Last week it was announced that the Swedish company Storytel had aquired a 70% majority interest in Iceland’s leading book publishing house Forlagið.
Storytel AB is Northern Europe’s leading audiobook and e-book streaming service, and operates in 20 markets around the world. It already owns three Nordic publishing companies, Norstedts Förlagsgruppe in Sweden, People’s Press in Denmark and Gummerus Publishers in Finland.
Back in 2017 the company began operations in Iceland with the acquisition of the audiobook company Skynjun, which was under the management of Stefán Hjörleifsson, who is now the Country Manager of Storytel in Iceland.
Back in 2018 there had been some controversy surrounding Storytel’s aquisition of Skyrjun and copyright, as Storytel started to publish content from writers and publishers which had been contracted under Skyrjun but not under Stortel.
Now Storytel has procured majority in stakes of Iceland’s largest book publishing company from the Literary Society Mál og Menning, which had previously owned the controlling share of Forlagið. Mál og Menning will remain a 30% minority owner and is said to continue operating independently from Storytel Iceland’s streaming operations on the local market, according to Fréttablaðið.
Additionally, Mál og Menning is to have two representatives on the board, own the brand and culture trademark and the option to break out of the partnership, according to Halldór Guðmundsson, chairman of the Board of Directors of Mál og Menning.
Guðmundsson also wrote on Facebook that in the coming months, the literary society of Mál og Menning will lay the foundation for a special fund to strengthen Icelandic literature. The company also wants to promote Icelandic bookstores which have been in great trouble.
The aquisition has also been met with some skepticism though.
It is currently under review by the Competition Authority, and the Icelandic Writer’s Union (RSÍ) says it is worried about “even more power imbalances in the book market,” as the country’s largest book publishing company and audiobook publisher will be owned by the same party.
“The merger of large parties into the market often leads to a reduction in effective competition, which disadvantages consumers and others in the market,” says the Board’s resolution.
The board also voiced concerns and distrust about Storytel’s management due to stories of experiences from authors in Iceland and the other Nordic countries. Payments to those who work for Storytel in Iceland are, according to a survey conducted by the Writers Union, extremely low and the revenue model is opaque.
“The board fears that the purpose of Storytel’s owner in Iceland, Storytel AB in Sweden, is to get closer to the work of Icelandic authors and to eliminate all competition in the audiobook market,” the board’s resolution continues.
Karl Ágúst Úlfsson, chairman of the Icelandic Writers’ Union, also told Fréttablaðið that he is very concerned about the small publishing houses. “When two large companies merge in such a micro market as in Iceland, it will hit those who do not take up as much space. There has been a certain amount of dominance and, in reality, oblivion with such a merger,” he says.
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