Storytel Purchases Majority Share in Forlagið, Iceland's Largest Publisher Skip to content
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Photo: Forlagið bókabúð, Facebook.

Storytel Purchases Majority Share in Forlagið, Iceland’s Largest Publisher

Sweden’s e- and audiobook giant Storytel AB has acquired a 70% majority interest in Forlagið, Iceland’s largest publishing house. A press release confirms that Mál og menning, which maintains a publishing imprint (one of five under the auspices of Forlagið), as well as a literary journal, will remain a 30% minority owner in the publisher. Forlagið will continue to operate “independently from Storytel Iceland’s streaming operations on the local market.”

Forlagið now joins the ranks of three other Nordic publishers under the Storytell umbrella: Norstedts Förlagsgrupp (SWE), People’s Press (DEN) and Gummerus Publishers (FIN). “We are excited to welcome Forlagið to the Storytel family and our publishing business area,” wrote Jonas Tellander, CEO and founder of Storytel. “It feels fantastic to join forces with the proficient and skilled publishers at Forlagið, who share our passion for great authorships and stories.”

Forlagið CEO Egill Örn Jóhannsson expressed equal optimism about the deal, particularly as regards the potential he sees it having for bringing Icelandic authors to a broader global readership. “This will open up new markets for the authors of Forlagið and help us take a big step into the future and closer to the modern reader and listener. This deal will surely reinforce and future-proof Forlagið’s business. It will also cement our mission to continue publishing the best of Icelandic literature, to bring this literature to the audience via all means expected, and open new doors for our authors all over the world.”

Icelandic authors ‘blindsided’

The sale was not met with equal enthusiasm in all literary quarters, however. According to Ragnheiður Tryggvadóttir, the managing director of the Icelandic Writers Union, the sale “blindsided” Icelandic authors, whose concerns regarding rights-holding and future publishing policy have poured into the union since the sale was announced. “Our main concern is whether a foreign corporation…will be passionate about publishing Icelandic literature,” said Ragnheiður.

“People are taken aback that such a big share of an Icelandic publisher is now owned by a foreign company. Because we without question look at ourselves as guardians of the Icelandic language and the Icelandic language as the basis of our nation’s culture. So our first reaction is that this doesn’t make any sense.”

The union and its members would have never thought it possible that the copyright of such a huge percentage of the country’s literary heritage would be sold to a foreign entity, continued Ragnheiður. “The idea was totally foreign to us until yesterday morning.”

History of acquiring ‘legacy print publishing houses’

Storytel currently operates audiobook streaming services in 20 countries, including Brazil, Bulgaria, Italy, Mexico, Poland, Singapore, and the United Arab Emirates, although the Nordic market—Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden—currently accounts for the majority of its business. In addition to buying up “upstart competitors” in the audiobook market, as an article in Publishers Weekly outlined last year, Storytel has also set its sights on expanding into the print market, and has done so through the acquisition of “legacy print publishing houses” in regional markets, such as Forlagið.

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