Stoltenberg scolded over book royalties

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While NATO Secretary General  Jens Stoltenberg was hosting and taking part in a series of important meetings in Brussels and Munich last week, he had to fend off some trouble at home in Norway. A lucrative royalty agreement he secured for a biography he released last year has upset fellow authors, who claim Stoltenberg is not showing any signs of the solidarity he’s preached as a Labour Party politician for years.

NATO boss Jens Stoltenberg, with a copy of his popular biography in Norway. The lucrative royalty agreement he secured for himself has, however, upset his fellow Gyldendal authors. PHOTO: Gyldendal

The trouble began last fall, when newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported that Stoltenberg had cut a special deal with publishing firm Gyldendal. His old friend Knut Brundtland, an Oslo lawyer and son of former Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, reportedly had negotiated terms on Stoltenberg’s behalf that were far more favourable than the “normal contract” offered other Gyldendal authors.

They reacted negatively, not least because as a former leader of Norway’s Labour Party, they contend Stoltenberg should more than understand the value and principles involved in honouring contracts that are a result of collective bargaining. Instead, the authors claim, the 57-year-old Stoltenberg arranged a far more lucrative deal for himself that can generate several million more kroner in royalty income for his biography entitled Min historie (My Story).

Stoltenberg’s biography, released just in time for the Christmas shopping season, has sold well, with DN reporting that Gyldendal’s first release of 30,000 books sold out quickly. Two more editions have been printed, bringing total circulation up to around 60,000, a lot in a small country like Norway where books sell for around NOK 400 or more.

While some mused that Stoltenberg’s memoirs of his life in Norwegian politics came rather early, since he’s only 57 and still at the height of his career, others wondered how he could have had the time to write the book at all, since he went from being Norwegian prime minister to Member of Parliament and secretary general of NATO in just over a year. His role as NATO boss is demanding as well, but Stoltenberg made time last fall for promoting the book in Norway. Gyldendal itself reported how Stoltenberg spent a long weekend in Oslo in connection with the book’s release, holding a press conference, numerous newspaper interviews, signing more than 400 books and making appearances on the Nordic TV talk show Skavlan, and on national newscasts Dagsrevyen and Nyhetsmorgen.

Gyldendal authors, unhappy that Stoltenberg didn’t use the same contract they do, told DN last week that they’d sent Stoltenberg a letter encouraging him to at least donate the extra money he’s earning on the book to a charitable venture, perhaps even a fund for authors. Stoltenberg has not responded to the letter, and his spokesman Stein Hernes told DN that Stoltenberg has no plans to grant the request. “He doesn’t plan to donate income from the book to a specific project,” Hernes told DN. “Beyond that, he has no comment.”

Stoltenberg’s fellow authors say they’re disappointed but not surprised. “I think it’s sad that he’s one of those undermining our collective agreement,” Kjell Ola Dahl, a member of the board of the author’s organization, told DN. “It’s also very disappointing and a bit arrogant that he hasn’t answered the organization directly.”

Now they worry that other high-profile celebrities in Norway will use Stoltenberg’s special, lucrative contract to secure better deals for themselves as well. The authors accuse Stoltenberg of all but “attacking” the contract terms they’ve negotiated collectively with Gyldendal, thus defying the principles he’s promoted during a long career in Labour Party politics. Gyldendal itself has not wanted to comment on the details of Stoltenberg’s publishing deal. Berglund