Max Hjelm: Litteraturen behöver räddas – men författarna tänker bara på sig själva

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How do we save literature? The urgent topic was raised at the Swedish Author’s Union event “Literature Day” at the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm. Unfortunately, the union seems primarily interested in saving its members’ incomes.
The majority of the time was spent discussing whether Sweden should introduce a book law similar to Norway. In other words, regulating book prices, both print and streamed. Almost all panel participants – authors and politicians from the Social Democrats and the Green Party – were in favor of some form of legislation.

It was therefore nice to have Erik Wikberg, a doctor from the Stockholm School of Economics, present. He has researched the book market and pointed out that audiobooks make literature more accessible to a wider audience and that the book industry as a whole would hardly be better off without Storytel. And the latest sales statistics from the Swedish Publishers’ Association support his thesis. Streaming services cannot be said to have significantly surpassed printed books. But if each listener cost more, fewer people could afford the service, or companies would have to release titles to save money.
It’s good that the Author’s Union is advocating for a broader debate on literature policy, but politicians should not take an interest group’s word as the ultimate truth.
While a book law would have helped certain authors, it would have made books less accessible to citizens. The majority of what is streamed is entertainment, which performs well in the market.
Instead, the discussion should focus on the question: How can high-quality literature be made more accessible to more people?
For example, the government’s plans to introduce manned school libraries for all children would be a significant step in the right direction. Moreover, we should discuss library compensation – the money that goes to authors and writer grants. Why does it often provide a lower amount per borrowed book compared to audiobook companies?

Politics should steer clear of price regulations and ignore entertainment books

It’s also worth noting that after reduced funding from the government, the Swedish Arts Council cut support to publishers by 16.5 percent. Prioritizing a canon with a reading list of old Swedish literature is little comfort given the circumstances.

Plans for a book team should be abandoned at the idea stage. Such a move would mainly result in consumers affording fewer books and the already successful authors making even more money. Politics should steer clear of price regulations and ignore entertainment books. The focus moving forward must be on how we can ensure that challenging and ambitious literature continues to be created in Sweden.
Read more:
Max Hjelm: Spoiled of authors to want payment while people sleep
Susanne Nyström: Soon Sweden will have a cultural canon that can be disregarded freely

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