Norway - The best country to be a writer

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An old telephone booth converted into a mini-library in Oslo. Photo: Jo Straube/www.jostraube.no.

According to Babelia – El Pais, a Spanish literary magazine, Norway is the most enviable place in the world to be a writer or a publisher. How does a country of only five million people and a language spoken by so few, keeps its literature alive?

The article points to several reasons why Norway came out on the top of the list. One of them is that all published material in Norway is required by law to be deposited in the the National Library. In addition to this, Arts Council Norway purchases 1,000 copies of new Norwegian books to distribute to libraries, or 1,550 copies if it is a children’s book. The purchasing scheme contribute to keeping alive many small publishers that could not otherwise exist. They make royalties on those 1,000 copies, in fact, at a better royalty rate than the contractual standard. 

The mass purchase of books for public libraries was established by the government in order to revitalize the Norwegian language and literature, and dodge the pressure of anglophone influence. "It was a very serious situation for a country as small as ours with a territorially so limited language," explains Oliver Møystad, head of fiction at NORLA (Norwegian Literature Abroad) headquarters in Oslo. "There was a fear that it could disappear if something was not done to promote literature, which has always been considered a source of renewal and transmission of the language."  

Judging from the information provided by Ingeri Engelstad, general director of the publishing house Forlaget Oktober, the goal has largely been achieved: “In the sixties there were only one or two debutantes writers per year. Now there is more than 60”, she points out. Its impact has also been a key factor in the industry. "Economically it is of great importance," Engelstad continues, "It allows publishers to bet on unknown writers and publish a wider spectrum of genres and literary expressions."  

Along with the purchasing scheme, Norway lends significant support to writers and other artists directly. All this helps secure a place for Norway in world literature, a considerable challenge when your language is read by so few people. 

By business agreement, high discounting of new books is essentially banned, and there is a fixed price system, the costs of the copies cannot be reduced until May of the year following its publication. Books are also exempted from Norway’s value-added tax. 

The scrupulous management of copyright by libraries and private actors have minimized the problem of piracy, which ensures that everyone gets what they are entitled to.

Up to 50 percent of the costs for the translation of books written in Norwegian can be covered by the Government through NORLA.

Story sourced from Babelia - El Pais.