It must be autumn.  The open lecture season has picked up again.  I nearly missed this one.  Fortunately I saw it on the daily bulletin at the Castle.  It was late notice and I added it to my diary as that evening’s diversion.  I’m grateful.

The lecture was presented by Robbie Burton, the co-owner of Craig Potton Publishing.  Craig Potton Publishing is an independent business based in Nelson.  It has been operating for over twenty years because the photographer Craig Potton wanted care on how his photos were published.  A family member has been giving me a diary published by this business for the last couple of years for Christmas.  They are quite battered by the end of the year.  My current one has already been baptised in the rain this week.  Craig Potton Publishing produces about twenty titles a year.  It has a staff of fifteen people, of which one and a half people work on publishing, design and talking-to-authors.  The rest are involved in sales and shipping.  These are people who care about their business.  They still want to get paid.  Poverty for the sake of art isn’t romantic.

Reliable date collecting on the sale of books in New Zealand is no longer kept since the leading book selling chain Whitcoulls pulled out.  There is a world-wide decline in book-sales.  Craig Potton Publishing has seen a NZ$400 000 decline in the sale of tourist photo books.  Marketing involves some guess-work.

The big hit in the local market is to on-line trading.  Amazon is taking about $50 million dollars out of New Zealand, Fishpond about $10 million.  It’s hurting multi-national publishers in New Zealand like Random Penguin Penguin Random House New Zealand.  They can make $140 million in New Zealand by books like 50 Shades of Gray.  The pressure is on them to be less committed to discovering and promoting local titles.  It’s easier for them to shift their distribution for New Zealand to Australia.  They remain a reality in book sales in New Zealand.

Victoria University Press struck it lucky by selling 60 000 copies of The Luminaries in 2013.

If Amazon wants dominance in any market it is willing to take losses.  It has pressured the multi-nationals to put major titles into e-books and hock them off at minimal prices.  This has not been good for book titles or authors.  It seems to me that centralised command economies has become a feature of late capitalism as it was of soviet communism.  It didn’t work out good for them either.

E-books has reached a level in the American and British markets which has taken over a third of the book-reading market.  There is no incentive for independent publishers to move into this market.  There is no revinue for putting New Zealand titles into electronic media.  If we continue into the rise of the digital natives in the next generation the sources of our literature is uncertain.

The last comment I noted came out of the question time: A strong library service is essential for a strong book-reading culture.  This made sense to me.  Libraries have always introduced me to the books I want to read and own.  They have been, not so much the gate-keepers of my reading, as guides to the world of imagination.

Note to self: Keep an eye on the Centre for the Book’s blog.  There are up-coming events to keep an eye out for, and friends to meet there.

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