Publishers hit in competition probe

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The Norwegian Competition Authority (Konkurransetilsynet) raided several of the country’s largest publishing houses in an unannounced swoop on Tuesday morning. The authority was investigating a possible breach of competition laws, based on claims of refusal to deliver books to grocery and convenience stores.

Sehesteds plass in downtown Oslo is home to Aschehoug and Gyldendal, two of the major Norwegian publishing houses raided by the Competition Authority on Tuesday. PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

Sehesteds plass in downtown Oslo is home to Aschehoug and Gyldendal, two of the major Norwegian publishing houses raided by the Competition Authority on Tuesday. PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

Authority staff visited Aschehoug, Gyldendal, Cappelen Damm and Schibsted, reported newspaper Aftenposten. “We want to disprove or confirm a suspicion concerning a possible breach of the competitions law,” said Legal Director Karin Stakkestad Laastad. “The background is a suspicion of refusal to deliver books to grocery stores and kiosks.”

Spokespeople for all four companies confirmed the raids. “They had with them a decision from the court that they should investigate a suspected offense,” said Kari-Anne Haugen from Aschehoug. She said four or five people from the authority as well as police offices were present. The raids were completed by Tuesday afternoon.

Bladcentralen, the distributor owned by the big publishers, also confirmed it was investigated. “After the check is undertaken, the work starts on analyzing the eventual findings,” said Laastad. “It is too early to say anything about how long the analysis work will take.”

Publishers criticized over prices
Norwegian publishers have faced criticisms in the past over the conditions in the book industry. Founder and Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper Finansavisen, Trygve Hegnar, has accused the publishers of standing behind outright cartels with comprehensive price fixing. There’s no link between those claims and Tuesday’s raids.

Publisher and cultural commentator Vidar Kvalshaug told Aftenposten it’s good the authority has taken the action. “I hope they will follow the money trails and information about the regulatory frameworks which are given for books,” he said. “All of the four big publishers have their own book chains, and there are subtle limits on how this cooperation can be organized. What happened today is an expression that the authority is following the industry.”

Publisher Erling Kagge said the big companies have too much power in the market, and he wasn’t surprised by the raids. “Generally, Norwegians should be able to buy the books they want where books are sold,” he said. “It is unfortunate that Gyldendal, Aschehoug, Cappelen and Schibsted fight tooth and nail to limit the choice of books in several thousand outlets. The publishing houses have systematically and over a long time made it very difficult for other publishers to release significantly. If a publisher today sells a book through Bladcentralen, the book must first be approved by one of the four publishing houses.”

“We are in principle excluded from the mass market,” agreed Øyvind Hagen from the small publishing firm Bazar. “When the acquisition in Bladcentralen came, it was approved by the Competition Authority, who said we could only license our own books through the owning publishers. The problem is that we don’t get this, we don’t release.”

The owner of several supermarket chains, NorgesGruppen, told Aftenposten while the industry has not refused to supply them with books, authors and publishers are lukewarm when it comes to selling books in grocery and convenience stores. Both book shops and grocery stores sell books at the market price set by publishers.

newsinenglish.no/Emily Woodgate