Story: Publishing

Page 6. Big and small, home and away, 1965 to 1980

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British firms become local

During the 1960s and 1970s the number of publishers increased markedly, and from 1969 to 1976 the number of books published annually grew from 472 to 882. Several British firms whose books made up the bulk of imported titles set up local offices and began publishing New Zealand books.

Collins, for example, with a long New Zealand presence, established a local publishing programme in the late 1950s. It misfired at first with some literary books but soon settled down to producing practical middlebrow titles with good sales potential.

Heinemann Education, Hodder & Stoughton, Oxford University Press and Associated Book Publishers quickly followed. Blackwood and Janet Paul was taken over by British educational publisher Longman in 1967 to become Longman Paul. Ashton Scholastic (later Scholastic) began publishing books for children in 1962.

New publishers

New independent publishers emerged in spite of the small market, an uncertain economy and the challenge for the leisure dollar from television. John McIndoe, a Dunedin printer, began a publishing sideline concentrating on regional works. From 1975, under Brian Turner as editor, it branched out into poetry and fiction.

French scholar John Dunmore set up Dunmore Press and, after a tentative start, Hugh and Beverly Price and Jim Milburn turned Price Milburn into a successful educational publisher. After the dissolution of the University of New Zealand in 1962 Otago and Auckland, and later Victoria and Canterbury, set up their own subsidised university presses. In 1978 George Griffith established Otago Heritage Books, a unique regional publisher.

Uncertain times for Whitcombes and Reeds

Whitcombe and Tombs suffered from the economic downturn after 1966 and the increase in competition for the general market. Its publishing declined throughout the 1970s, and in 1973 Whitcombes combined with Dunedin printer Coulls Somerville Wilkie to become Whitcoulls.

Reeds increased its staff, its offices, its warehouse space and its annual list, and it moved into secondary-school publishing. In 1969 it published 35% of new New Zealand titles. The firm was still profitable but only just. Its Australian subsidiary was precarious, inflation was rife, costs rose and booksellers demanded higher discounts. In the late 1970s the British publishers began to ‘close’ the market, requiring booksellers to buy from the local base which could supply as fast as New Zealand publishers.

From 1976 Reeds’ educational publishing made a loss. The record company was sold in 1977. Reeds did not understand the growing market for mass paperbacks or the liberalisation of public opinion. With too much stock in the warehouse, Reeds had become an enterprise too large and too complex for the business skills of its directors.

Culture clash

In 1970 a young radical and former student leader, Alister Taylor, joined Reeds. He submitted Tim Shadbolt’s Bullshit and jellybeans and then Sam Hunt’s book of poems, From Bottle Creek. Clif Reed turned both down; so Taylor published them himself. In 1972 he also published in his own name a New Zealand edition of The little red schoolbook, which had information about sex and drugs for young people. Reeds chose to issue a press release denying any association with the book, and Taylor left the firm soon after.

The Reed family appeared to lose control and morale was poor. Senior staff left. In November 1978 John Reed returned from Australia and took over as chair. He sacked 23 staff, moved the head office to the suburbs and sold the education division.

Publishing infrastructure

As the number of publishers grew, so did the industry infrastructure. In 1962 fifteen publishers set up a New Zealand Book Publishers Association, which in 1977 combined with the existing British Book Publishers Representatives Association to become the Book Publishers Association of New Zealand. This marked a growing confidence and professionalism reflected in the increasing number of writers whose first choice was to publish in their own country.

One achievement of the local association was the establishment in 1968 of the Wattie Book Award, designed to promote New Zealand book production and recognise literary merit. It was followed in 1976 by the New Zealand Book Awards, set up by the Literary Fund, which focused more narrowly on literary excellence.

How to cite this page:

Elizabeth Caffin, 'Publishing - Big and small, home and away, 1965 to 1980', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 18 July 2024)

Story by Elizabeth Caffin, published 22 Oct 2014