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Idealog—in the ideas business

Great expectations

Kiwi publishing turns a page, courtesy of Lloyd Jones and the long tail

Jason Smith

[Metrics]

Are we sitting comfortably? Then let’s begin. Once upon a time—well, only a few years back—the book publishing sector in New Zealand was looking a bit tatty at the edges.

Twenty-two years have passed since Keri Hulme won the 1985 Booker Prize for The Bone People—a long time on the shelf. But there’s nothing like a sniff of international acclaim to blow the dust away. Now there are great expectations for the entire New Zealand book industry as the gilt-edged Lloyd Jones is tipped to match Hulme’s achievement with his novel Mr Pip. [Wrongly, as it turned out. –Ed.]

The Book Publishing Association of New Zealand (BPANZ) says there is unprecedented international interest in our books. A quick glance at developments in publishing, a large sector of the creative economy, includes:

  • September 2007 was the second New Zealand Book Month, a new annual event
  • In October 2007 the Frankfurt Book Fair, the world’s largest book trade fair, featured 18 New Zealand publishers
  • Book business grand-daddy Reed Publishing is celebrating 100 years putting Kiwi words into the hands of readers

22 years have passed since Keri Hulme won the 1985 Booker Prize for The Bone People—a long time on the shelf. But there’s nothing like a sniff of international acclaim to blow the dust away

The chart below shows the trend in new New Zealand titles published each year (unfortunately, BPANZ figures only cover the last three years). The upwards curve is a sign of industry health and confidence, and the increasing output of New Zealand writers of fiction, non-fiction, textbook and education books. Between 2006 and 2007 the number of new titles grew six percent.

The second chart is a simple revenue comparison that measures the homegrown share of New Zealanders’ spending on books. Looking further, it suggests that increasing growth in New Zealand titles published stops the local slipping below half of the revenue generated from book sales. Compare that with Australia, where revenue of Aussie titles hovers around 60 percent of the total—a much larger market, especially for education and children’s-age basic reading books. That tells its own story.

Metrics chart

Sources: BPANZ, Australian Bureau of Statistics

Adding to the good book news, long-tail economics bode well for niche publishers as trends for limited print runs are on the increase. The book sector, which represents the largest part of household expenditure on cultural goods in New Zealand, proves to be anything but spineless.

Originally published in Idealog #12, page 102

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