Norway has had an impressive contract between publishers and bookshops, ensuring that bookshops must stock at least one copy of every book published in the last year (or is it two years?) and fixing the price of books, so that a book will cost the same in a tiny Northern village as in Oslo, and so that best-sellers to some degree sponsor less sellable books. In addition there’s a standard contract between authors and publishers, guaranteeing minimum payments to authors. Norway has a few other ways of stimulating Norwegian literature too, notably libraries, which are of course financed by the state, buy a thousand copies of every book (or is it novels and poetry only?) published in Norwegian, except for a handful a year that are nullet, or deemed unworthy of being called literature. Although it sucks that none of this funding of literature accepts online writing as potentially literature (if it’s online it’s an “unpublished manuscript” and not eligible) it’s certainly paid off: Norway has a vital and largely high quality literary production that is really impressive given that only 4.5 million people or so can actually read and write this language.

Now the modernisation department (is that such a retro name for a new government department!) is suggesting free pricing of books and dropping the standard contracts. Authors in Bergen are putting up an impressive fight, a Forfatteraksjon against the new deal. They point out that Germany and France have recently adopted the equivalent of the Norwegian system, because free pricing doesn’t work.

The most amusing part of Forfatteraksjonen should be the collective loan of every book in Bergen library written by an author who’s name begins with V. Valgerd Svarstad Haugland, the minister for culture, has chosen to remain silent on this issue, you see, until the modernisation department has finished streamlining and market orienting everything. Emptying the library’s shelves of all the books beginning with the letter V speaks then to Valgerd’s silence.

If you want to go, it’s at 6 pm tomorrow, Monday, and you’ll get to borrow a white coat if you’ll borrow a bunch of books written by people starting with V. They promise it’s a legal demonstration. Wimpish as I am I worry about library fines, but heck, they’re authors, they’ll return the books in good condition.
Oh, and there’ll be lots of readings and such the rest of the week. Should be good.

4 thoughts on “borrow all the “V” books

  1. Thomas Brevik

    I would not worry about late fines. In this the library is on the side of the authors
    As a matter of fact I bet that a lot of the books will be borrowed by librarians. I know I¥m
    going to:-)
    Go borrow, stick a V up the minister¥s nose!

  2. Espen

    I for one would like the fixed-price deal to disappear – there is far too little variety in the book business in Norway. In my opinion the deal shafts poor municipalities and keeps alive a number of little hare-brained local bookshops that are “book” in name only – they mostly sell postcards and giftwrap paper, with the occasional diet book thrown in. Time for some variety and competition, I say.

  3. Thomas

    I do not agree with Espen. Although I have seen the “book”-shop he describes, I have seeen far more great small bookshops who server their communities and do great work as a commercial cultural outlet. Having travelled in Europe and USA I have not seen bookshops in communities of the same size. The time of the fixed price might go the way of the dodo, but I for one thinks many small communities will be poorer for loosing their bookshop.

  4. Jill

    Eirik has an interesting post on the proposed free market for books, with a number of interesting sources. He says the data doesn’t show a clear correlation between a free market and more/better/more available books, or vice versa, backing this up with comparable data from the Scandinavian countries, who have different systems. Interesting.

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