Swedish Bookselling Stabilizes, as Amazon Stays Away

In Europe by Saskia Vogel

The number of bookstores in Sweden is declining, but those still in business are now getting out of the red, benefitting from poor online competition.

By Saskia Vogel

Gothenburg Book FairIt was an armchair kind of summer in Sweden. Perfect for book lovers. Terrible for people like me who tried to trek through the mountains in Swedish Lapland in June. But that’s another story. Svensk Bokhandel reported that as of August sales in book stores in Sweden were up 9.6 % on last year. A glimmer of hope in a retail landscape where bookstores have been steadily melting away.

Perhaps this book lover’s summer is the reason why attendance at the 31st annual Göteborg Book Fair (23-26 September) was down a smidgen from around 97,000 paying visitors last year to 94,715. Maybe the readers who flock to the fair hadn’t yet worked their way through their summer purchases.

As part of the Swedish Arts Council Travel Fellowship, the academic and publishing industry expert Anne Steiner presented her reflections on the Swedish Book Market for 2014.

Following up on data she presented last year, she stated that the number of bookstores in Sweden has continued to decrease. Today 115 municipalities (of around 290) do not have a local book shop. In 1970, that number was 28. But, she said the latest data shows that book stores are finally getting out of the red. Just. The market appears to be divided between books people aren’t willing to pay a premium for (The Hunger Games) and books people are willing to pay for (Naturlära, an expensive book of nature photography by Lars Lerin, “sold in heaps” at Christmas).

Steiner didn’t seem to feel positive about Accent Equity purchasing a major stake in Sweden’s largest book chain Akademibokhandeln (120 physical shops and online retailer Bokus) in June 2015. She was especially interested in the investment firm’s planned exit within 5 or 6 years. According to the finance newspaper Realtid, Accent plans to turn the chain into a modern, world-class bookseller, safeguarding the place of the book in today’s competitive media landscape.

No mention was made of online book retailer Adlibris opening a 1,000-square-meter-large brick-and-mortar store in central Stockholm this fall, in part so the company can engage with their customers face-to-face, CEO Johan Kleberg told Svensk Bokhandel.

Steiner reported that the ebook market continues to be underdeveloped and online booksellers still haven’t improved their clunky interfaces. Last year, she discussed Amazon’s decision to open an office in Stockholm, but this year, Steiner says there has been no known development on that front. If Amazon did enter the Swedish market, it would be a game-changer, she says, not least because it would most likely mean that the Kindle would enter the market in a big way. She did however predict the demise of subscription book clubs, which now drive 7% of book sales.

Many mid-sized publishers were doing better this year, Steiner said. She suggested that as larger publishers focused on Swedish-language originals (around 2500 published in Sweden in 2014) rather than translation (around 1,000 titles in 2014), authors that before might have been snapped up by Bonniers, Norstedts, or Natur&Kultur are being picked up by smaller and mid-sized houses.

About the Author

Saskia Vogel


Saskia Vogel is a writer and a Swedish-to-English translator. Her writing has appeared in Granta, The Paris Review, The White Review, Sight&Sound, and The Offing. Her debut novel, I Am a Pornographyer, will be published in 2019 by Dialogue Books/Little, Brown (UK), Coach House Books (North America), Mondial (Sweden) and Alpha Decay (Spain).