Publishing firms face collusion charges

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Norway’s biggest book publishing companies were warned by competition authorities on Tuesday that they face charges of illegal cooperation and millions of kroner in fines. 

Cappelen Damm, Aschehoug, Gyldendal and Vigmostad & Bjørke (which took over Schibsted last year) were all named in the complaint issued by the state regulatory agency Konkurranstilsynet, which is in charge of competition issues.

Raided two years ago
The charges stem from raids on the publishing companies back in April 2014, during which authorities allegedly collected evidence that the publishers illegally cooperated through a collective boycott of Interpress, which sought to distribute books to the mass market via sales outlets that were not part of Norway’s traditional bookstore chains, several of which are owned by the publishing companies themselves.

The competition authorities also claim that the publishing companies exchanged competitively sensitive information in addition to resisting distribution of their books through sales outlets like kiosks, grocery stores, post offices and gasoline stations.

“We will closely examine the authorities’ reasons for fining Cappelen, before we decide how we’ll respond,” Tom Harald Jenssen, chief executive of Cappelen Damm, told state broadcaster NRK. He claimed, however, that his company couldn’t understand the charges at the outset. He conceded that Cappelen Damm has not distributed books via Interpress since 2008, but said that was because Interpress, “in our opinion,” had costs and returns that were “too high,” along with “weak administrative routines.”

Mads Nygaard, chief executive of Aschehoug, also said the company would “thoroughly” examine the charges and “follow up” with the authorities before their September 15 deadline for a response.

NOK 23 million in collective fines
The authorities intend to find Cappelen Damm NOK 9.1 million, Gyldendal NOK 6.37 million, Vigmostad & Bjørke NOK 4.56 million and Aschehoug NOK 3.41 million. Vigmostad & Bjørke took over Schibsted Forlag last year and is thus now responsible for addressing the charges, but said Schibsted will also be held responsible in a show of solidarity.

Norwegian book publishers have long been criticized for maintaining high prices (it’s not unusual in Norway for books to cost the equivalent of USD 50-60). The publishers maintain, however, that it’s costly to operate in Norway and to guarantee a wide offering and diversity within Norwegian literature. Prospects for commercial success are not always among the highest criteria for publishing books in Norway.

While the publishers maintain they do compete amongst themselves, NRK’s cultural commentator Agnes Moxnes noted that it will cost them a lot both financially and in terms of their reputation if they’re found to have violated competition laws.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund