In 2012, New Zealand domestic book sales contracted 7 percent. In 2013, it was 15. That’s a compound drop, in just two years, of just over 23 percent against 2011 figures.
Small wonder the big international houses have been fleeing Auckland in droves – or reducing their presence to branches of their Australian office.
The New Zealand experience isn’t unique; there’s been a worldwide downturn in print books. It’s been a ‘perfect storm’, in fact – a combination of reduced discretionary spending on the back of the general financial crisis, coupled with the explosion of e-book readers, mostly in the form of hand-held tablets and phones. Their rise wasn’t entirely coincidental with the downturn – readers didn’t have $500 to fork out annually on books, but they did have $99 for an e-reader and $3 each for the titles that go with it.
For New Zealand, though, the issue was complicated by the implosion, a couple of years ago, of the Whitcoulls chain. The chain was purchased and has been reconstructed under new ownership – but for a while it looked as if New Zealand might lose a third of its book retail outlets. That provoked some heavily risk-averse decision making in publishers’ editorial offices; the change was palpable.
On top of that has come the typical Kiwi rush to technology – an explosion of e-readers, coupled with a thoroughly requited love-affair with online shopping. Book retailers here can’t compete with Amazon or The Book Depository – it’s an issue of volume coupled with the fact that overseas purchases don’t attract local sales tax.
One of the casualties has been the old publishing model. The New Zealand market was always miniscule – pushing up the cover price on books and making the overseas sales model always an ill fit anyhow.
Growth, when it comes, is going to have to pivot on the new principles of book publishing and selling – nimbleness, presence through multiple channels – electronic and print – and an ability to adapt quickly. It’s going to demand innovation, lateral thinking, and creativity.
It’s a case of the quick or the dead. Anybody remember Kodak?
I’ll blog later on where I think society has gone – and what that means for books, including how they’re published.
As for me? I’ve been told history is dead as a genre here in New Zealand – yet my history of railways sat for three months at No. 3 on the Whitcoulls best seller list last year.
At a time when some publishers are shutting their doors, I’m getting approaches from others wanting me to write for them. I have four titles coming up in the next twelve months.
Still, as far as I am concerned the need for innovation has never been greater. And I think that’s not just true for me – it’s true for all writers. More soon.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014
Coming up: More writing, publishing, science and other stuff. Watch this space.