Norway's world-beating ebook stupidity

Espen sez, "Yesterday, the Norwegian book industry introduced a scheme where they would sell electronic books on little plastic cards, to be inserted in proprietary readers - an astonishingly stupid idea even by their standards. Here is my riff on that idea - and a solution to the 'books as status signals' conundrum."


  1. Or a variant on that linked riff…  Stores can package the cards in those theft-resistant plastic cases (book-sized, of course), and sell them on the shelves.  The cardboard model of the books can be delivered to you, or possibly printed on card stock when you get home (provided you have the proper authorization to do so).

  2. I have many books in atom form. While there are quite a few I’d want to keep forever, the majority of them will be read by me only once. I’m past the “look at my bookshelf” stage, and enthusiastically loan or gift books I know I’m unlikely to read again. I actually prefer to read most books in e-format these days (portable, flexible, searchable, usw), but I’m torn on new purchases, especially in the case of things like novels where I expect to read them once. Since there is not MUCH of an ebook price advantage, I make a mental trade-off on what happens once I’m done. While there is certainly a silliness to the cards, if they can be passed on to someone else, I’d find that to be attractive, and a solution to that problem.

  3. It just becomes worse and worse, doesn’t it? The Norwegian book industry have decided that ebooks must be killed as an idea, and they are doing everything in their power to make the system impossible to use.

    Imagine buying an ebook and having Amazon rederect you to Penguin’s website, where you had to register again to buy the book you wanted. If the connection between the cloud site and the  publishing company breaks, you loose your books until the connection comes back up (thanks for that idea, EA!). THAT’S OUR SYSTEM!

    And my parents ask me why I only buy books from Amazon and used book stores.

  4. Haha, yeah, we are stupid!
    Or at least norwegian publishers are. They have been fighting digital publishing with every fibre of their being for a decade now, presenting half-assed digital solutions, or saying “the tech just isn’t ready yet”.
    The truth is, THEY aren’t ready yet. They’d like to be able to sell paper-only books for at least another century, so they can be prepared.
    But hey, if you only knew what we are paying for a book over here, you’d understand their reluctance…

  5. OK, yes, astonishingly stupid, but on the other hand  these would be ebooks you actually own and could resell into the secondary market, which bypasses a stupid problem with actually electronic ebooks. Especially if we’re talking about an ebook which costs as much as the dead tree version.

  6. I don’t understand why this is such a stupid idea? It’s no different from yesterday’s video game cartridges, all the way to current day DVD and blu ray disks. And as others have mentioned, the added bonus of having a commodity you can trade after you are done is fantastic.
    And how about going down to the library to check out a book card? You can’t do that with downloads.

    The market of “I want an ebook but don’t want to download” is odd however. Maybe scandinavians don’t have reliable internet, or they don’t trust electronic payments? Maybe they don’t want their purchases logged through electronic miles of snooping companies/government agencies? Any Scandinavians here care to enlighten us?

    Also- I’m not a huge fan of downloading(Watch it Now) movies- poor quality and it is dependant upon the internet connection at that moment. And I’m tired of scratched rental DVDs ruining my movie night experience too. Give me my movie rental on a USB thumb drive, and I’d be a happy consumer!

    1. “I don’t understand why this is such a stupid idea? It’s no different from yesterday’s video game cartridges, all the way to current day DVD and blu ray disks.”
      You pretty much answered your own question there. Those are obsolete formats (yes, I include Blu-ray on the obsolete list).
      As for the norwegian perspecitve – we DO want ebooks, and we DO want to download them. Kindles and ipads and other e-readers are everywhere in Scandinavia. The only ones who don’t want ebooks are the publishers. They control the entire market, and they make a tidy profit on paper books. A hardcover, new release is twice the price of a ebook release in Norway (and the ebook is usually twice the price of the kindle edition). It’s Napster/RIAA all over again, an industry refusing to accept the decade (or even century) it is working in.

    2. 1) It’s stupid because the trend is moving away from physical media whether for games, music, video,  or books.

      2) Yes, you *can* check out ebooks from a library via a download, at least in the US. Many public libraries have a website where card members can check out e-books for their Kindle or Nook.

    3. The difference is: it’s completely unnecessary.  Game cartridges were necessary; they stopped using them when they weren’t any longer.  I don’t own an ebook reader, but from my perspective the real advantage is that you can store a library in one device. This destroys that advantage.  Any advantages in manufacturing, distribution, and storage of ebooks also goes away.   You know what else you can check out from a library?  A real book.  (And you’re a lot less likely to lose that than a little plastic card.)

    4. vonbobo,
      We have excellent Internet connections in Norway, as well as some of the world’s best cell networks. This is the beginning to the end a highly regulated and subsidized industry which knows what is coming but just can’t get their act together.

    5. The demand for Norwegian e-books is large and growing. However, “large” in a Norwegian setting is still relatively small, which is part of the problem. A newly released hardcover edition of a Norwegian book will cost something like $69. The publishers claim they need that amount of money to keep publishing Norwegian authors, and they’ve been really, really reluctant to lower the price for e-books, which has been anywhere from $21 to $45 (over $40 is not the exception, it’s very common).

      A previous large collaboration between some of the bigger publishers was an app for Android or iOS where you had to actually know which publisher released the book you wanted, go to that publisher’s website, connect your user there to the app and buy the book on the website (so if you wanted to buy books from six different publishers, you’d need six different accounts + an account with the app called Bokskya), which would then make it available in the app for you to read. Oh, and to buy the books, in most (all?) cases you needed Java because of a Java applet in the payment procedure, which meant you had to buy the books on a computer. It was more or less an instant failure.

      It’s not about the technology or lack thereof or Norwegians not trusting electronic payments (in fact we do basically all of our payments electronically and things like checks haven’t been in use for decades), it’s about the publishers desperately hanging on to old business models and making ridiculously user-hostile solutions.

      Kindles, iPads and other ebook readers are everywhere, with the result that many people have simply stopped reading Norwegian literature and instead get their reading material from Amazon and other places with better solutions, but few or no Norwegian books. Which I’m guessing is not their goal.

    6. There is no special aversion to downloading ebooks in norway.. Not that I’ve ever come across. I guess it depends on your market, there are luddites here as anywhere else. In general I’d say that mobile internet reception is good in the east of norway and of course in and around most cities. Don’t know how the reception is north of Bergen really..

    1. It’s the same thing as buying a DVD player.

      Besides, Apple sells a gazillion units of proprietary shiny things every year.

  7. Why all the hate? As a Scandinavian ebook lover I think this is actually a pretty good idea.

    If the norwegian market is anything like the icelandic one, the only people that have a kindle read exclusively in english and are savvy enough to either buy online or download illegally – So with piracy a major foreign issue, it certainly doesn’t look attractive for publishers to buy into that.

    The older generations are neither internet nor english savvy, so selling them a proprietary reader with cards that you buy from a store sounds like an untapped market. Publish a new book by a top-selling author and put the word on the street that with a backlit screen you can read in bed without a lamp and you have yourself a killer gadget that everyone  will get for christmas!

    1. “The older generations are neither internet nor english savvy”. This is increasingly a false statement. There used to be a time when old(er) people didn’t speak or read much english, but that was the previous generation.

      “If the norwegian market is anything like the icelandic one, the only people that have a kindle read exclusively in english”. Yes and no. Yes the people who own one of those usually read exclusively in english. But that’s becaue nothing is published for those platforms in norwegian! If it had been, I would gladly buy my books in norwegian. And the “old” people would also gladly buy a kindle instead of this more expensive, less usefull and (by the looks of the specs) in every way inferior reader the publisher tries to sell them.

      The business plan behind these proprietary ereaders is like if a movie company would say “but think of the poor people who still only got VHS players!”, and then only put the movie out on VHS, skipping DVD/BR/digital versions. It sounds preposterous, but that is the state of norwegian publishing today.

  8. Norwegian media industries are not much better then their US counterparts (i often claim that our government and corporations look to foreign equivalent, and basically copy the worst ideas, in the thinking that they will impressive by making the idea work where everyone else failed).

    Another example i find silly is that audio books are sold in small black cubes with room for a battery, a headphone port, and controls for playback. Err, most already carry a phone or media player that is about the same size that can fit the content of a couple of 100 of these black boxes.

    The fog of desperation is so dense one can cut it with a knife…

    1. “The fog of desperation is so dense one can cut it with a knife…”
      I like that. There are so many situations in which it applies, unfortunately :-(

  9. Aw hell. Looks like in the future I’ll be asked to smuggle in decent e-readers and dead trees with ink along with the beer, booze, tobacco and diverse  food items when I visit family and friends in the Grim North™…

    This rivals the boneheadedness of the CD long boxes of yore. I made a lot of cash selling my still shrinkwrapped US Depeche Mode CDs though, maybe those (daft) Norwegian publishers have a future collectibles market in mind. THere has been worse business plans – mainly in the late 90s.


  10. It’s an old Norwegian dream:
    “Had he heard of the electric psalm-book that Happolati had invented?

    ‘What? Elec–‘

    ‘With electric letters that could give light in the dark! a perfectly extraordinary enterprise. A million crowns to be put in circulation; foundries and printing-presses at work, and shoals of regular mechanics to be employed; I had heard as many as seven hundred men.'”

    — Knut Hamsun, Hunger, 1890, tr. Egerton
    (I’d rather quote from the Bly translation, but borrowed Hamsuns never seem to find their way back home; Egerton never gets lost on Gutenberg;-)

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