Friday, 3 April 2009

E-books in Scandinavia

It looks as though it may still be some time before the commercially downloadable e-book finds a secure place in Scandinavian publishing. The absence of Amazon from the Nordic countries (there is still no Nordic equivalent of or has meant that the distribution of e-books has not yet really reached the Scandinavian reading public. The tremendous amount of uptake on the Kindle e-reading device in the United States during the past year or so remains mostly a U.S.-focused phenomenon, and although the Sony reader has made inroads in the U.K. publishing world, with Penguin releasing a growing number of titles in the Adobe .ePub format, readable on the Sony PRS-505, it doesn't yet appear that these recent developments in publishing technology are reaching a wider European public, especially in the North. At the end of last year, Swedish firms like Atlas and Bra Böcker announced plans to release e-book versions of many of their titles, but on visiting the websites of these companies it's hard to find specifics or details, or even the e-books themselves.

It's possible, one guesses, that the concept of e-book publishing clashes with certain ingrained Nordic attitudes - and certainly the authoritarian trend noticeable in the recent Pirate Bay trial has given some pointers to this hypothesis. Although the outcome of the trial is still uncertain, the whole proceeding gives a good idea of where the priorities of Swedish and Nordic media content providers lie. Even so, there is one area of electronic publishing where Nordic classical literature has quite a strong representation: the appropriately-named Project Runeberg has been archiving Nordic-language literature online since December 1992. Like its larger sister enterprise, Project Gutenberg, it is largely a volunteer effort, publishing freely available electronic versions of books which have a cultural and historical significance. Nowadays it also releases facsimile editions of classic works, as well as sheet music, and Latin works by Nordic authors.

At Project Runeberg one can find freely available electronic editions of works (including collected works) by most of Scandinavia's major 19th century authors, as well as writings by many minor and lesser-known ones. The archive contains books by more modern poets and authors, such as Edith Södergran, Karin Boye and even Kjell Westö. According to the project catalog, the database lists 31698 authors, out of which 7746 have presentations of varying lengths. Although the primary emphasis is on Swedish, there are texts in all of the major Nordic languages, including Finnish.

One doesn't have to read the books while sitting at a computer screen -- they can be downloaded both directly and from one's PC to portable devices, PDAs and even mobile phones, making it possible to read them while one's on the move -- travelling by train, for example. I've found this a good way to catch up on my reading of Nordic classics, and I look forward to the day when I will also be able to read commercially published books this way.

See also in this blog: Old Masters


Eric Dickens said...

Project Runeberg seems a very good idea, making older books available. If, ultimately their efforts could be linked up with one of those print-at-home services, for out-of-copyright books, this would be very good.

I like the idea of the PDA as a complement to printed books, but it would be a shame if it totally supplanted that old-fashioned invention. Printed books require some light and, for some of us, a pair of spectacles. No electricity, once the thing is printed. That is still a noble ecological phenomenon. But having your own facsimile copy of a Swedish book, last published in 1857, instead of having to borrow it in inter-library loan internationally is a great boon.

It's all a question of joined up thinking and a mix of alternatives.

David McDuff said...

>>Printed books require some light and, for some of us, a pair of spectacles. No electricity, once the thing is printed. That is still a noble ecological phenomenon<<

Yes, although the PDA does save trees...

Eric Dickens said...

On Newsnight, 5th May 2009, reporter Katty Kay looked at e-books and the various devices to access e-books. Interview with Amazon boss Jeff Bezos.

It struck me that with all the electronic reader-machines in the world, you still can't access a book if the language shuts you out because you can't read it. All those books in Latin, Ancient Greek, Hebrew, plus a myriad of contemporary languages, are simply shut off from the monolingual English-language reader. Hard luck, chaps. This is becoming a one-language project favouring English.