[media] Debate books have been a favorite source for newspaper headlines this spring. Håvard Mælnes 'An ordinary day at work, Magnus Marsdal's Frp code and Hallgrim Berg's American letter all debuted in first place on the Book Dealers' Association's bestseller list.
- Spring is traditionally a good time for non-fiction books, as there are fewer books to compete with, explains Silje Utkilen, information manager at Kagge publishing house.
This spring has nevertheless been exceptionally good.
- Reflects weak politics
The publishers of Mælnes and Marsdal, respectively Erling Kagge in Kagge Forlag and Håkon Kolmannskog in the newly founded Forlaget Manifest, are naturally very pleased when we meet them for debate. Although the political standpoint and temperature this hot June day should signal a heated conversation, they surprisingly agree when it comes to publishing.
- One of the reasons why there are many debate books now, is that it is so bad. There is a lot of questionable political management, Kagge believes.
Kolmannskog is also not very proud of the red-green government, and criticizes politicians' lack of glow.
- When ministers and politicians make speeches, it is either to put debates and issues dead, or to brag. Things are not at stake for them, and their posts become boring.
- And then they do not even write them themselves, Kagge adds.
None of them were significantly satisfied with the Bondevik government either, and Kagge believes it carried out little recognizable bourgeois policy. It may seem that the lack of clear divides and thorough debates between politicians has therefore opened the public up to other stakeholders.
Many journals have received increased attention in recent years, and Kolmannskog says that Manifest was inspired by this and worked on his own magazine Demo.
- We saw that there were many cases that received attention in the press, and that could be written longer and more about.
They are not worried about the timeliness of the books beyond the quality.
- There is rather a shortage of relevant books, Kolmannskog believes.
- The books we have published the fastest have generally received good reviews, Kagge points out and continues:
- There is not necessarily any connection between fast release and poor quality. The most important thing is to be vigilant, follow and have access to printing companies that can take the jobs quickly.
The debate about the debate
Not all players in the publishing industry are equally satisfied with the debate climate in Norway. Frode Saugestad in LSP Forlag thinks the condition in the Norwegian public is grave.
- Norway is characterized by tendentious debates and sensational headlines, principled discussions are virtually impossible to lead.
LSP specializes in professional literature and fiction from the Arabic-speaking world, and their latest releases are Osama bin Laden's Message to the World, Norman Finkelstein's Defense of Israel? and Mohamed Choukris Dry Bread
The books have certainly received a lot of attention in the press, but not always because of the questions they ask. Ari Behn's foreword got most of the attention when Dry Bread was launched, due to a hint of hashish use.
- Here you have one of the most important books in Arabic literature, and then the newspapers focus on three sentences in the preface, sighs Saugestad.
The Bin Laden release also got a lot of space, but where Saugestad wanted to start a censorship debate he thinks the matter was again sensationalized without the underlying points coming out.
- The need has never been so great for books from the Middle East, people know minimally and the Islam and immigration debate is clearly marked by this. There are some really good people in Norway, but they drown in the sensational press. Hege Storhaug's solid opinions fit better in the newspapers than Kari Vogt's detailed knowledge.
When Saugestad started in 2004 he was more naive and wanted to change the public, but quickly realized that it is almost impossible to change it.
- The tabloids use what they can make headlines of and ignore the rest.
- Saugestad whines
Kagge and Kolmannskog will not participate in Saugestad's black painting of the Norwegian debate climate.
- There is always someone out there whining, Kagge answers.
- There are many interesting debates in the Norwegian public, in Aftenposten, for example, the debate pages are the first thing I read.
Although these are edited by Kagge author Knut Olav Åmås, Kagge's assertion seems more sincere than pure self-promotion. He nevertheless believes that Norway has much to learn from, for example, the United States, where debates flourish with a greater degree of self-criticism and higher temperature.
- It takes a lot before publicity becomes negative, comments Kolmannskog.
- What you experience as a publisher is that volume is important, only a few notices do not help book sales. You want to reach out to people, and then the press becomes important.
Kolmannskog is on leave from Klassekampen and knows the press well, an invaluable experience to get attention – on his own terms.
- We in the editorial staff set up a framework story that we wanted the FRP code to be seen from. Without the media experience, it would probably have been more difficult to get the newspapers involved in our presentation. Involving Harald Eia in the book launch was also a way to get more attention.
Purchase scheme on savings budget
Frode Saugestad is also not satisfied with the priorities of publishers and politicians when it comes to emphasizing what is important literature.
- What do we really need? he asks rhetorically.
- Philip Roth in Norwegian or translated books from languages few can, and which deal with important topics in the world today?
Saugestad does not think it must necessarily be an either-or, but that the publishers are guided too much by the editors' vanity, by what is "good to have on the list", and too little informational thinking.
The politicians could also have laid down guidelines with a better and stronger purchasing system. Today, Saugestad thinks it is completely devoid of political control.
- The new non-fiction support is very, very small, and primarily Norwegian. Publishing translated non-fiction in Norway is an unconditional loss project.
Kolmannskog and Kagge do not share Saugestad's gloomy picture of the Norwegian public, but they naturally support the fight for a better and larger procurement system for professional literature, both Norwegian and foreign. Kagge believes that the new procurement system for case prose has very unclear selection criteria. Neither of the two publishers has really figured out what the requirements are for purchasing.
- The 50 books can be "everything possible", comments Kagge.
- A book can be very good without being bought in, so it is no guarantee of quality. 50 books is also far too little, Kolmannskog believes.
Kagge has also, like Saugestad, experienced the difficulties in translating translated professional books.
- It is first and foremost Trond Giske that is at stake. He could take action and introduce a proper purchasing scheme for both Norwegian and translated non-fiction. As it is now, our translated textbooks are pure loss projects.
Kolmannskog has also noticed this in his new publishing practice, he would like to publish translated books, but the expenses then quickly become heavy to bear for a small actor.
There is little doubt that the public had benefited from a wider selection of both Norwegian and translated professional literature, and Kagge believes the authors' strong position may be one of the reasons. There are few other countries where fiction has been set so much higher than non-fiction.
- The Writers' Association made a poor argument when they argued against a procurement scheme for non-fiction, Kagge believes.
- But they naturally thought first and foremost of themselves. However, they should not have criticized the textbooks.
If the matter had tightened, they could still have a book published at Kagge Forlag. Kagge does not have anything in principle to publish books he does not own. Here we come to the only obvious disagreement between Kagge and Kolmannskog. The manifest publisher believes that a publisher should have a clear platform.
- The apolitical publishing house does not exist, he claims.
- A hidden agenda is also an agenda.
- Dialogue presupposes confrontation[debate culture] Knut Olav Åmås (pictured) is the debate editor at Aftenposten and recently published the book The Value of Disagreement. There he criticizes the "consensus community", an operation in many environments to curb disagreements and lay conflicts dead.
- Many environments in Norway are so small that people are afraid of their future if they direct criticism, which they also have reason for. After several years of intense debate about whistleblowing, it is still not easier to be a whistleblower in Norwegian working life.
When real problems and conflict lines exist in society, confrontation is a prerequisite for dialogue, Åmås believes.
- The Muhammad debate showed this, but in Norway we unfortunately have a hard time understanding it.
Åmås is nevertheless surprised by Frode Saugestad's claim that fundamental debates are lacking in the Norwegian public.
- It should have been fun to hear how he justifies and substantiates such a strange statement. Important debates of principle are conducted in the Norwegian media every single day. About police violence, about the level of punishment for violent crimes, about environmental policy, about liberalism and liberalism and so on.
The challenge for Åmås as a debate editor lies in preventing the debates from being predictable and locked in, with only the known participants.
- One must allow new voices and views to emerge, and also ensure that the debates revolve around the most important and heaviest topics in society, such as the problems in the school and health sector, the increased economic differences and integration policy.
Debate books believe Åmås may be the first point of departure for the debate, but he points out that there are always few who have read them, and that it is therefore in the media that the debate develops. However, the fact that many nuances are lost when the debates are converted to the newspapers is not to be avoided.
- But what could do more with the Norwegian public was that Norwegian publishers became much faster at translating key foreign debate books into Norwegian. Today, they often arrive pointlessly late. A good debate book is not a book with strong opinions, but with opinions solidly supported by knowledge and justification.