New Zealand book trade executives are still arguing that the loss of two major publishing companies in its market last year will not depress sales in the medium term, despite figures showing a short-term dip.
When Hachette decided to pull out of New Zealand, and Random House and Penguin announced a worldwide merger (both in July last year), the country lost two of its traditional Big Four publishing houses— Random House, Penguin, HarperCollins and Hachette —in one blow.
At the time Catriona Ferguson, chief executive of the New Zealand Book Council, said that the demise of bigger printing companies would leave gaps for new, smaller ones to fill. “Small and medium-sized publishers are going to crop up and they are going to fill that gap, because there is still a real hunger from readers for books,” she said.
However, figures for September 2013 showed a book sales decline of around 15%, according to Sam Elworthy, president of the Publishers Association of New Zealand.
Ferguson told The Bookseller that she still expected sales to rebound: “It is happening, but not overnight. It’s a long game.” She highlighted two new ventures that are trying to pick up the slack: Upstart Press—founded by Hachette NZ’s former managing director Kevin Chapman—is publishing children’s books, fiction and non-fiction; and Paper Road Press, dedicated to “compelling stories that explore new horizons”. Both companies were founded in 2013.
Elworthy reported a rapid increase of members in the NZ Publishers Association, mainly in trade and educational publishing, but also “a lot more start-ups”, although Ferguson doubted that the 15 jobs lost through the demise of Hachette have been re-created at independent publishers. But among the incumbent independent booksellers Bridget Williams Books is expanding, said Ferguson.
Peter Dowling from Oratia Media said in a newsletter: “as an independent publisher we are not retreating from NZ, and are planning a bigger list of new books in 2014.” Elworthy also remains optimistic about the country’s book industry. “[NZ] had a flourishing publishing culture in the 1970s, before the rise of the multinationals, and there is no reason to believe this won’t continue.”
Unfortunately the loss of international publishers also means a lack of capital to support local authors. “The industry here wonders who is taking the emerging writers on board,” said Ferguson.