Five operators in Norwegian book market fined 545 million NOK

The Norwegian Competition Authority is imposing fines to the total amount of 545 million NOK on Norway’s four biggest publishing houses and the provider of the database Bokbasen for being in breach of the Competition Act. These operators have illegally exchanged future book prices and other competitively sensitive information through a subscription to the database Bokbasen.

It is illegal for competitors to exchange information that can restrict competition in the marketplace. Norwegian publishers Gyldendal, Cappelen Damm, Vigmostad & Bjørke and Aschehoug are competitors in a highly concentrated Norwegian book market. These four publishing houses represent about 90% of turnover in this market. The Competition Authority has found evidence that the publishers have shared and received competitively sensitive information through Bokbasen and the subscription “Mentor Forlag”.

Through its investigation, the Competition Authority has obtained a significant amount of evidence that the publishing houses have shared competitively sensitive information in a database to which they all have had access. This has provided the publishing houses with a complete overview of each other’s market conduct and may have led to higher book prices for consumers, says Director General Tina Søreide.

Bokbasen offers several different subscription options. This case concerns one of these, Mentor Forlag. Bokbasen has acted in breach of the Competition Act by providing the means for the information exchange through this subscription. Sharing competitively sensitive information has made it easier for the publishing houses to adapt their market strategies based on their competitors’ plans.

It is illegal for competing enterprises to exchange information that can restrict competition in the marketplace. The publishing houses have systematically entered such information into the database, knowing that this information would then be accessible to their competitors. The size of the fines is an indicator that this is a serious breach of the Competition Act, says Director for the Department of Finance and Communications Gjermund Nese.

The information exchange made it easier for the publishing houses to coordinate prices and the selection of publications. This may have led to a reduced assortment of books and increased prices for consumers. The information the publishing houses entered into the book database would have been difficult to obtain through other means. The subscriptions to the book database have given the publishing houses simple, fast, and reliable access to competitively sensitive information.

Bokbasen AS is fined 4,1 million NOK, Cappelen Damm is fined 131, 4 million NOK, Vigmostad & Bjørke AS/Forlagshuset Vigmostad & Bjørke AS is fined 92,6 million NOK, Gyldendal Norsk Forlag AS/Gyldendal ASA is fined 252,1 million NOK and Aschehoug is fined 64,6 million NOK. The difference in the amount of the fines imposed reflects among other things the difference in the publishing houses’ turnover.

The Competition Authority’s decision is final. The involved companies can bring an appeal before the Competition Tribunal within six months.

A timeline of the case:

  • The Competition Authority carried out inspections at the premises of the five companies involved in January 2018.
  • Following the inspections, a number of statements were taken from persons involved and an extensive body of paper and data material examined.
  • A statement of objections was sent to each of the parties on 24 September 2020.
  • The five companies concerned replied to the statement of objections in January 2021.
  • The fines have been adjusted compared to the statement of objections to reflect the last year’s turnover of each of the companies concerned
Portrettbilde av Gjermund Nese, avdelingsdirektør i Konkurransetilsynet.
Gjermund Nese, Director of the Department of Finance and Communication in The Norwegian Competition Authority.