Is the Frankfurt Book Fair responsible for a 40% drop in Norwegian fiction sales in April?

Denmark’s publishing industry journal BogMarketed has an interesting take on plummeting fictions sales in Norway.

Amid suggestions from some quarters that audiobooks may be to blame for the collapse in fiction sales in Norway last month comes an improbable but not implausible explanation.

New figures from the Publishers’ Association show an alarming decrease of 39% in turnover of Norwegian fiction in April 2019 compared to the previous year – from NOK 20 million to 12.

Might audiobooks be to blame? It’s a quick-fix excuse some industry commentators will plump for, but does it stand up to scrutiny?

Here’s the thing: As BogMarketed notes, the annual industry statistics for 2018 from Denmark and Sweden show the publishing industry’s total turnover has increased in both countries, though most in Sweden, where audiobooks are strongest.

That’s a major problem for the easy-blame merchants who love to point to cheap audio and ebook subscription as offered by Storytel, Bonnier, Nextory and Bokus Play and claim ”real” book sales are being cannibalised. Yet self-evidently that is not happening in either Denmark or Sweden.

Of course it may be different for Norway, which is in the lower league of the Scandinavian digital-book nations, and just maybe audiobooks are having a negative impact on the Norwegian book industry. But enough to cause this precipitous fall in sales? That’s not realistic on its own.

But then there’s the Frankfurt factor.

Now at first glance this seems utterly bizarre. How can the world’s biggest publishing industry fair possibly impact on book-buying in Norway?

Oslo University book sociologist Professor Tore Slaatta has a theory.

Book sociologist? I’ve no idea whether that’s an actual title in Norway or just the best Google Translate could come up with, but the gist of Slaatta’s argument is compelling.

Slaatta observes simply that, with Norway set to be guest of honour at Frankfurt this year, Norwegian publishers are holding back their big releases from top-ranking authors like Jo Nesbø, Maja Lunde, Tore Renberg, Jan Kjærstad and Jon Fosse with the intent of announcing them on its pride-of-place platform at Frankfurt, where the world’s rights buyers will be gathered.

 

Enticing as this case is, it does not offer enough data from Norway (how many big releases would normally happen at this time of year?) or from past Frankfurt guest countries to be other than an interesting theory.

If Slaatta is correct and his prediction is fulfilled of year-round book sales in Norway balancing out after Frankfurt, then there should be some spectacular sales in Norway come the end of year.

But it would be brave person that pins his or her hopes for the trade on that outcome.

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