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by Elizabeth Caffin

Missionaries published the first books in New Zealand. They were in the Māori language and aimed to spread the Christian message. Local publishers helped encourage New Zealand’s fledgling literary scene. In the second half of the 20th century multinational publishers moved in and bought up local publishers, but by the 2000s many multinationals were leaving the country.

Church and state: the first publishers

Publishing comprises organising and preparing texts, reproducing them in multiple copies and selling and distributing them. It usually also includes financing this process. In the early years of European settlement publishing was often indistinguishable from printing, bookselling or sometimes authorship itself.

Missionary publishing

The first publications in New Zealand were in the Māori language, which had only recently been given written form. These were produced by missionaries in order to spread Christian texts. After some disappointing attempts at printing by William Yate, William Colenso, a trained printer commissioned by the Anglican Church Missionary Society, arrived in Paihia, the Bay of Islands, in 1834 with a Stanhope press. He managed to print parts of the Bible in translation, and by 1837 completed his great work, the Māori New Testament, in 5,000 copies. Subsequent editions were produced in London. The Wesleyan (Methodist) and Roman Catholic missions also printed religious texts and tracts in Māori.

Colenso’s lament

William Colenso was delighted to see his Stanhope printing press when it landed on 3 January 1835, but he then lamented what was missing: ‘no wooden furniture … nor quoins … no galleys, no cases. No leads of any size, no brass rule, no composing-sticks … no inking table, no potash, no lye-brushes, no mallet and shooter, no roller-irons and stock … no imposing-stone nor page-cord; and, worst of all, actually no printing paper!!1

These publications were greeted enthusiastically by Māori. As well as spreading Christianity, they were also important in standardising the Māori language and preserving its character. Māori themselves were not involved in producing these books and only took printing and publishing into their own hands with the emergence of Māori newspapers from the 1860s. Speech and memory remained their dominant means of transmission.

Government publishing

Colenso also printed smaller secular items in both English and Māori. He was engaged by Captain William Hobson to print official documents surrounding the establishment of the colony. These included the proclamation of Hobson as lieutenant-governor, the invitation to Māori chiefs to Waitangi in February 1840 and, subsequently, 200 copies of the Māori text of the Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand’s founding document.

Colenso did not last long as a government printer. There were abortive attempts to set up a government press in Auckland using local newspaper printers, but the Government Printing Office was only firmly established after the capital moved to Wellington in 1865. Official publications of a modern state – reports, gazettes, laws, regulations and material produced by government departments – made the government the second important publisher in the early years of settlement.

    • Quoted in D. F. McKenzie, Oral culture, literacy and print in early New Zealand: the Treaty of Waitangi. Wellington: Victoria University Press, 1985, p. 25. Back

Early publishing for Pākehā and Māori

Books for settlers

As the numbers of European settlers increased from 1840 they provided an audience for publications – either polemical pamphlets on religious or political topics, or practical manuals and advice books. New Zealand publishing was always connected to a wider world: general guides for immigrants were similar for other colonies and published by London firms. But settlers needed specifically New Zealand guides to sheep farming, beekeeping and gardening, and directories, almanacs, maps and gazetteers.

Only fit for the colonies?

In 1889 Julius Vogel’s Anno domini 2000, or, Woman’s destiny was published in London by Hutchinson and Company and was also published in the same year as a colonial edition for distribution in New Zealand. In his 1909 bibliography of New Zealand literature, T. M. Hocken described it as, ‘A poorly written novel, sketching the condition of affairs in the far future, with woman at the helm. The scenes are apparently laid in New Zealand.’

Most were produced by printers in the main towns, such as Lyon and Blair in Wellington or Mills, Dick and Company in Dunedin; or by newspaper proprietors such as Creighton and Scales in Auckland. George Chapman, an Auckland bookseller, produced the first publishing list in the early 1860s full of such books. H. Wise and Company published its first directory of Dunedin in 1865 and in 1872 produced a national directory, which appeared annually until the 1950s. A rival Dunedin publisher, Stone, Son, and Company, produced provincial directories over the same period. Henry Brett, owner of the Auckland Evening Star, was an ambitious and successful publisher of useful volumes, especially Brett’s colonists’ guide (1883).

Māori traditions

Māori were a prime subject of interest to colonials. During his first term as governor (1845–53) George Grey undertook to record their traditions in book form. He believed that learning about Māori could assist him in governing the country. He also wanted to record a culture widely thought to be doomed and which he respected for the literary qualities of its songs, stories and sayings.

Grey’s first collection, Ko nga moteatea, me nga hakirara o nga Maori (1853), was in Māori and was printed in Wellington by Robert Stokes of the New Zealand Spectator. Grey compiled three other important books of oral traditions in Māori, two of which were published in Cape Town (South Africa) after Grey had left New Zealand.

Another Pākehā recorder of Māori oral tradition was John White, who, after a long career as an official interpreter and land agent, was in 1879 appointed by the government to prepare an official history of Māori. Six bilingual volumes appeared from the Government Printer in 1887–89.

These publications were problematic. White and Grey intervened in ways that distorted the oral texts, they obscured tribal differences in legends and traditions, and style and purpose were often lost. Some iwi were uncomfortable with yielding their songs and stories to a form controlled by Pākehā. Though purportedly directed at Māori, these books often reappeared swiftly in London with independent publishers. Ko nga moteatea was quickly followed by Polynesian mythology, an English selection of 23 of the 31 stories published by John Murray in 1855.

Colonial editions

Most substantial books on New Zealand topics were published elsewhere, or were, like Frederick Maning’s Old New Zealand (1863), published simultaneously or soon after in London. Lady (Mary Anne) Barker’s Station life in New Zealand was published by Macmillan in 1870 and several editions later was the first in Macmillan’s Colonial Library (books published for the colonial market). Several British publishers produced popular books in cheaper editions for the colonial market, thus asserting their prior claims. Travellers’ tales had long been published in Britain.

Educational publishing and Whitcombe and Tombs

The first textbooks

The mission presses made the earliest attempts to describe the Māori language. William Williams’s Dictionary of the New Zealand language and a concise grammar (1844) was the first major secular book from Colenso’s press. Mission presses also produced the first texts, in Māori, specifically designed for teaching purposes, especially readers (books for teaching reading).

Most textbooks used in schools up to 1880 were directed at the children of settlers and were standard sets imported from Britain. With the Education Act 1877 making primary education free, secular and compulsory, an opportunity arose for Whitcombe and Tombs, which became New Zealand’s first professional and long-term publisher.

Family firm

George Whitcombe had four daughters and eight sons. Most of the sons joined the family firm and by the 1920s, with the eldest son, Bertie, managing director, nearly all the branches were managed by Whitcombes. George Tombs had several sons – Felix joined the firm, but Harry left it in 1915 to set up his own printing firm, H. H. Tombs.

Whitcombe and Tombs

In 1882 in Christchurch George Whitcombe, a bookseller, joined forces with George Tombs, a printer. The new venture continued to print and sell books, and also began to publish them. This cross-subsidisation drove much of its success. Whitcombe and Tombs had offices and printing factories in all the main centres by 1890, and nationwide distribution arrangements. It opened a buying office in London in 1893.

As a publisher it dominated the educational market from the mid-1880s to 1940. It began with geography, a likely subject for a local publisher. Soon Whitcombes was publishing graded books in almost every primary school subject as well as school stationery books.

The firm published at least five different series of infant readers. Pacific Readers, for example, were sold in huge quantities from 1911 to 1931, as many as 175,000 copies per reader.


The best remembered Whitcombe and Tombs school books were the Whitcombes Story Books, supplementary readers that were reprints and adaptations of favourite stories from many sources. It became the biggest series of children’s books in the world at that time. Started in 1908, they grew to 450 titles in more than 1,500 editions and are said to have achieved sales of over 12 million copies by 1962.

On the suggestion of James Hight – the first editor, appointed in 1901 – Whitcombes moved into the Australian education market. They adapted local series and developed new ones for the Australian states. Austral Primers and Federal Arithmetics, for example, were sold in large quantities through their own bookshops in the main cities.

General publishing

Hight also encouraged Whitcombes into some general book publishing on scientific, technical or legal subjects, cookery and gardening, history and biography, atlases and dictionaries. They were practical, durable and safe titles, without much flair in design or selection. A few literary titles were included – poet Blanche Baughan was a strong Whitcombes author.

The Government Printing Office too continued to publish general books outside its specific mandate, often sharing authors with Whitcombes. It published many of Elsdon Best’s ethnological works for the Dominion Museum and James Cowan’s The New Zealand wars (1922–23).

New publishers, 1930s and 1940s

In the 1930s new publishers challenged Whitcombe’s dominance of New Zealand publishing.

A. H. & A. W. Reed

In Dunedin Alfred Reed developed a business supplying materials for Sunday schools. In 1925 he took his nephew, A. W. (Clif) Reed, into his successful firm and in 1932 boldly sent him to Wellington to establish a branch. This became the basis for the major publisher A. H. & A. W. Reed. In the same year they published their first book, The letters and journals of Samuel Marsden. Other works on missionary or religious topics followed; and the two Reeds became authors as well as publishers of a small bestseller, First New Zealand Christmases (1933).

In 1934 Clif Reed nervously accepted James Cowan’s collection of historical stories, Tales of the Maori bush. Clif saw it as their first secular publication and the origin of his own long interest in Māori legends and history. As Alfred Reed withdrew from day-to-day management though remaining an advisor and prolific author, Clif drove the publishing.

Overwhelmed by Dickens

In their early days Reeds onsold runs from other publishers. They purchased from the British publisher Dent 500 sets of a 22-volume edition of the complete works of Charles Dickens. They took years to sell and one day an earthquake shook Wakefield Chambers, where the publisher was housed. Clif raced to support the shelf where the books were kept, risking being ‘overwhelmed in an avalanche of Dickens’.1

Early books were predominantly historical and included travel books and memoirs, a few novels and some verse. Clif devised a series of paperback booklets for schools, Raupo School Readers, turned out with speed and often written by the Reeds themselves or adapted from previous Reeds hardbacks. He was also the designer of the colophon, of a clump of reeds (raupō in Māori).

By 1938 Reeds had published over 40 titles. With entrepreneurial skill they adapted to wartime conditions in the early 1940s by publishing war maps and patriotic collections of speeches and hymns.

Caxton Press

A very different publisher appearing in the 1930s was the Caxton Press, a legend in the history of New Zealand literature. It began in late 1932 as the Caxton Club at Canterbury University College and was driven by Denis Glover’s twin passions for fine printing and poetry. In 1935 Glover and John Drew set up the Caxton Press in a stable in central Christchurch, doing jobbing printing and publishing slim volumes of poetry, short stories and essays. They treated it as an adventure, marked by exuberance and wit.

Modelling the press on English literary publishers such as Faber and Faber, they prided themselves on simple elegant typography and book design, a new departure in local publishing. Two books displaying typefaces and Fantastica: 13 drawings by artist Leo Bensemann (1937), showed off Caxton’s technical and aesthetic mastery.

As important was their determination to publish writing they admired. By 1941 they had produced 25 books of poetry, including works by Allen Curnow, A. R. D. (Rex) Fairburn, R. A. K. Mason, Charles Brasch, Ursula Bethell and Glover himself, and six prose works by writers including Monte Holcroft, Frank Sargeson and Curnow. Both the print runs and profits were small, but this persistent support of good writing laid the foundations of the nation’s literary excellence.

Progressive Publishing Society

During the Second World War, with Glover overseas serving in the navy and materials scarce, some Caxton titles were taken over by the Progressive Publishing Society. This short-lived group set up in 1941 by three left-wing co-operative bookshops was committed to serious socialist and nationalist publications as well as works of literature.

Centennial publishing

The government developed a major project to celebrate the centennial of British sovereignty in New Zealand. This was inspired by the indefatigable Joseph Heenan, under-secretary of Internal Affairs, and drew on a talented staff, including E. H. McCormick, David Hall and John Pascoe. Eleven book-length historical surveys and 30 popular pictorial booklets, Making New Zealand, were produced. The surveys included McCormick’s Letters and art in New Zealand (1940) and J. C. Beaglehole’s The discovery of New Zealand (1939). Beaglehole was an adviser on typography and history, and the books were printed by Whitcombe and Tombs, not the Government Printing Office. In addition, a government subsidy assisted the publication of many local and business histories.

    • Quoted in Gavin Mclean, Whare Raupo: the Reed Books story. Auckland: Reed, 2007, p. 42. Back

Post-war publishing, 1945 to 1965

Government support

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.

Big and small, home and away, 1965 to 1980

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.

Publishing in the 1980s and 1990s

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).

Towards the ebook, since 2000

Electronic revolution

The first decade of the 21st century was dominated by the massive effects of new digital technology. In 2009 the publishers’ organisation removed ‘book’ from its name and became the Publishers Association of New Zealand (PANZ) in belated recognition that publishers were producing CDs and interactive educational texts linked to websites.

Out-of-copyright titles were digitised and made available online by the New Zealand Electronic Text Centre at Victoria University of Wellington and Early New Zealand Books at Auckland University. Books were digitised by international firms and offshore digital libraries. Publishers began digitising their backlists, assisted by Creative New Zealand and Copyright Licensing Limited. Major reference works, such as Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand and the New Zealand Official Yearbook, were published online. New books were produced in both print and ebook format, despite legal and technical problems.

Colonial ebooks

By 2013 Early New Zealand Books had digitised over 250 memoirs, travellers’ accounts and histories of 19th-century New Zealand. The Electronic Text Centre had digitised over 1,500 works. They included 66 19th-century New Zealand novels, John White’s Ancient history of the Maori, over 20 volumes on the discovery and exploration of New Zealand, a New Zealand wars collection and the Cyclopedia of New Zealand. This made it much easier to research writings about colonial New Zealand via the web than those about modern New Zealand.

Publishers’ websites became an essential sales and marketing tool offering instant information on titles and easy ways of purchasing. Social media such as Facebook and Twitter enabled publishers to stay in touch with readers and former publisher Graham Beattie managed a popular blog on book-related topics.

Nielsen BookScan, a division of US-based Nielsen BookData, allowed publishers to keep up with book sales as they happened. Nielsen also provided up-to-date bibliographical information to booksellers and libraries.

In 2013 appropriate retail and royalty arrangements for ebooks remained a matter of worldwide debate, as did the copyright issues raised by the internet.

New publishers appear, old ones change

Emerging publishers now tended to work in defined niche markets. Annabel Langbein published stylish cookbooks which sold well internationally. Julia Marshall, of Gecko Press, bought rights to popular European children’s books and published them in English. Awa Press published non-fiction exclusively. Te Papa Press specialised in handsome well-illustrated books on topics connected to the museum’s collections and exhibitions.

Small, new and old

New technology such as design software and good-quality digital printing made it possible for more people to start small presses and produce high-quality books, often in their spare time. They provide an alternative to mainstream publishers and some are quite prolific – for example HeadworX, which specialises in poetry, published 51 books between 1998 and 2008. Meanwhile, other small publishers such as Gumtree Press found their niche in using old technology – hand-setting and letter-press printing their books.

Aggregation continued apace among the multinational publishers. Hodder Moa Beckett became Hachette Livre New Zealand in 2004 and continued the strong tradition of sports books. However, in 2013 it announced that it would cease publishing New Zealand titles. Reeds joined the Pearson stable in 2007 and its name finally disappeared, its books appearing under the Raupo imprint. Local educational publisher New House became an imprint of international publisher Cengage Learning. In 2013 there was an international merger of Random House and Penguin, creating Penguin Random House; Pearson Education announced a complete withdrawal from the New Zealand Market; and HarperCollins reduced local publishing and followed Hachette, Pearson and MacMillan in moving distribution to Australia. That same year the government closed Crown-owned educational publisher Learning Media because of declining revenue.

State of the art

The total turnover from publishing in New Zealand in 2007 was $266 million, of which $36 million came from exports. In that year New Zealand publishers produced 2,394 titles, accounting for around half the total revenue received, and employed approximately 1,000 people.

In 2012 educational publishing remained the single biggest sector, with about 40% of local titles and 41 publishers. Several published sophisticated learning materials in Māori and Pacific languages. Educational publishers have consistently been strong exporters and exploited internet marketing.

Frankfurt Book Fair

PANZ has for many years had a stand, supported by the government, at the Frankfurt Book Fair, held every October. It was the best venue for making international contacts and selling New Zealand books overseas.

In 2012 New Zealand was the guest of honour. Manatū Taonga – the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, seeing books as powerful carriers of identity, used the fair as a showcase for the country in Europe. Fifty people from 35 publishing firms, including 14 educational publishers, were present at the fair. The translation of leading titles into German was a high priority. Export sales had suffered from the global financial crisis of the early 2000s and it was hoped that this event would help turn the tide.

Hononga, rauemi nō waho

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How to cite this page: Elizabeth Caffin, 'Publishing', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 13 July 2024)

He kōrero nā Elizabeth Caffin, i tāngia i te 22 o Oketopa 2014