9 out of 10 Norwegians read books. 3 out of 4 buy from physical book stores. 7 out of 10 ebooks read in Norway are English language

Norwegians are buying more books than two years ago, according to a new survey released this week by the country’s Publishers’ Association and Bookstores Association.

Some 74% of the respondents buy from bricks and mortar stores, up 3% on the 2015 figures. But 44% have bought online, up 5%.

Audiobooks are of course up too, and so are ebooks, with some 16% of the population reading digitally.

But is the Norwegian trade benefitting? Not so much right now, it seems.

Unsurprisingly, given Norway has a population of just 5.2 million, Norwegians are strong second-language users, and needless to say English, the lingua franca of the world, is what they gravitate to, with the at first glance surprisingly result that 7 out of 10 ebooks sold in Norway are in English.

This is almost a mirror image of print, where 3 out of four titles are in Norwegian, and represents an exciting opportunity for publishers in both languages.

Clearly Norwegians are comfortable reading in English, and if there were better options to reach the Norwegian digital library market (most ebook downloads happen through libraries, in the absence of major ebook retailers) it might prove lucrative for those publishers who can get noticed. And that applies to print too. My guess is most English-language books released in print do not get to Norway because of territorial restrictions, and those that are potentially saleable in Norway simply never get there because of limited shelf-space.

But that absence of major ebook retailers is also the reason why Norwegians are reading more English than Norwegian ebooks. Because the vast majority of ebooks available are in English.

Put simply, Norwegian publishers have not been incentivised to digitise, and Norwegian authors have not been incentivised to self-publish ebooks, precisely because the domestic market is so small.

Norwegians not comfortable writing in English have only the local market to sell in. Those who are comfortable writing in English can jump through a few hoops and reach the global market by self-publishing, or try find an opening by going the traditional route.

The director of the Norwegian Publishers’ Association, Kristenn Einarsson, explained,

When Amazon launched Kindle and its e-book offer ten years ago, the books were also available in Norway. When we started with Norwegian e-books, the foreign share was 100 percent. This has obviously changed along the way. The Norwegian share has gradually increased.Later this year the Norwegian ebook industry should receive a boost when digital books finally get VAT-exempt status, which will level the playing field for both local-language and foreign-language ebooks.

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