwegian press reports, the Norwegian Competition Authority (Konkurransetilsynet) has raided the offices of the country’s big four publishing houses – Aschehoug, Cappelen, Gyldendal, and Schibsted – to investigate a possible cartel designed to restrict book supply to supermarkets and other outlets in favor of the publishers’ own-branded book chains.
Norway has a highly restricted publishing and book market that might facilitate such abuse. As per research in Regionalism and the Reading Class, by Wendy Griswold, the Norwegian state buys 1000 copies of every book published by a Norwegian publisher, and pays an annual subsidy to every member of the Authors Union, while the Norwegian Booksellers Association had a historic monopoly on book sales.
This has led some to claim that Norway is “the best place in the world to be a writer,” but it may be less great to be a reader or a (smaller) publisher there. The big four publishers have been accused of rigging book prices in Norway, and also collectively have the right to approve any book for distribution through Bladcentralen, “the largest Norwegian distributor of magazines and books to grocery stores, gas stations and newsstands,” which they collectively control. Smaller publishers have complained that they often simply do not receive the approvals. Norway, with its small population of just over 5 million and its unique position in continental Scandinavia outside the European Union, presents easy prospects for cartelization, and it looks like this is just what has happened.