Is something rotten in the state of Norway? Just as it emerges the third largest Norwegian digital streaming service Ebok Pluss is being side-lined by publishers, Nextory claims the same publishers are preventing a Nextory Norway launch. or are they?

I’ve long been curious as to why Sweden-based Nextory had launched in Finland and Denmark but not Norway. Now it seems the answer lies in a decision by key Norwegian publishers not to respond to Nextory’s overtures.

That, at least, is Nextory’s version of events as reported in VG this week.

As noted in coverage of Norway’s book market a few days ago –

There are three main streaming services in Norway, all owned by publishers: Storytel Norway, jointly owned by Norway’s Cappelen Damm and Sweden’s Storytel), Fabel, run by Lydbokforlaget and in turn jointly owned by Aschehoug and Gyldendal, and a much smaller player, Ebok Pluss, owned by Vigmostad & Bjørke.

More on Ebok Plus below. First the main story: is Nextory being blacklisted by Norwegian publishers?

Magnus Nytell, Head of Nextory International Expansion told VG:

Norway is the only country in the Nordics we are not in, but it is not for want of trying. We want to contribute to the growing digital book market, and believe all parties benefit from the fact that there are more services on the market.

Nytell told VG that in Sweden,

All publishers deliver to all platforms. The situation in Norway is bad for book reading in general, for the authors – and for the customers who are going to buy a subscription. We are concerned that all parties in this value chain will be satisfied and happy.

But we have clearly noticed that (the big Norwegian publishers) do not want more competition in this market. They are clearly uninterested. They do not answer emails or telephones. In negotiations, they have presented sky-high economic conditions – which we perceive as an obstacle to being able to establish ourselves in Norway at all.

Noting this has been going on for over two years, Nytell stressed it is not all Norwegian publishers that are dismissing Nextory, just those that own their own streaming services.

Lydbokforlaget Publishing Manager Ann-Kristin Vasselen disputed the Nextory version of events, saying they had been in talks with Nextory just last month (September).

Then we agreed that (Nextory) should send an agreement proposal, but we have not yet received that. We look forward to further negotiations and look forward to further discussions. It will be exciting.

VG put to Vasselen Nextory’s assertion publishers were demanding too much and that the publishers did not welcome competition. Vasselen said:

It’s a tough market. Investments are high and margins are small. Competition in the market is good. But I’m not sure if there is any evidence for the claim that the authors are losers. If four or five similar players fight for the same customer base, there will not automatically be more money in circulation for that reason.

For Cappelen Damm, CEO Tom Harald Jenssen told VG:

Cappelen Damm definitely wants Nextory to establish itself in Norway. We collaborate with everyone who is involved in building the market for streaming ebooks and audiobooks in Norway.

Cappelen Damm’s audiobook portfolio has great strategic value. In total, the publisher can offer close to 7,000 audio books. It probably represents close to 70% of the total audiobook volume in Norway – if we measure by the number of available titles.

We want the players who gain access to this portfolio, in one way or another, to make it clear that they want to invest in the market.

Jenssen went on,

It should be a reasonable goal that the Norwegian market in a couple of years approaches the Swedish market in volume.

That would be impressive given Sweden has almost twice the population of Norway.

Accepting negotiations with Nextory were not moving fast, Jenssen said that Cappelen Damm had been talking with Nextory since autumn 2019, and hoped to reach agreement this autumn.

Not of course to take sides on this dispute, but this week also saw Sweden’s Boktugg report on a separate but not dissimilar dispute between the two big Norwegian publisher-cum-streamers and the third party in the market, Ebok Pluss.

As reported for Boktugg by Sölve Dahlgren, Ebok Pluss is claiming Gyldendal, Aschehoug and Cappelen Damm are abusing their position and deliberately excluding Ebok Pluss from the market.

Lene Røren of Ebok Pluss said:

We feel, to say the least, boycotted by the three major publishers. For over four years, we have worked to bring in books from these publishers – without success. It is an abuse of power from Gyldendal, Aschehoug and Cappelen Damm.

They apologise that we cannot agree on the terms, but we believe that they do not fulfill the obligation to deliver to everyone.

According to Røren, Storytel Norway and Fabel together have 98-99 percent of the market and without titles from the three major publishers, Ebok Pluss will not be able to compete.

For Lydbokforlaget, Ann-Kristin Vasselen  said,

I do not understand what she means by abuse of power. We have content we want to sell, she wants to buy, but we have not agreed on the price

Boktugg notes the Norwegian streaming market as shared by Storytel and Fabel will exceed NOK 400 million ($43.2 million) this year.