When it comes to reading and buying books, Scandinavia wins hands-down despite its relatively small market size: Sweden has only nine million people, Finland five, Denmark five, Norway four and a half, and Iceland 300,000. Yet Norwegians have been crowned the world's most avid readers by Encyclopedia Britannica, spending an average of $80 per capita on books. Other statistics laud the Finns as the most diligent library visitors, followed closely by the Danes and Swedes. Perhaps this voracious reading habit is directly linked to their seemingly endless winter, when the best—and perhaps the most logical—thing to do is, arguably, to get the fireplace going and the pages flipping, and for authors (aspiring or otherwise) to plot away.
And plot they did. This is the region that gives us Nobel laureates Bjornstjerne Bjornson, Knut Hamsun, Sigrid Undset, Par Lagerkvist, Eyvind Johnson and Harry Martinson, as well as internationally recognized names like Jostein Gaarder, Hans Christian Andersen and Astrid Lindgren. Fast forward to 2006: a new breed of contemporary authors such as Per Petterson, Åsne Seierstad, Morten Ramsland, Peter Høeg, Henning Mankell and Jan Guillou dominate the literary scene. Many others, like Lars Mytting, Arne Svingen, Leif Davidsen, Jens Henrik Jensen, Per Nilsson and Martin Widmark, are starting to travel further afield than neighboring European countries. Originals are definitely multiplying fast, and aggressive efforts by organizations such as NORLA (Norwegian Literature Abroad) and FILI (Finnish Literature Information Centre) are pushing original titles beyond the Nordic shores. Exports mostly head for Continental Europe, especially Germany. Most publishers interviewed say that the British and Americans have become more open to their originals; perhaps they have grown to appreciate the purportedly melancholy and dark plots from this wintry land. Perhaps, at long last, the scales are beginning to tip in the rights market. One thing is for sure: this is not just an aberration.
In terms of sales, crime novels—especially originals—sell very well and they are said to be of a different breed altogether (at least when compared to the Anglo-Saxon types)—more cerebral and less gore-and-mayhem. Book clubs are still the driving force moving books to the masses. Big publishing houses such as Aschehoug, Bonnier, Cappelen and Gyldendal dominate the book club scene. Cooperation among the major players may sound like a strange phenomenon, but it definitely makes sense. In Norway, for instance, Aschehoug and Gyldendal Norsk share ownership of Norske Bokklubbene. It's the "two is better than one" philosophy being applied here. Smaller publishers, on the other hand, rely more on fan clubs to promote new titles and inculcate loyalty among their readers. (Yes, there's such thing as loyalty in this fickle-minded book business.) Major publishers also set up their own bookstores: examples are Gyldendal's Ark and Aschehoug's Norli.
It used to be that these countries had a lot in common in their publishing activities due to their shared cultural roots and shared linguistic capabilities. Now, however, works need to be translated in order to cross the borders, say from Norway to Denmark or to Sweden. Each country is now concerned with its own literature in its own language, but all are still biased toward English-language originals. Translations still represent a huge chunk of the Scandinavian book market, albeit no longer all-dominating as they used to be, say, a decade ago. However, the international bestseller mentality reigns supreme here, just like elsewhere in the world: The Da Vinci Code, which appeared on the scene three years ago, remains among the top five in all Nordic countries.
Fixed pricing has more or less disappeared from the Nordic markets. This, of course, means that competition is now more intense and the rush to produce new titles and the next bestseller is omnipresent. Short shelf lives and the need to get new books onto the shelves conspire to make publishing a rough and tough business. But none of the publishers interviewed—from the small to the giant—would go for another day job. Publishing is, to all of them (and no doubt to their ilk around the world too), a passion, a calling. Let's now hear what they have to say.
A major facet of the $850-million Norwegian book market has always been its zero VAT rate on books. "Deep discounting of up to 25% by book clubs was another. However, that ended when a 12.5% maximum discounting rule was implemented in May 2005," says managing director Per Christian Opsahl of the Norwegian Publishers Association whose 61 members (out of 350 registered publishers) command 80% of the market. "This makes for a more level playing field for all sales channels and, naturally, competition within the industry has heated up. Book clubs continue to play a major role, contributing nearly 20% to total book sales."
In publishing, 2005 brought a total of 4,734 new titles, a 2% increase over the previous year. "Between 2001 and 2005, sales of original fiction grew by more than 60% while translations of the same genre doubled; nonfiction went up 30% and mass market paperbacks tripled. Export-wise, thanks to the efforts of NORLA, Norwegian works, publishers and authors are getting more attention abroad and rights sales have been on an upward curve in the last 10 years. This has prompted major publishing houses—especially the Big Four: Gyldendal, Aschehoug, Damm and Cappelen—to establish their own rights agencies and to aggressively hunt for local talents. The outlook for our book market appears great," adds Opsahl.
At Gyldendal—Norway's #1 publishing house and owner of the Ark bookstore chain—the search for new literary talents over the past five years has paid off. "We have published works from 30 new authors, mostly fiction. Several of them—Lars Mytting, Johan Harstad, Henrik Langeland, Mads Larsen and Edy Poppy, for instance—have enjoyed domestic and international success. Both Langeland and Larsen sold over 60,000 copies domestically, while Mytting's Horsepower is garnering a lot of attention from neighboring countries and Germany," says publishing director Einar Ibenholt of Gyldendal Literatur. Another new talent, this time from its children/YA segment, is Ruben Eliassen. "He won the 2002 Ark Prize for his sci-fi series Phenomena. This four-volume series has since been sold to Italy," says foreign rights manager Eva Lie-Nielsen. Recent sales include Ingar Sletten Kolloen's Knut Hamsun, Øystein Lønn's The Necessary Rituals of Maren Gripe and HerbjørgWassmo's Dina's Book. Translations remain strong (at 33%) with international names such as García Márquez, Hemingway, Kafka, Updike, Woolf, Eco and Esterházy. "Our current bestsellers are Carlos Ruiz Zafón's The Shadow of the Wind and Henning Mankell's Kennedy's Brain, standing at 200,000 and 125,000 copies, respectively," adds Janneken Øverland, publisher of translated fiction. "Crime fiction is very popular here. One would find as many as 40 crime novel reviews during the week prior to the Easter holidays—the peak season for this genre—and this association between Easter and crime novels is a Norwegian phenomenon."
Chalking up $95 million in 2005 sales, 40% of which coming from book clubs, Damm is Norway's third largest player, with 1,000 new titles per year. It has just purchased family-owned bookstore Tanum, which has 10 stores and an Internet shop. Damm publishes Arne Svingen, who won the Brage Prize last year and the Children's Book of the Year award three years running (2002 to 2004), and SigbjørnMostue, whose The Mystic Key won the 2006 Ark Prize. On the nonfiction side, it translates many Dorling Kindersley titles and local authors such as social anthropologist/psychologist Jan Brøgger Sr. and Nils Retterstøl. Says president and CEO Tom Harald Jenssen, "This year, the most anticipated nonfiction title is the autobiography on King Harald which will be published in November. We have also signed a two-book deal with Shah Mohammad Rais (that bookseller from Kabul); we have the world rights and the first book will be published in October." Another major segment at 163-year-old Damm (now part of the Egmont Group) is translated fiction. Think Grisham, Baldacci, Dahl and Keyes—and don't forget Harry Potter and Artemis Fowl. "Rights sales have been brisk, though we started our in-house agency only early this year," says rights director Gerd Moss. "Among our best titles are Svingen's Black Ivory, Erlend Erichsen's The NationalSatanist and a book on the history of anti-Semitism. We have also sold about 14 hobby titles to Denmark, Sweden and Iceland."
Specializing in nonfiction is Spartacus, which was founded by Per T. Nordanger during his university days back in 1989. It published 30 titles last year—one-third of them translations, mostly from English and French. Among them were Knut Vikør's Islam, Simen Saetre's The Bitter Little Chocolate Book, Vegard Bye/ Dag Hoel's This Is Cuba; Anything Else Is a Lie! and Thomas Krogh's Time. "Our most controversial title last year was Jafar Dhia Jafar's exposé on the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction program," says Nordanger. He also publishes about 10 academic titles per year under a separate imprint, Scandinavian Academic Press.
For Humanist, the goal is to publish titles that "stimulate ethical awareness and existential thoughts." A peek at its catalogue (50-odd titles, 12 new ones each year) reveals recent translations such as Reading Lolita in Tehran, Why I Am Not a Christian, Europe's Inner Demons and Galileo's Finger. "We also have an interesting original series by historians and folklorists on saints, elves, witches, aliens, ghosts and vampires, all guaranteed to entertain and, of course, make you think as well," says marketing director Vibeke Weibell Eliassen. Recent sales of two originals launched Humanist's export business: Children of Cain is now available in Latvian and Human Rights: An Introduction has appeared in Russian, Bosnian and Chinese.
One simply cannot skip the mention of Sophie's World when it comes to Aschehoug, Norway's second largest publisher, with a turnover of $180 million last year, of which 40% came from its 70-odd Norli bookstores. Jostein Gaarder's masterpiece has a worldwide circulation of no less than 30 million copies. "Gaarder tops my list of the most exported authors: in the past 12 months, we sold his titles to 24 publishers, including his two most recent, Chess Mate and The Orange Girl. Sophie's World is now in 54 languages," says rights director Lars Alldén who represents three houses within the group (Oktober, Universitetsforlaget and flagship Aschehoug). He and his team handle around 150 titles per year; two-thirds of which are fiction. Several other authors have also scored successes. Tom Egeland, for instance, is now a bestseller in Italy, the Netherlands and Greece, while Anne B. Ragde boasts eight European languages. Then there are Jan Kjaerstad, Hanne Ørstavik (in six languages) and Klaus Hagerup (Markus and Diana children's series). "Ragde's Berlin Poplars and Kjaerstad's The Seducer have been published by British publisher Arcadia. We have authors whose works are considered classics—Undset, Nansen, Falkberget, Kinck, Sandemose and Garborg—and they sell steadily."
At Oktober—a literary powerhouse that is 91% owned by Aschehoug—things couldn't have been better. First, Anne B. Radge's Berlin Poplars knocked The Da Vinci Code off its #1 perch on the bestseller list. Then its author Per Petterson became the first Norwegian to win the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, for his novel OutStealing Horses. Says publisher Geir Berdahl, "Petterson's book, launched 16 months ago, is still in the top 10. So far, 140,000 copies have been sold. This book is now available in 12 languages, with British publisher Harvill/ Secker holding the English-language rights. The translations are doing well: in Germany, for instance, Hanser Verlag sold over 30,000 copies in hardcover and is about to issue the paperback." Petterson and Ragde are the most prominent among Berdahl's 65 homegrown talents; others include Kjell Askildsen, Dag Solstad and Linn Ullman. About 70% of its catalogue are originals, and from this figure, 40% has been translated. For editor Cis-Doris Andreassen, "The line between fiction and nonfiction has blurred in recent years. Feel-good novels with unique plots and twists are taking over from crime fiction; Ragde's novels, which have sold over 300,000 copies so far, are good examples."
Cappelen—Norway's oldest publishing house, part of the Bonnier Group since 1987—publishes about 900 new titles per year and operates Sentraldistribusjonen, a book distribution business that covers half of the Norwegian market, as well as six book clubs. "We're best known for original fiction; two out of three fiction titles we publish are originals," says rights director Pip Hallén. Among the local authors calling Cappelen home are award winners Lars Saabye Christensen (The Half Brother and Herman), Karin Fossum (Don't Look Back! and Eve's Eye) and Erlend Loe (Naïve. Super). These five titles rank high on the bestseller lists and top Hallén's exports chart. The Half Brother, which won the 2001 Nordic Council's Literary Prize and was nominated for the 2005 Independent Foreign Fiction Literary Prize, has sold over 300,000 copies domestically and has been translated into 29 languages. Hallén and her team also handle subsidiary rights for Cappelen's stable of 40-odd authors. "We have sold audio rights to Fossum's novels and Loe's latest, Doppler. Overall, Fossum, who is dubbed Norway's Queen of Crime and was recently recommended by the Oprah Book Club, is the most popular in terms of film rights."
So what has changed with the stereotypical image of the dark and depressing Norwegian fiction which scares off foreign buyers? Says Hallén, who has sold about 120 titles since the in-house agency was set up a year ago, "Well, it's still the same; if it's not dark, it's often disturbing. But as people learn to appreciate the Norwegian literary style, they also discover that it offers much more than morbid thoughts and black humor."
For art book publisher Labyrinth, the market is almost 100% Norwegian. "The only exception would be when a painter whom we publish holds an international exhibition. Then we would collaborate with the museum or gallery in a co-edition or an exhibition catalogue using materials from our title," says publisher Øivind Pedersen. Established in 1985, Labyrinth's catalogue has 150 active titles and grows by 15 titles per year. "Our publications cover almost 90% of Norway's contemporary artists, such as Frans Widerberg, Ørnulf Opdahl, Håkon Gullvåg and Svein Bolling, and we command a 70%—80% share of this niche segment. Our market is small, partly because Norwegian artists, except for Munch and Thaulow, are not famous."
Bazar Publishers started its publishing program with a big bang (and PW is not just referring to its simultaneous office launches in Oslo, Stockholm and Helsinki in spring 2002, and in Copenhagen a year later). First, there was Paulo Coelho; a year later, it was Dan Brown. Needless to say, they are a boon to Bazar founder Øyvind Hagen. "Our latest figures show that Coelho has sold over one million copies in our territories and Brown over 800,000." On the rationale behind the creation of a gift/stationery line (for international markets) based on Coelho's titles, he explains: "We believe that the branding of an author goes beyond just pushing his books through different sales channels." A completely separate project but one that's guaranteed to garner more accolades (and sales) for Hagen's team is Fairy Tales from the Heart of the World, a joint effort between Bazar, Princess Martha Louise and UNICEF. "We also have a selection of YA titles such as Matthew Skelton's Endymion Spring and translations of Ruben Eliassen's Phenomena series in Finnish, Danish and Swedish." Big titles in the works include Coelho's The Pilgrimage, Tom Egeland's The Wolf's Night, Laurent Gaudé's The House of Scorta, David Sedaris's Naked and William Brodrick's The Sixth Lamentation. "We usually launch a title in the different territories within the same month, so that author tours and publicity campaigns can be coordinated." And Hagen knows cost efficiencies: Bazar was Norway's most profitable publisher in 2003 with a 34% profit margin, and 2004 was even better at 41%!
While the sculpture of Little Mermaid may be moved even further offshore to avoid vandalism and grimy tourist hands, Hans Christian Andersen's status as Denmark's top author and export remains unshaken. His bicentennial last year was celebrated with much pomp and cheer. Another cause for much celebration, at least where the proponents are concerned, was the decision to fully liberalize the book market in June 2005. However, this may also signal the beginning of a new order seen elsewhere in the free-pricing book world: the power of retail. Book sales rose by 12% in 2005 even as the number of new publications dipped slightly, from 14,829 in 2004 to 13,227. Meanwhile, increasing imports of English-language originals is irritating some publishers, who are already battling high translation costs and a comparatively small market with intense industry competition. So what's a publisher to do? The answer: shorten the translation time in order to have the Danish version out within six months of the original. In short, grab the readers before they got impatient and hit the English corner. Overall, translations still dominate the market even as efforts to publish originals and export them is intensifying.
Medium-sized Nyt Nordisk is a rare breed in Denmark: it is family-owned (third generation, in fact) and operates 20 bookstores (proof that distribution power isn't exclusive to the big guys). Known as a medical and nonfiction publisher, it does about 140 titles per year, half reprints. Says managing director Ole Arnold Busck, "We do a lot of co-editions—2,000 to 3,000 copies for the first printing—with partners such as Dorling Kindersley, Thames & Hudson and Bertelsmann." Its broad-based nonfiction publishing program is apparent from bestsellers such as Your Competent Child, Simple-Living.dk, Christiana: Interior and Nice Girls and Stupid Boys. Three-quarters of Nyt Nordisk's sales come from its own distribution network, which is fronted by its Copenhagen store (also Denmark's largest academic bookstore). So it's easy to understand why only 10% of its 240 staff are involved in the actual publishing process. "That's another reason for doing co-editions and leveraging our publishing partners' strength and expertise," adds Busck.
Mention self-help books in Denmark and one name stands out: Borgen. Its grip on this genre started with Robin Norwood's Women Who Love Too Much and John Gray's Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, translated in 1986 and 1992, respectively. "Now we offer a wide range of self-help titles from authors such as Goleman, McGraw, Chopra, Hay and many more," says president and CEO Niels Borgen who is set to have Phil McGraw's Love Smart and Daniel Goleman's Social Intelligence in the stores soon. Family-run Borgen recently hit the jackpot with sudoku titles (five titles selling more than 120,000 copies) and Narnia (three different editions selling 86,000 copies). "We also launched our YA segment with Goosebumps and Heartland series," says v-p Helle Borgen. Meanwhile, translations of Antony Beevor's The Spanish Civil War and Lauren Weisberger's The Devil Wears Prada are in the works.
"Fiction makes up one-third of our list, and one big name is Christian Jacq, with his Egypt-inspired novels," adds Niels Borgen. As for originals, he publishes popular Danish authors Jens Henrik Jensen, Søren Ulrik Thomsen and Erling Jepsen and has sold the rights to over 50 titles since 2000, mostly to Germany, Sweden and Norway. "As a medium-sized publisher in a relatively small market, we try to bring in international bestsellers—they often sell better and have longer shelf lives. We also look out for special-interest books such as those on pets or weight loss. The narrow segmentation allows us to target readers of such books via the Internet and through book clubs."
With a 2005 turnover of $130 million and book sales totaling 8.5 million copies, Gyldendal is the undisputed #1 publisher in Denmark and known as the creator of the 24-volume Great Danish Encyclopedia. "We went into e-books about five years ago, but sales have been rather slow," says president and CEO Stig Andersen, who will be launching e-books for his academic and children's lines. "Digital publishing presents something of a dilemma, and it's the same for any publishers out there. Potential cannibalization of the print version aside, there are issues of copyright protection and digital rights management. The opportunities are there, but so are the headaches." As for the Danish book market, he says it is getting more commercialized. "The bestsellers and acclaimed authors keep getting bigger, while the lesser-known ones are sidelined. Booksellers hesitate to sell new, unknown works, so publishers tend not to accept them. Except for that, in general, the Danish book market has recovered from several years of stagnation and things are looking much better." Meanwhile, Gyldendal Akademisk has more than 100 new titles and strives to maintain the division's leading position in medical and nursing titles. It covers all subjects except law and engineering; social sciences and economics were recent additions.
For Tine Smedegaard Andersen—managing director of Forum, Fremad, Høst & Son, Rosinate and Samleren, all subsidiary imprints of Gyldendal—work revolves around fiction and nonfiction, with up to 200 new titles per year, 25% of which are translations. "We have established separate identities and branding for these five companies. Rosinate, for instance, is the publishing house of Peter Høeg and new author Morten Ramsland. After a 10-year hiatus, Høeg is back with The Silent Girl, which has already been sold to Harvill/Secker and FSG. Ramsland, on the other hand, has just been launched in several European countries," says Andersen. PW gets a quick rundown on the other imprints: Fremad specializes in Scandinavian authors and nonfiction with a social science theme; Samleren does Danish and foreign fiction (mostly big-name Latin Americans and Europeans such as García Márquez, Enquist and Kjaerstad) and poetry; Forum goes for crime fiction (le Carré, Harris, P.D. James); and Høst & Son publishes children's books and nonfiction. Says Andersen, "The line between fiction and autobiographies as well as real-life stories is blurring."
Managing director Morten Hesseldahl of Bonnier made waves when 100 staff members were let go in his bid to turn the company around. "Now we have 80 people running the various divisions of children's, academic, trade and business as well as book clubs, and publishing approximately 500 new titles per year. Translations have shrunk to 25% of our overall list." Among Bonnier's top earners are its manga titles, fronted by Dragonball, which has sold more than 1.5 million copies since its 2000 launch. "There's a surge in religion-related publications, Islam especially—a direct impact of the furor sparked by the political cartoons on prophet Muhammad. And crime novels, in particular those by female authors, continue to sell well," says Hesseldahl, whose recent bestsellers include Jørgen Baek Simonsen's What Is Islam?, Olav Hergel's The Fugitive and Leif Davidsen's The Russian Wife (over 80,000 sold). A strong proponent for free pricing, Hesseldahl says, "There are a lot of outmoded practices in our publishing industry. We need to shift from a publisher-centric model—publishers dictating what to publish and sell—to one which is consumer-centric—based on what readers want to read and on their buying behaviors. Basically, we publishers need to be less full of ourselves."
Translated fiction figures prominently at Cicero, where big names include Crichton, Cussler, Binchy, Koontz and Pilcher; the 1991 translation of Ken Follet's The Pillars of the Earth is considered a classic at this house. It publishes 35 titles per year; two recent bestsellers are Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner and Raymond Khoury's The Last Templar. "We translated Hosseini's title two years ago; its sales have exceeded 100,000 copies." Cicero usually prints about 1,500 copies for the first run, but for The Last Templar another zero was added to the print run. "On the whole, we try to buy one or two big titles per year; any more and the cost would be too much for a small publisher like us to bear," says Niels Gudbergsen, who has just published Norwegian pianist/composer-turned-author Ketil Bjørnstad's To the Music and Dean Koontz's Frankenstein: Book 2. He has also just bought Danish author Jason Goodwin's The Janissary Tree, which received rave reviews in the U.K.
Dansk Psykologisk's balanced profile may be just what the psychologist would have ordered: 50% of its revenue comes from psychological testing products, the other half from books. "We publish 30 to 35 new titles per year, half of which are translated from Swedish, Norwegian, English and German," says chief editor Lone Berg Jensen. Challenges in such niche publishing are pretty standard everywhere, aggressive marketing of the original English editions by American and British publishers in the educational market being one of them. "But for our local professionals and future practitioners, books in Danish are much needed as they provide the local terms and jargon necessary for effective communication with their clients," adds managing director Henrik Skovdahl Hansen, who has sold several professional titles to Sweden, Norway and the U.K. "Our self-help/self-improvement originals, such as The Necessary Conversation for Couples, Cognitive Coaching and Relations in Organizations, are great for translation, as they're written with a sound scientific base and appeal to a much wider audience."
For New Era Publications, the focus of its publishing program is the works of author L. Ron Hubbard. Published in 65 languages, Hubbard holds the distinction of being the world's most translated author, according to the GuinnessWorld Records, and his most translated work is Dianetics. Says deputy managing director Thomas Bucher, "Dianetics was published in simplified Chinese about a dozen years ago, and sales in China have exceeded 250,000 copies. Rights to more than 10 fiction titles have also been sold to Chinese publishers." Another interesting fact about New Era relates to its educational publishing program, which began in 1969 when the company was established. "Many groups have used Hubbard's methods to teach children and even grownups how to read and write and be successful in life through lifelong learning. Right now, some 53 countries use his educational books, either published by us or our American division, Bridge Publications," says PR manager Tania Quirion. "Presently, we're seeing a lot of interest from Africa, especially from Ghana and Nigeria, in our educational titles." The 102-strong New Era team is preparing to launch new versions of Hubbard's six titles on the fundamentals of Dianetics and Scientology at the upcoming Frankfurt fair. "These titles will be released in 15 languages simultaneously, with 35 languages to follow shortly," adds Bucher. The Pulps, one 90-title series by Hubbard, will also launch at the same time.
At 50-year-old DJOF—a company of the Association of Danish Lawyers and Economists—publisher Rolf Christian Tvedt has about 150 new titles per year (10 to 20 in English) and 13 magazines, besides managing eight Web portals that cater specifically to legal professionals. Says Tvedt, "Our online sales—of print and digital products—currently amount to almost half of our total revenue, with digital product sales growing over 50% annually." Increased sales of its English publications (such as The New EU Public Procurement Directives, Public Procurement Law and Free Movement in the European Union) have prompted the appointment of Oregon-based International Specialized Book Services and London-based Hammicks as its distributors. "These titles are international in scope and much needed by professionals looking for opportunities in the EU or an understanding of the legal and financial framework of the EU. We're capitalizing on this demand by increasing co-publishing efforts with overseas publishers and university presses. For instance, we published an annotated English edition of the two-volume Criminal Law of Denmark with Wolters Kluwer early this year."
It's all about architecture, urban planning, gardening and design at 23-strong Arkitektens (aka the Danish Architectural Press). Established in 1949, it currently has 100 active titles in its catalogue. Journals—led by Arkitektens and Arkitektens DK—are its mainstay; they have driven its book division and are instrumental in boosting the division's growth 20% in the last five years. One recent bestselling book is the monograph on Arne Jacobsen by Casten Thau and Kjeld Vindum, which has sold more than 20,000 copies. "It's the most complete work on the architect, and one of the authors is renowned in this field," explains communications and marketing manager Sigrid Kjerulf, who named Life Between Buildings and New City Spaces, both by Jan Gehl, as two other bestsellers. So far, 10 of its originals have been sold, mostly to Japanese and Chinese publishers.
In recent times, the biggest change in the Swedish book market took place when VAT was reduced from 25% to 6% back in 2002. There are also smaller yet significant changes: supermarkets and discount stores, for instance, are becoming essential distribution channels, as are newspaper kiosks (called pocket shops) for the cheaper formats. Audiobooks have found greater acceptance here compared to other parts of the region; they are now sold at petrol kiosks to commuters. Gift books are finding an audience here, too. And there's no stopping manga/ graphic novels, which breed a new generation of consumers.
At Norstedts Publishing Group, there are three divisions: children's books (with major imprints Ráben & Sjögren and Tiden), fiction/nonfiction for adults and academic/encyclopedia. Its rights operation, Norstedts Agency (previously Pan), handles about 400 contracts annually: topping the children's list are authors Astrid Lindgren, Gunilla Bergstrøm and Henning Mankell, while Per Olov Enquist, Åke Edwardson, Torgny Lindgren and newcomers Mikael Niemi and Jonas Hassan Khemiri head the adult division.
For Ráben & Sjögren—famed for Linnea in Monet's Garden—the newest thing is manga. It has bought Taynikma, a Danish series for ages 8-up, with plans to launch three new titles by the end of this year. "This spring, our author Per Nilsson's You & You & You won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and we sold Gunnar Ardelius's debut book, I Need You More than I Love You, and I Love You to Bits..., to Front Street," says publishing director Gunilla Halkjaer Olofsson, who is preparing to launch two picture books—Lena and Olof Landstrøm's Boo and Baa and Pija Lindebaum's Lill-Zlatan and Uncle Darling—as well as YA titles by Nilsson. Across the seas, its U.S. imprint R&S Books publishes two to four titles per year with marketing support from FSG.
Meanwhile, the biggest translation success under Tiden is attributed to none other than that young Hogswart wizard, who commanded over 2.3 million copies. Still, originals rule—taking up 60% of its catalogue—with Lindgren as the icon. On the adult side, its Prisma division just published the latest from Jung Chang and Shirin Ebadi. Icelandic crime novelist Arnaldur Indridason's titles are next on the list, while "from Norstedts, we have Orhan Pamuk's Istanbul, Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore as well as Høeg's The Silent Girl," says publishing director Viveca Ekelund.
For Karin Leijon, president of Bonnier Publishing Group—which includes Bonnier Education, Wahlström & Widstrand and Max Strom, and is the largest in the Nordic publishing landscape—her primary role is to beat the "fat cat" syndrome. "We have to make sure each publishing house in our group excels in its segments of specialization, keeps developing new talents and original works, and selects the best foreign titles to translate." Book clubs represent some 50% of Bonnier's revenue and Leijon says, "Crime fiction remains hot. Narrative nonfiction is also big; same goes for epic novels, family sagas and women's fiction." Export-wise, her in-house rights agency has closed more than 350 deals in the past 12 months. Among the most exported are Håkan Nesser, Martin Widmark, Ulf Stark, Carl-Johan Vallgren and Åsa Larsson.
Over at its flagship publishing house Albert Bonnier, publisher Eva Bonnier launches 150 new titles per year including paperbacks, mass market nonfiction and, as she puts it, "everything else." "About half of our catalogue is translated blockbusters from Brown, Follet, Grisham, le Carré and Lehane. We also have works by recent Nobel laureates such as Gordimer, Oe and Grass. At the same time, we represent major Swedish names Kerstin Ekman, Nesser and Göran Tunström." The Swedish book industry, says Bonnier, exhibits the same symptoms seen elsewhere in the world. "It's increasingly polarized as booksellers stick to the known and proven. Retail-wise, discount stores are set to play bigger roles." At the opposite wing of the building, Bonnier Carlsen is all about children's books, and manga (contributing 15% to its bottom line) is huge. "The Dragonball series has exceeded 1.3 million copies. We also have One Piece, Naruto, Tokyo Mew Mew, Love Hina and Yu-Gi-Oh! This year we'll publish nine new series," says managing director Anna Borné Minberger, who has created BC Manga club for 30,000 fans. The non-manga side is having a grand time as well. "The Silver FairyTale Book (which comes with a music CD), for instance, has sold more than 115,000 copies and has been on the bestseller list since its launch in August 2004," adds senior editor Rod Bengtsson. "This title and others by local authors Martin Widmark, Ulf Nilsson, Annika Thor and Janne Lööf figure prominently in our catalogue."
For 42-strong Forum (another Bonnier logo), author Camilla Läckberg dominates; her newest title, launched less than two months ago, has already exceeded 100,000 copies. Her previous title, The Stonecutter, is among managing director Magnus Nytell's 2005 hardcover bestsellers; the others are Guinness World Records, Stefan Einhorn's The Art of Being Kind, Peter Robinson's Strange Affair and Kajsa Ingemarsson's The Friend from Russia. "About 65% of our titles are translations compared to some 80% three years ago. Currently, we're organizing a novel-writing competition with sister companies Lindhart & Ringhof, Cappelen and Tammi—essentially covering four countries: Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland. With prize money of $67,000 and a guarantee of translations within the four territories, we're hoping to uncover new talents come June 2007," adds Nytell.
Fascinating is the story of Brombergs: specifically that of founder Adam Bromberg's passion for publishing, which outlasted his imprisonment in Poland, and his attempt to establish a publishing house in Sweden, a place where the language and book market were alien to him. But with seed money of $7,000, Brombergs was off the ground. Applying his 40 years of experience heading the then-independent Polish encyclopedia publisher PWN, he bought works by I.B. Singer and Czeslaw Milosz well before they became Nobel laureates. His gamble paid off, big time. Says daughter and publisher, Dorothea Bromberg, "Nonfiction makes up half of our catalogue, and one of our writers is homegrown star Bodil Jonsson. Her Ten Thoughts About Time, which sold 50,000 copies within six months of its release, has been published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovic and Constable & Robinson." But the latest feather in Bromberg's hat is The Invisible Wall by Harry Bernstein. "Our edition—the first version to hit the market, since Random House's English original will only be out early next year—will be launched at the Göteborg book fair with a 15,000 first printing."
June 1999 heralded a new era in the Swedish publishing industry: one in which prolific writers join forces with their editor/publisher to become publishers. In this case, the partners are crime novelist Jan Guillou with ex-Norstedts Ann-Marie Skarp, and author Liza Marklund with ex-publisher Sigge Sigfridsson. The company is Piratforlaget, or Pirate Publishing, a name coined by competitors who criticized its flexible royalty and profit/risk-sharing policies. Armed with only three authors—Guillou, Marklund and Norwegian crime novelist Anne Holt—Pirat made some $2.5 million in its first year. Five years later, the figures rose to eight authors and $14 million. Now it has 25 authors producing about 15 new titles per year. Guillou remains Pirat's bestselling author, boasting 37 titles that have sold over eight million copies in Sweden alone and been translated into over a dozen languages. "His new book, Madame Terror, is due out soon; so, too, are titles from Mark Levengood, Martina Haag, the Anders Roslund/ Borge Hellstrom team and dramatist/YA writer Sara Kadefors," says publisher Ann-Marie Skarp. Meanwhile, its #2 author, Marklund scores big (yet again) with her latest, Nobel's Last Will. Early this year, Pirat went into MP3 mode, literally. "We are the first in Sweden to explore this, and so far we have 15 MP3 titles already."
Leopard is the next in the author-turned-publisher wave: this time, Sweden's most popular crime novelist, Henning Mankell, teamed up with his former editor at Ordfront and later at Norstedts, Dan Israel. Mankell, whose books have sold more than 24 million copies and been translated into 38 languages, has just released his 38th title, Italian Shoes. His latest Kurt Wallander mystery, Before the Frost, sold 500,000 copies in Sweden alone, 150,000 in hardcover. "But we're not just about novels and Mankell. We also publish nonfiction in the areas of popular science, social debate and history, such as Simon Singh's Big Bang, Barbara Ehrenrich's Nickel and Dimed and Tom Holland's Rubicon and Persian Fire," says Israel. Within just five years, Leopard has grown beyond expectations. Leopard's ongoing campaign is to introduce Third World works to Swedish readers, a goal that Mankell and Israel set for the house. To date, it has published African, Middle Eastern and Asian authors such as Calixthe Beyala, Assia Djebar, Elias Khoury, Sonallah Ibrahim, Tayeb Salih and Pramoedya Ananta Toer. "Promoting these authors is not difficult. Selling them in greater quantities, however, is another story. But we want to broaden Swedish readers' notion of world literature and we'll persevere because we're confident of positive outcome in the longer term."
There are two major differences between Finland's publishing industry and its Nordic neighbors': its relatively small market promotes general publishing (instead of niche segmentation) and most major publishers own printing plants (an indirect result of the country's massive forestry program and its expertise in the pulp-and-paper industry). Fixed pricing became history in 1971, and a consolidated retail industry was the direct outcome of that change. However, bookstores still account for at least 40% of total book sales, with book clubs contributing a slightly lower percentage.
For Tammi, its best-known series is one that goes as far back as 1954 and includes the who's who of American and European literature, among them 22 Nobel laureates. Say hello to the Yellow Library, now in volume #371: Until I Find You by John Irving, who is the most popular author in the series. "About 40% of our fiction list comprises translations. On the other hand, two out of three nonfiction titles—ranging from DIY/arts & crafts, cooking and travel to memoirs and narratives—are Finnish originals," says publishing director Annamari Arrakoski-Engardt. "For fiction, we have three big homegrown talents: Kaari Utrio, Leena Lehtolainen and Taavi Soininvaara. We also have a new 'find' in Markku Pääskynen, who won the 2005 Finnish Savonia Prize for his novel The World's Most Important Things." Part of the Bonnier Group since 1996, Tammi has had major hits with authors J.K. Rowling and Philip Pullman; its children's book club, Lasten Parhaat Kirjat, Finland's largest, has played a major role in pushing its sales.
Being part of a media group that owns the country's largest book club gives 116-year-old Otava a marketing/distribution edge. Its 2005 revenue was split 50/50 between trade and the educational segment. The trade side sees 60% Finnish originals (with bestselling author Laila Hirvisaari's novel hitting above 90,000 copies last year) and climbing export sales. "We have sold 70 titles to countries outside of Europe—10 in the past year alone—and our top export name is Mauri Kunnas, whose book on Santa Claus has a worldwide circulation of over one million copies. His new title, The Vikings Are Coming, is due out soon," says publishing director Leena Majander. "Our modern classics from Pentti Saarikoski, Marja-Liisa Vartio and Antti Tuuri, for instance, have attracted mostly publishers from English-speaking countries keen on exploring Finnish literature." Meanwhile, the manga wave has reached Otava; it kick-started this genre with Paul Gravett's nonfiction title last year and sold 5,000 copies.