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The big Norwegian book fire

Every year, publishers send tons of new, unread books to the incinerator at Brobekk. Others take the spoon in their own hands and insulate the henhouse with its residue. By Sigri Sandberg M.


[book bonfire] – I have insulated my hen house with leftovers.

Niels Christian Geelmuyden is on the phone, we pull in the car. What happens to books after launches, shelving and cheap sales? Geelmuyden's Hegnar biography was printed in 15.000 copies in 2002. It sold 6000 copies, this year it was on Mammut sales for the second time. These days, unsold Mammut books are being removed from bookstores. The publishers now have two choices: Run in stock. Or shred. Some have called this year's big sale "the aggravation of death".

More shredding

The Publishing Center and Central Distribution share the book market between them, together distributing over 22 million books a year. Just over ten per cent come back, of which something is stored and the rest shredded. And so there are more and more books, more titles, shorter turnaround times. Some come back in stores in their pockets. Other flops.

- It accumulates if we are not good at shredding, says Einar Einarsson, CEO of Forlagsentralen.

- Will there be more shredding this year than before?

- Yes, it will probably be. The publishers do not meet all circulation calculations, to say the least, says Einarsson.

In total, Forlagsentralen and Central Distribution drove 578 tonnes, or to be exact: 1.485.000 books, to Norsk Recovery last year.

- Pocket books are easy to recycle, but some books have thick binders and leather covers, and there is no economy to take off this cover, says CEO of Norsk Gjenvinning, Anders Nygaard.

The company has detailed records of how many newspapers, magazines and cardboard, for example, are recycled, but for books there are no lists. On the Oslo Municipality's website it says what can be recycled as paper. Books are not mentioned. The publishing house admits that the vast majority of books are burned. Norwegian Recovery claims that only 20 percent of books are burned. Binders create trouble for the paper mills. The glue is one problem, plastic wrap another.

"Binding books must be disposed of as residual waste," it says on's websites, a collaboration between the recycling companies. Books that cannot be recycled are therefore sorted as residual waste. Norsk Gjenvinning hooks up the material and drives lorries to, for example, Viken Energi's incineration plant at Brobekk in Oslo.

Becomes district heating

- Here. In there, up there. It's burning.

Operations operator Einar Langli has an orange helmet with his name on it and points to an incinerator. It hisses and rumbles, and outside smoke falls against the sky. When it gets full here, 240 tons are burned a day. The waste is district heating, in industrial buildings and houses.

We go up and down stairs and look at a sea of ​​rubbish that fills an entire hall.

- It may have been anything, but it must have a certain composition for it to go as biological waste. For us, everything is fuel, says Langli.

- There are many reasons why books are shredded. There may be errors in the books, damage, and there may be books you can not sell, says Arild Nygård, who works with distribution in the Publishing Center.

It swings. Right now after the Mammut sale, there is a lot of burning going on. New textbook reform also speeds up the flames. After the Christmas sale, there will be some extra loads.

The managing director of Sentraldistribusjon, Arild Åsmul, will not give specific figures.

- The publishers do not want to focus on how much is burned, they want to focus on sales, says Åsmul. And that's obvious. The policy in most publishers is that sales figures and circulation are kept secret, except when things are going terribly well, then.

We go back to the mid-1980s. Then came the book about Flode – yes, Trond Viggo Torgersen's beautiful, lumpy Flode. 50.000 books were printed. A well-known circulation blunder in publishing circles.

- It was off the shelf, yes, it was, says Anders Heger, director of Cappelen.

He does not want to go into more detail about Flode, no, it is not so nice for Torgersen, Heger thinks, and says instead in a publishing way that if you have a lot of books lying around, you also tie up a lot of capital. He thinks it is difficult to say anything in general about the lifespan of books.

- I can sell cookbooks and children's books year after year. And the Half-Brother [by Lars Saabye Christensen, editor's note] I will sell until I retire. But there is of course a difference between books. If you do not take care to buy a collection of poems, it may be gone in two years, he says.

Books as insulation

We have to turn left where the road continues towards the End of the World. Niels Christian Geelmuyden lives in a house with pink and blue window frames, and it has snowed on the house and his garden, huge amounts. They say there has not been that much snow on Tjøme in 100 years. There are a lot of books here too, everywhere, thousands. In his hen house, for example, between 100 and 200 are hidden in the walls. Great! The rooster crows, and Geelmuyden points and says that the major publishers have offered him leftovers for free. Once there was a huge truck with the remaining edition of Talking Barons. He was not home – and had forgotten to tell his wife, who said to the truck driver: "No, we have not ordered anything!" The truck driver and the author's wife opened one of the boxes – and found that something must be raving, insanely wrong. Here were 800 copies – of the same book!

The book about Odd Børretzen should also be a success. It was printed in a circulation of 5000, but sold half. The most recent book, Ordskjelv, has only sold 500 copies. More insulation material.

- Before, shredding was a huge problem because the initial costs of printing were much higher. Then we could manage to print 15.000 copies, even though we knew that the book only sold 5000. It still paid off, says Audun Heskestad, former director of Samlaget.

Heger in Cappelen says they have become more focused on the right editions.

- Before, the buoy was the printing costs, now there is turnover speed and distribution costs, he says.

- And with lower printing costs, publishers become better at calculating circulation, Einarsson?

- In theory yes, but in practice no. It does not pay to print 10-15 copies of a book. You have to print 1000, and if you then only sell 80, well then you are left with a part, says Einarsson in Forlagsentralen.

- We print more, sell more and throw more. I think it's that simple, says Hans Butenschön in Gyldendal, who has worked with statistics for the Publishers' Association.

Lifetime like a kneipp bread

There is talk in all directions, some believe the new book industry agreement and the opportunities for book sales and reuse means that there is less shredding. Lower printing costs also point in that direction. But cheap printing and expensive stock can also speak for the opposite. There are more and more titles, and it is still difficult to calculate circulation. Some books are expected to be purchased into government procurement schemes, but deaf, they may not be anyway – and you will be left with the 1000 extra. And then comes the Christmas sale, then.

- You should preferably not go empty during that time. Then you have to take some chances. Press 10.000 or 30.000 and bet that it goes well. This is definitely an issue, says Butenschön in Gyldendal.

- Books have a lifespan like a kneipp bread, a month's time, then there is rubbish, says Geelmuyden in his kitchen down on Tjøme.

Of his 17 books, only one has been reprinted. He thinks about half of his books have been shredded. With the exception of the times he has been offered residual circulation. Huitfeldt publishing house has published five of Geelmuyden's books, but has never offered him any remaining editions.

- Everything was shredded, he says, and we get coffee, and the sun is springy and hits us right in the eyes.

In the Schibsted publishers, they have just received the books they were not allowed to sell at Mammut. Also Geelmuyden's Hegnar book. Publishing manager Vebjørn Rogne says it went well, and even though they have a policy of not stating sales figures, he can reveal that it is approaching 10.000 sold. So only 5000 left. He also says that, as a general rule, they do not shred. Geelmuyden says he does not need more of Hegnar, it would fill both the living room and kitchen.

- What's going on with the rest, Rogne?

- We do not know yet. It takes a long time to shred a Norwegian author. It's easier, yes, it does not cut much in the heart to shred a questionnaire, so to speak, says Rogne, who adds that the authors are always offered to buy leftovers.

- How much do you shred?

- I can not imagine that there is such a number, says Rogne.

Pocket cheaper

Vigdis Hjorth's book Dubrovnic was printed in 2500 copies, sold just under 800 and ended up at Mammut this year. Hjorth does not think the publishers are good at calculating circulation.

- The publisher will often hesitate to print a new edition. A few months later, they can print it in their pocket – and then they do not have to pay so much to the authors. After three years, the book may be sold out, and then a decision is made internally in the publishing house on the finances in the event of reprinting books. But this thinking and planning is kept well hidden from writers and the public. The publishers only provide the exact information they need, she says.

Publishers tell Ny Tid that the cancellation percentage is not interesting and avoid questions about specific figures. The publishers' association's board chairman Geir Berdahl says there is no discussion either.

- Books live forever, claims CEO of the same association, Per Christian Opsahl.

Heger in Cappelen says "writing down the inventory is not culturally interesting". Butenschön in Gyldendal gives an example:

- If you print a biography that you have great faith in in a circulation of 14.000, and it only sells 4000 so that 10.000 have to be shredded, it is still a good sale – compared to if you printed 4000 and only sold 2800. Therefore shredding numbers say nothing, he says.


Butenschön is a little worried about the angle of the article.

- You can not say that the culture ends up on the fire. See, now they're burning culture. We do not throw culture. We throw paper. Besides, it is not in itself an interesting issue, says Butenschön.

- If you say so, will it burn? Then it immediately gets worse.

We are standing in Geelmuyden's yard, and he is laughing a little and is wearing a sweater. We have been in the garage where he isolates with the comedy of Honesty. We have been to the attic where there is already a box with Hegnar. We have not looked under the desk and behind the bookshelves, but Geelmuyden says in-house production is stacked there as well.

- Do you want to bring some books with you – a whole bag maybe?

Some birds are chirping.

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