Norway’s top ebookstore, ebok.no, is looking to expand its English-language title selection, particularly from the Big Five publishers. “We have deals with Hachette UK, HarperCollins and Pottermore,” said manager Elizabeth Sellevold. “Currently we are in negotiation with Macmillan in the U.S. and Penguin Random House, which we hope to sign contracts soon.” In all, the store offers some 10,533 e-book titles and 4,353 audiobooks in Norwegian, and 552,725 English-language e-book titles through Ingram, but this catalog is primarily comprised of small press and indie titles Ingram distributes globally. “We’re missing out on the vast majority of the big English-language bestsellers” said Sellevold, noting that English-language titles outsell Norwegian titles and represent approximately 65%-75% of the e-book market, "it's a huge opportunity that we don't want to miss."
ebok.no is owned by Vigmostad & Bjørke, one of the top publishers in Norway and owners of the largest online book store, haugenbok.no. The e-bookseller has 200,000 registered users (in a country of five million people) and is Norway’s market leader in e-book sales as well as downloadable audiobooks, .
A single company, Bokbasen, which is owned by both booksellers and publishers, is responsible for e-book metadata and e-book distribution in Norway, meaning that most booksellers offer e-books for sale. “Our biggest competitor is Amazon, but they don’t yet offer Norwegian books, which gives us an advantage,” Sellevold said. Other players in the e-book market include Sweden's Storytel, which is focused primarily on audiobooks.
Still, said Sellevold, ebok.no’s biggest competitor may very well be Norway's own libraries, which offer a nearly complete catalog of Norwegian ebooks for free. “E-books in Norway are priced rather high, from 199-299 NOK [$23-$35] and the country also has a fixed book price law, which adheres to e-books as well and allows only for limited discounting until May 1st the year after publication. This means that readers are often attracted to the idea of free." (Under Norway's fixed book price law, a book is subject to the law until May 1 the following year. If a publishers releases a book on January 1, 2017, it stays in effect until May 1 2018. But if it is published on December 31, 2016, it would be in effect until May 1, 2017).
Looking to gain an edge in the digital book world, at the start of the year, ebok.no launched a new subscription book service, Ebok.no pluss, priced at 149 NOK ($17) per month. “It’s taking a page from Amazon,” said Sellevold, who also pointed out that ebok.no offers a “send to Kindle” service for users who prefer e-readers over reading on the company’s proprietary app. At launch, three top Norwegian publishers are participating in the service — Aschehoug, Oktober, Vigmostad & Bjørke — and are offering a selection of bestsellers, from Jonas Jonasson to Alice Munro.
The e-bookseller also offers a self-publishing service, which has so far attracted 310 authors who have published some 700 books. "It's starting to take off and we had one author in our top ten bestsellers last year who was self-published," says Sellavold.
Norway has one of the highest book consumption rates in the world, with 90% of the population reading at least one book a year, and 40% of the population reading ten or more per year. Revenue generated by book sales in 2015 was 5.9 billion NOK ($686 million) — which is nearly double that of nearby Denmark, which has the same population.