Kōrero: Publishing

Whārangi 7. Publishing in the 1980s and 1990s

Ngā whakaahua me ngā rauemi katoa o tēnei kōrero

New energy

By the last two decades of the 20th century the reading public had grown, and was better educated and enthusiastic about New Zealand books. Publishers put skill and resources into publicity, the media paid attention to local writers and literary events such as book festivals and book award ceremonies proliferated. Treaty of Waitangi claims sparked interest in serious works of New Zealand history and Māori topics.

Above all, novels, traditionally tricky territory, were published locally in greater numbers and to critical acclaim. Bert Hingley at Hodder & Stoughton, Geoff Walker at Penguin and Fergus Barrowman at Victoria University Press worked successfully in this field.

Books for children, both in education and entertainment, were encouraged by assistance from the Literary Fund, as well as by talented writers who had often started with School Publications. Energetic new educational publishers such as Wendy Pye and New House had an impact. From 1980 to 1986 educational titles increased by 150%. In 1986 exports of educational were 35% greater than domestic sales and made up 72% of all export sales.

Publishing dame

After being made redundant in 1985 Wendy Pye decided to publish her own educational books, specialising in early literacy and mathematics. She established Sunshine Books, which was highly successful in the US market, and then, when the US operation was bought out, she expanded into the Australian and Asian markets. By 2012 Wendy Pye Publishing had produced over 2,600 titles selling over 200 million copies and was earning 80% of its revenue overseas. The company pioneered use of digital and CD-Rom technology in developing multi-media materials. Wendy Pye was made a dame in 2013.

Staying afloat

However, these years were not easy for publishers. They aimed for quick turnover, focused on their front lists (recently published books), reprinted sparingly and remaindered slow titles. Print runs declined. A 1998 amendment to the Copyright Act 1994 allowing parallel importing and online book purchasing threatened the multinationals. Increasingly books were printed in Asia, where quality was high and costs lower.

Computerisation benefited all aspects of book production, allowing most work to be done on screen from a single electronic original. This increased accuracy and speed, and reduced cost. There were new publishing formats such as the CD-Rom.

Moves in local publishing

New independent publishers appeared regularly. Some, such as Mallinson Rendel, Longacre Press (which emerged from the demise of John McIndoe), Benton Ross, Moa and Price Milburn succeeded and were sold to larger companies. Others succeeded and survived independently, despite a small market in uncertain times. They included Craig Potton, Steele Roberts, David Bateman, David Ling and Bridget Williams Books. From 1991 Huia Publishers were committed to books about and by Māori and books in the Māori language.

Older firms underwent radical changes. Government Print was sold in 1988 and within seven years its publishing ceased. School Publications was made into Learning Media, a Crown-owned company, which exported reading materials widely. The remnants of the Whitcoulls publishing list were acquired by Penguin in 1988.


Increasingly New Zealand publishing was connected to a global world through multinational companies. Penguin began publishing strongly after 1978, taking over Māori and Pasifika writers from its sister company Longman Paul. In 1998 South African publisher New Holland began producing books in New Zealand, targeting general readers.

Local subsidiaries were caught up in the mergers and takeovers creating huge international companies. Collins, Century Hutchinson and Longman Paul became transatlantic firms HarperCollins (1989), Random Century (later Random House) and Addison Wesley Longman (later Pearson Education).

Reeds was sold to Associated Book Publishers (1982) to become Reed Methuen, changed hands several more times to emerge as Heinemann Reed from 1988 to 1992, was renamed Reed Publishing (NZ) in 1992 and, after another international merger, became part of Reed Elsevier in 1993. It struggled to maintain its identity.

Changes to the infrastructure

Most in the publishing industry had previously trained on the job. But in 1993 Daphne Brasell Associates, an independent publisher specialising in government publications and non-fiction, set up a publishing course which became a regular tertiary programme at Whitireia Polytechnic in Wellington. The year-long diploma course, available both in the classroom and online, became a virtual prerequisite for anyone entering the industry.

Concerned at the extensive photocopying of copyright works, particularly in educational institutions, the Book Publishers Association of New Zealand set up a licensing agency, Copyright Licensing Limited, jointly owned by authors. In the 1990s this licensed universities and later schools and polytechnics to copy within certain limits, returning the licence fee to the copyright holders.

In 1988 the Literary Fund, which had supported writers and publishers of literary works over many years and assisted the remarkable growth of writing for children, was absorbed into the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council. Most of its programmes remained and, after a fight, continuing author and publisher representation. A block grant system for publishers (where they were funded for a block of books rather than for individual books) was instituted in 1991, but later, after the Arts Council became Creative NZ in 1994 and interest group representation abolished, it was discontinued (although a similar scheme re-emerged in 2007).

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Elizabeth Caffin, 'Publishing - Publishing in the 1980s and 1990s', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/publishing/page-7 (accessed 20 July 2024)

He kōrero nā Elizabeth Caffin, i tāngia i te 22 Oct 2014