In 1946, at the urging of PEN (a writers’ organisation), the New Zealand Literary Fund was established to assist writers and publishers. With a modest £2,000 each year ($155,000 in 2013 values), the fund at first gave more support to publishers than writers, with the aim of encouraging a fledgling industry to back serious literature and history.
New publishers appear
A regular recipient of grants was the Hamilton bookseller and publisher Paul’s Book Arcade (from 1964 called Blackwood and Janet Paul). On the demise of the Progressive Publishing Society they started with some of its unpublished titles. Blackwood’s excellent nose for a good book and Janet’s design skills made an ideal combination. History, memoirs, poetry, fiction, books for children, educational texts and Māori topics constituted the firm’s nearly 200 publications from 1945 to 1968.
Pegasus Press in Christchurch was founded in 1947 by Albion Wright. Like the Caxton Press, it combined commercial printing with literary publishing, and for the latter was heavily reliant on the Literary Fund. Janet Frame, first published by Denis Glover at Caxton, became a Pegasus author. Wright established overseas co-publication arrangements for her works, which helped her international reputation but was less advantageous financially.
By far the greater proportion of books read in New Zealand were imported. Many novelists and scholars published their work in the United States or United Kingdom, getting wider exposure but receiving limited royalties on New Zealand sales. As a consequence, from the 1950s local publishers looked for overseas co-editions for their productions.
Established publishers continue
With Glover’s return from war service Caxton was rejuvenated. Allen Curnow’s influential anthology, A book of New Zealand verse, 1923–45 (1945), and Frank Sargeson’s short story anthology, Speaking for ourselves (1945), were important books along with the Caxton Poets series begun in 1948. Another major step was taking on the publication of the literary journal Landfall founded by Charles Brasch in 1947. With Glover’s dismissal in 1951 Caxton publishing became more erratic and its commercial activities more prominent.
A. H. & A. W. Reed flourished. Two young staff members – Tom Kennedy, salesman, and Ray Richards, production manager and later editor – brought fresh energy. They were soon publishing 40–50 books a year. To popular history, natural history and Māori themes were added tales of the high country such as Peter Newton’s Wayleggo (1947) and Mona Anderson’s A river rules my life (1963), both bestsellers. Books on sport, especially rugby, became popular, with T. P. McLean becoming a star author.
The canny Reeds also sold 35-millimetre slides for the tourist market, postcards and especially records. They were the first publisher to establish a relationship with an Asian printer, Kyodo in Japan, which enabled them to produce big books of colour photographs at reasonable prices.
Observing the decline of Whitcombe and Tombs in the educational market, Reeds began producing, and often writing, texts for primary schools during the 1950s. In 1955 Reeds gained permission to adapt the Janet and John reading series for the local market. By the end of the 1960s educational books made up 40% of turnover.
The 1960s were Reeds’ heyday. They treated both authors and booksellers well and had an unrivalled sense of the interests of the general public. Between 1957 and 1967 they published 905 new books and 353 reprints, and for a time produced more titles than any other Australasian publisher. In 1964 they began publishing in Australia from a subsidiary managed by Clif Reed’s son John.
A good keen book
Reeds had phenomenal success with Barry Crump’s novel A good keen man, first published in 1960. It went into 14 editions and sold around 300,000 copies. Masterton bookseller Alex Hedley was so enthusiastic after reading the book that he hired a scout to walk round with a sandwich board and parked a derelict jalopy in the main street as a reward for the person who bought the greatest number. Hedley sold 1,000 copies.
Despite Reeds’ competition, Whitcombe and Tombs remained a force. Their dominance in educational publishing was constrained by the Schools Publication Branch of the Department of Education, established in 1939, and the introduction 20 years later of a free textbook scheme which the branch exploited.
Whitcombes concentrated on its retail and printing operations and on publishing popular fiction (often with overseas partners) and general non-fiction. They tried humour, sport and books for children. They first published novelist Maurice Shadbolt and commissioned him to write the text for several handsome books of landscape photographs.