Multifaceted Cappelen hit by vagaries of Norway’s market

Multifaceted Cappelen hit by vagaries of Norway’s market

If there was an equivalent entity to Cappelen Damm in the UK market, it would be like a combination of Penguin Random House, Hachette, Foyles (pre-Waterstones buyout), 50% of Audible and Curtis Brown.

Norway’s biggest books conglomerate is joint-owned by Bonnier and Egmont, created in its current form by a merger in 2007, of two of the country’s most venerable houses: Cappelen, launched as a religious publisher by Jørgen Wright Cappelen in Oslo (then called Christiania) in 1829; and N W Damm & Sons, founded by Danish immigrant Niels Wilhem Damm in 1843.

The Cappelen Damm publishing side typically accounts for around a third of sales in Norway—Den Norske Forleggerforening (Norwegian Publishers Association) annual statistics put Cappelen Damm’s market share in 2018 at 32.7%, down from 34.3% in the previous year. That would put it ahead of PRH and Hachette’s combined 31.2% share of the UK market. The "big boys" dominate the Norwegian market, with just three players—Cappelen Damm, Gyldendal (27.7% in 2018) and Aschehoug (11.1%)—claiming over 70% of sales.

Cappelen Damm has fingers in many pies, as it also owns 13-bookshop mini-chain Tanum, a 50% stake in audio streaming service Storytel, book clubs, distribution centres and Cappelen Damm Agency, the literary agency which represents some of Norway’s biggest authors including Roy Jacobsen, Lars Saabye Christensen and picture book star Anna Fiske.

However, Cappelen Damm’s last set of results were not rosy. In fact, they were its worst in 12 years, with revenues slipping 3.7% to 1.43bn NOK (£127.4m), and the group posting a 49m NOK (£4.4m) loss, its first time in the red since the merger year of 2007. The losses were largely on the retailing side, with Tanum and the book clubs plummeting, although contextually the Norwegian market as a whole dropped 6.3% in 2018. A big difficulty has been Tanum’s concession at Oslo’s Gardermoen airport, plus there have been write-offs due to investments in expanding the publisher’s education division. When announcing the results earlier this year, Jenssen said the group was already turning things around, and would be "back to a good old Cappelen Damm level" next year.