From The Dominion Post:
On May 30, Publishers Association of New Zealand president Kevin Chapman issued a soothing statement about the future of the country’s storytelling: “This is an industry that has shown remarkable resilience through change over more than a century.”
Two months later he was out of a job.
Chapman’s comments followed Pearson Education’s announcement it was pulling out of New Zealand and HarperCollins’ decision to move distribution and some editorial and back office functions to Australia.
Hachette NZ followed, abandoning its New Zealand publishing arm with the loss of 15 jobs, among them its managing director – Chapman.
With him goes 30 years of publishing experience and likely the confidence of an industry that started 2013 with four major players and will end the year with just one full-scale multinational operation.
. . . .
According to Publishers Association figures, about 2000 new Kiwi books are published every year. About 1200 are educational books like primary school reader series.
Or they were, until one of the country’s biggest educational publishers, Pearson, decided to cease publishing here. It’s not yet clear if it will still produce New Zealand-tailored titles from overseas.
That leaves the “big four” multinationals: Random House (80-90 local titles a year); Penguin (about 90); Hachette (20-30) and HarperCollins (about 50). The significant minnows, including Victoria University Press (VUP), Auckland University Press, Huia, Awa, David Bateman and Craig Pottonwhich between them account for to 200 titles.
So, take out Hachette’s 30 titles, cut HarperCollins’ list by half and factor in the likely rationalisation of Random House and Penguin’s publications following their July global merger, and it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that fewer Kiwi writers will end up in print. Unless they slap a self-published text on Amazon and embark on the difficult task of self-spruiking.
. . . .
The culprit is an unholy trinity. First is the explosion in ebooks – which account for up to 20 per cent of some publishers’ sales.
Add the lax tax regime that allows Kiwis to import heavily discounted, GST-free books from internet behemoths Amazon and The Book Depository, and the result is fewer physical book sales in New Zealand. Which in turn means less need for multinationals to retain infrastructure here.
. . . .
Just 4 per cent of all New Zealand-published books are novels and it’s hard in an ebook to reproduce the experience of leafing through glossy pages of illustrated non-fiction.
Also, Kiwis like to read Kiwi stories. In 2011, a quarter of books sold here, by value, were created in New Zealand. Book sales in New Zealand have held up better than elsewhere, dropping 2.7 per cent in volume in the first nine months of last year compared with 10.4 per cent in Australia and 13.6 per cent in the US.
But the cocoon is cracking. July book sales fell 16-19 per cent on last year.
. . . .
“We are actually starting to get fairly close to the wall. If you’re a New Zealand fiction writer and you’ve been turned down by Penguin-Random, and you don’t live in Wellington so you probably won’t get published by Victoria University Press, you’re not Maori so you won’t be published by Huia, then goodness, gracious, where are you going to go?”
. . . .
With fewer options for Kiwi novels, [Victoria University Press's] fiction submissions have soared and it’s now printing eight novels a year instead of four. The university’s subsidy has allowed it to take a punt on debut authors, which has paid off handsomely in the cases of Elizabeth Knox, Emily Perkins and Eleanor Catton, who is tasting success with this year’s Man Booker Prize nominations.
“When the overall margins are becoming more challenged, it’s harder to use those successes to balance the risks that don’t quite pay off,” Barrowman says.
And it might get harder still. He looks fearfully at music-streaming services Spotify and Pandora, which return minuscule royalties to artists. “If that’s the future for books, we might as well quit now.”
Link to the rest at The Dominion Post and thanks to Felix for the tip.