Why are books so expensive in Norway? 

If you’ve ever stepped into a Norwegian bookshop and been shocked at the prices, you’re not the only one. In Norway, you can expect to pay much more than you would in the UK. So why is reading so expensive? 

Why are books so expensive in Norway? 
Here's why books in Norway are so expensive. Photo by Leslie Lopez Holder on Unsplash

In Norway, reading can be a costly pastime. 

According to Statista, the average price of a book in Norway in 2019 was 190 kroner. Meanwhile, in the UK, British readers pay on average £8.70 (105 kroner), and in the US, the price of a paperback starts from $13.95 (123 kroner). 

But those are just the average prices. For example, a new hardback release in Norway can cost upwards of 400 kroner, equivalent to £33 or $45. 

So, what is the reason for this disparity? 

The main reason for this is that there is a fixed price agreement in place between publishers and booksellers. 

The agreement is between the Norwegian Publishers Association (NPA) and the Norwegian Booksellers Association. 

What sets Norway apart from countries such as Spain, Germany, and France is that book prices are not restricted by law. Instead, the agreement is voluntary.

READ ALSO: These are the hidden costs of living in Norway

All booksellers in Norway are obliged to sell all new books at a fixed price in the year of their publication and up to April 30th the following year. Certain publications can have their fixed price extended by publishers too. 

In addition to this, sellers and book clubs cannot give books away for free or let members earn loyalty benefits or points on their sales. 

The act protects booksellers because it means publishers offer new releases to all sellers and can’t sign exclusivity deals. 

Furthermore, the fixed prices prevent sellers from competing on prices. While this is worse for the consumer, it is better for the shops, publishers and authors.

Another benefit of fixed prices is that it allows publishers to fund more niche titles. It also enables publishers to invest in unknown authors. 

Books are cheaper in the UK because it got rid of its own law regulating book prices in the 1990s when the Net Book Agreement (NBA) was declared illegal. However, one negative outcome of this is that since then, 500 independent bookshops have closed in the UK, and now chain stores like WHSmiths and Waterstone’s are the norm. 

According to the NPA, a free market, like the UK, doesn’t always result in cheaper books. The NPA has said that while bestsellers are more affordable in the UK and Denmark due to a free market, other literary titles are more expensive. 

The prices haven’t seemed to dampen Norwegians love of reading, however, and in 2019 one in four Norwegians read books daily, according to Statistics Norway

On average, Norwegians read books and literature for roughly 16 minutes a day. However, when you only consider the number of those who read daily, the figure rises to an hour. 

When it comes to household expenditure on newspapers, books and stationery, Norway ranks third on the list compared to other EU countries, according to a report by Eurostat. In 2016 households in Norway spent more than 1.5 percent of their total household income on reading material and stationery. 

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Why does Norway gift the UK a Christmas tree every year? 

Every year since 1947, the people of Norway have gifted the UK a Christmas tree displayed in Trafalgar Square during the festive period. 

Pictured is the 2019 Christmas tree.
Norway gifts the Christmas tree as a symbol of its appreciation for the UK's support during World War Two. Pictured is 2019's offering. Photo by Daniel Leal/ AFP.

One of the first things you’ll notice if you are near or around Trafalgar Square in London at Christmas is a 20-meter-high Christmas tree on display for everyone to enjoy. 

The tree is displayed every year and is a gift from Norway to the UK. The lights are normally switched on at the beginning of December to mark the countdown to Christmas. 

This year the tree will be lit up on Thursday, December 2nd at 7pm CET. 

The tree has been met with a slightly lukewarm reception on social media this year due to its sparse branches and less than healthy-looking appearance. 

One Twitter user joked, “Are we at war with Norway now?” while another questioned whether this year’s tree was a sign that “Norway has not taken the sacking of Ole Gunnar Solskjær well”. 

A social media account for the tree, run by Westminster City Council, explained in jest that the branches of the tree weren’t missing and “social distancing” instead.

The tradition of Norway gifting the UK a tree goes back over 74 years to a couple of years after the Second World War. 

The yearly event see’s the people of Norway gift the UK a roughly 20-metre tall Norwegian Spruce, often selected months or sometimes years in advance, as a sign of their gratitude for Britain’s support for Norway during World War Two. 

READ ALSO: What you should know if you’re invited to a Norwegian ‘julebord’

The tree, typically 50-60 years old when ready to be cut down, is felled during a ceremony attended by the British Ambassador to Norway, the Mayor of Oslo and Lord Mayor of Westminster during November. At the base of the tree, there is a plaque that reads, “This tree is given by the City of Oslo as a token of Norwegian gratitude to the people of London for their assistance during the years 1940-45.” 

It is then brought to the UK by sea, before making its way to London by lorry. The tree is then adorned with typical Norwegian decorative lights before being displayed to the public until the 12th day of Christmas. 

While the annual tradition dates back seven decades, the first Christmas tree was actually gifted to the UK in 1942. 

During a raid on Hisøy Island between Bergen and Haugesund, west Norway, resistance fighter Mons Urangsvåg cut down a Norwegian pine and shipped it back to England as a gift for the exiled King Haakon. 

King Haakon decided to pass the gift onto the UK, and so it was erected in Trafalgar Square, although with no lights due to the blackouts caused by the Blitz.