By Amanda DeMarco
STOCKHOLM: With its prosperous book industry and a super affluent population of early tech adopters, you would think that Sweden would be at the forefront of digital publishing developments. But it’s not. A few factors contribute to the negligible presence of e-books in Sweden. For one, there’s no “amazon.se” goading development, nor is there a dedicated e-reader that’s popular and easy to get. Swedish publishers have also done their part to hinder e-reading, something that’s particularly easy to do in Sweden because of the concentration of the industry. Though people might speak of the “Swedish big three” — Bonnier, Nordstets and Natur og Kultur — Bonnier is much, much larger than the latter two, so it has a lot of weight to throw around.
However, there are many smaller, innovative organizations in Sweden doing truly exciting things. Publishing Perspectives recently reported on the publishing platform Publit — now here are two publishers worth knowing about, with a third, Telegram, to follow in the coming weeks.
“A perfect format for how we read today,” is how Novellix Director Lena Hammargren describes her publishing program based on individually packaged short stories, each around 30 pages. I talk to Hammargren in a bright SoFo (“South of Folkungagatan”) cafe, and at the time of our interview earlier this year, one of Novellix’s titles — Jens Lapidus’s “Heder” — is ranked number one on Swedish iBooks, Hammargren shows me on her smartphone. She’s a German-to-Swedish translator by day, with a definite flair for business. When she’s mentioned in my other Stockholm interviews, various publishing professionals call her “a marketing whiz” and “somebody with big ideas.”
Since its first publication in May 2011, Novellix has released four titles four times each year. Ranging from crime fiction to classics like Strindberg, translated and Swedish titles, Hammargren’s goal is to offer an interesting mix of great stories. “We want to present it as popular culture. It’s good, it’s quality, but we don’t want to create any barriers to entry.”
Novellix publishes its titles as physical books, e-books and audiobooks, to make it “as easy as possible to get it in the way that suits you,” says Hammargren. All three formats are priced low — relatively speaking, this is Sweden, after all — and the print books can be bought on subscription. “We want to get them addicted.”
Hammargren also works to make Novellix titles available in interesting places. Besides bookshops, they can be found in cafes and convenience stores. This summer, a selection of the stories will be available for sale in all three formats on the distance bus company Swebus’s lines.
For now, the physical books far outsell the other two formats. Hammargren sees the digital and audio versions as an investment in sectors that are growing, plus “they’re a really good introduction if you’re not used to them.” Listening to the ten hours of full-length audiobook, or reading 200 pages on a screen, might be daunting, but you can listen to a Novellix story in 45 minutes.
Hammargren sees Novellix as “a new model for publishing” — it was one of a kind in Sweden when it was founded, and now there are a few publishers with similar concepts. (Hammargren says they “all help people understand what [the model] is.”) Novellix actually has quite a bit in common with magazine publishers. Like a magazine, it pays authors a lump sum for their stories in exchange for exclusive rights for six months. Instead of viewing Novellix as a competitor, traditional publishers can repackage its works, and buy ads in the back covers of its books to promote full-length titles.
Hammargren has had to do a bit of work to make bookstores understand that Novellix doesn’t work like a typical publisher, so it doesn’t make much sense to pick and choose which titles to stock. Instead, Hammargren encourages them to stock each new installment of Novellix titles the way they would a magazine. “We want them to accept Novellix as a whole. It’s quality, it’s a good mixture.”
Interest from teachers recently prompted Hammargren to offer teachers’ guides. It turns out the short format is less intimidating for young readers and completing them offers a speedy sense of achievement.
It’s not exactly a publisher, and it doesn’t do e-books, but the print-on-demand services offered by Dejavu, part of the Swedish Writers’ Union (SFF), are definitely innovative. Dejavu was born in 2009 after Bonnier, prompted by digital rights developments, sent out a new contract that, in the opinion of the SFF, was seen as a bad deal for authors, particularly in terms of rates offered on backlist titles. Since Bonnier has such a large market share in Sweden and self-publishing is relatively undeveloped there and not much of an option, authors had little alternative other than to accept.
As a result, SFF started offering a POD service to let authors take control of their neglected, undervalued and out-of-print backlist titles. Dejavu is “a standing offer to our members to do something with their backlist when their regular publishers aren’t doing anything,” says Anna Forslund, administrator at SFF. “We’re not supposed to compete with them, and I agree with that. It’s not a publishing house, it’s a service.”
Amanda DeMarco is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives; she also edits Readux: Reading in Berlin.
CALL FOR STORIES: Who are the Publishing Innovators?