Making used book sales painless
Lasse and Arne-Morten met in the armed forces, years before they started Bookis together.

Making used book sales painless

Bookis is a rare success story of literary entrepreneurship. In just a few years, the company’s online marketplace for used books has accumulated the widest selection of books in Norway, offering four times more Norwegian titles than its closest competitor.

With almost 300,000 users and more than a million titles, Bookis has established itself as an online treasure chest for book lovers in Norway and Sweden. On top of that, it has managed to shake up the old book publishing oligopoly. That doesn’t mean it’s achieved its goal, however – far from it.

But first, we need to go back to the beginning. Although the company wasn’t founded until 2017, we have to go all the way back to 2008 to find the true beginning of Bookis. More specifically, to the Norwegian Army Officer Candidate School in Indre Troms in northern Norway.

Because it was there, between the gun smoke and green army camouflage uniforms, that Lasse Brurok and Arne-Morten Willumsen first met.

A friendship that has lasted

“In the armed forces it doesn’t take long to get to know people on a deeper level. I think we both realised pretty quickly that this was a friendship that was going to last”, says Lasse.

The two young men served alongside each other for a couple of years before Arne-Morten packed his bags and moved to the United States to study finance. Lasse continued his career in the armed forces alongside working as a street artist. Even though they lived on different continents, their friendship remained strong.

When Arne-Morten returned to Norway a few years later, he got involved in a number of startups. In one of them he was responsible for the company accounts, and was tipped off about a book on Norwegian accounting rules. Because it was so expensive, he decided to find a used edition. That turned out to be more difficult than he expected.

“I came across sellers who never turned up at the agreed time, and there was no easy way to pay. It was shocking to see how difficult it was to buy a used book. In the States it was easy to buy used books via Amazon, but a similar service didn’t really exist in Norway.”

An idea began to form in Arne-Morten’s head. Recycling and the circular economy were more popular than ever before, and e-commerce in the Nordics was growing by as much as 20 percent annually. Could it really be that hard to set up a one-stop shop for used books?

“For people to even bother to sell a used book, the threshold has to be very low. No one is willing to spend a lot of time and energy on earning a hundred-krone note”, says Arne-Morten.

His idea gradually evolved, and in 2016 he shared it with Lasse over dinner. Before the evening was over, they had officially founded Bookis. Since that day they’ve never looked back.

In the beginning there was a lot of testing and failing. The first proper experiment involved turning a class of students at the BI Norwegian Business School into a concrete case. All the useful input they got from the students was used in the further development of Bookis.

“We used lean methodology and based our work on the build-measurelearn model. Through testing and failing, we gradually understood what worked and what didn’t”, says Lasse.

After a while they found themselves facing their biggest challenge so far: how would they get the books from the seller to the buyer?

Helthjem became a turning point

“The big turning point came when we called an acquaintance who’d recently got a job at Helthjem. They had just started to develop a new service called Me to You, that would make it super easy to send packages between private individuals. What an amazing stroke of luck!” says Arne-Morten.

Helthjem and Bookis developed their services in parallel, and launched them simultaneously just before Christmas in 2017. While everyone else slept during the dark winter nights, Helthjem’s couriers collected and delivered used books all over the country, from door to door.

“Getting the agreement in place with Helthjem was undoubtedly the most crucial factor to our later success. It’s like the stars were aligned”, says Lasse.

Since then, Bookis has worked continually on improving and simplifying its user experience. Integrating a function to enable customers to scan the barcode on the books they want to sell was a milestone. This allows Bookis to find all the information about the books and enter it into the system automatically.

To expand its selection, Bookis has also started selling new books at competitive prices. But it is still the used books that make up most of the inventory. The used books are also sold at a fixed price, which means that sellers don’t have to deal with hagglers.

It’s up to the buyer and seller to decide whether they want to meet in person or use Helthjem’s delivery service. If they choose Helthjem, the buyer pays the shipping charge.

“Sellers perceive us as a marketplace, while buyers perceive us as a regular online book store”, says Arne-Morten.

One thing that shocked Arne-Morten and Lasse when they entered the book industry was that Norwegian authors receive only 15 percent royalties on sales of their books while the publishers rake in the rest. On top of that, it is the publishers that own the copyrights. Arne-Morten and Lasse thought this was a really bad deal.

“We think the conditions for authors are bad enough to start with, and that they also deserve to earn money on the books that are sold on. So we developed a function for this. Buyers on Bookis can opt to add an amount of their choice as a royalty to the author when they buy a used book. So far we’ve collected more than NOK 700,000 for Norwegian authors”, says Lasse.

A good culture is most important

Product development and the business side are perhaps the two key aspects for many young entrepreneurs, but for Arne-Morten and Lasse, the top priority has been to build a good company culture. And they thank the armed forces for that. They describe the Norwegian Army Officer Candidate School as a kind of crash course in leadership.

“Our philosophy is simple: look after the staff and solve the task – in that order. Our goal has been to nurture a good work environment with a high level of psychological safety. Without a healthy and positive culture based on trust, we will never succeed”, says Lasse.

Making used book sales painless

In a safe space, there’s nothing dangerous or frightening, and that includes talking about your own mistakes or showing your vulnerability.

“We often discuss our own mistakes and what we have learned from them”

“Lasse and I have always been good at challenging each other, even in front of colleagues. But it’s done out of love, and out of a shared desire to succeed. And we often discuss our own mistakes and what we have learned from them. More leaders should be better at showing that they’re just humans, too”, says Arne-Morten.

And no one in Bookis gets applause for working long hours.

“We want people to have a healthy life-work balance. We come and go at normal hours, and when we leave work, we turn of all the job-related notifications on our phones. There’s nothing cool about working yourself into the ground or sending e-mails to everyone at all hours”, says Lasse.

They’ve also introduced meeting-free Wednesdays and are happy if colleagues don’t reply to e-mails or messages on Slack during the workday. “That just
means that they’re focusing on their tasks and are not letting themselves be interrupted by all those time stealers”, says Lasse.

And it seems that both the business model and their leadership philosophy has worked; after only four years, the arrows are pointing upwards for Bookis. But where do they go from here?

“We’ll keep banging away, and we will definitely work closer with authors in the future. We’re not quite ready to reveal our specific plans just yet. The only thing I can say for sure is that it will be totally cool! And that Bookis will be a well-known name on a lot more people’s lips”, says Arne-Morten.

This is Bookis

Norwegian launch: December 2017.
Swedish launch: September 2020.
Number of users: 285,000 (70,000 in Sweden).
Number of employees: 26.

  • Bookis offers a four times larger assortment of Norwegian titles than its competitors.
  • Offers a mix of fiction and non-fiction titles.
  • The first in the world to launch a royalty program for used books.
  • Aims to expand into new markets.
  • Has a revenue of over 50 million NOK in 2021.
  • Schibsted made an initial investment in Bookis in 2019, and today owns 29.3 per cent of the company.
Linda Christine Strande

Linda Christine Strande
Communications Manager
Years in Schibsted: 3