Book & Print in New Zealand : A Guide to Print Culture in Aotearoa
Administrative structure and government controls
Administrative structure and government controls
The book trade was given an official structure with the formation in 1921 of the Booksellers' Association (later Associated Booksellers of New Zealand; later still Booksellers New Zealand) to deal with commonly recognised issues: trading terms with publishers, price cutting, censorship, submissions to government and new bookselling ideas. The background to the 1920s and 1930s were the world recession's effect on export earnings followed by the Great Depression, and hard times were experienced (wage reductions resulted from the Finance Act 1931). However, membership drives had built up the numbers and a stronger voice was available for dealings with the government on matters such as the imposition of sales tax (1933), the customs charge of primage (1935) and censorship. Official bookselling concern was expressed about the competition for entertainment expenditure—cars, wireless, movies and cabarets—and the need to advertise effectively to counter this trend.
Censorship has always been a fact of life for booksellers and the evolution of this form of restriction is one barometer of a society's changing values. The Offensive Publications Act 1892 specified what was regarded as indecent at that time (VD, sexual aids, abortion or contraception). The Indecent Publications Act 1910, which did not actually define indecency but dealt with the seizure of indecent documents 'set the scene for censorship in New Zealand for the next 40 years' (Gordon Tait, The Bartlett Syndrome: Censorship in New Zealand, 1979, p.3). The banning and seizure of books had become part of the bookseller's experience in the early years of the century, but with the arrival of World War I seditious literature came under government spotlight, and restrictions, especially on political literature, were imposed more stringently. Restrictions were relaxed somewhat during the late 1920s and early 1930s, subsequent to the strict requirements of the War Regulations Continuance Act 1920, and an Order in Council of May 1921 which had prohibited the importation of 'any document which incites, encourages, advises, or advocates violence, lawlessness or disorder, or expresses any seditious intention' (quoted Barrowman, 1991, p.43). The advent of World War II brought into being the Censorship and Publicity Emergency Regulations which included a wide definition of subversive material aimed at any literature regarded officially as being against the war effort. The obvious example was Communist literature. This challenge for booksellers was encapsulated by Harold White, director of the Association, who said in 1973: 'is it not interesting that with honourable exceptions . . . it is a trade group that has been so active in a long-fought battle in this country to defend—or rather extend—the right of people to read books freely?' (quoted Rogers, 1993, p.15).
In 1954, the Indecent Publications Amendment Act was passed to deal with 'anything which unduly emphasises matters of sex, horror, crime, cruelty or violence' (Rogers, 1993, p.261). The Association negotiated strenuously with the Justice Department to define the responsibility of its booksellers. The actions of the Customs Department were arbitrary and stories abound of the seizure of books in ignorance of titles and authors. The Indecent Publications Act 1963 took decisions out of the hands of politicians and customs officers and gave this function to an Indecent Publications Tribunal. This resolved much censorship confusion.
The Indecent Publications Tribunal ceased to exist in October 1994 when new legislation (the Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act 1993) came into force. The legislation provides for all media under a single consistent regime and reflects developing technology, growing public interest and changing attitudes—possession of 'objectionable' material is now a criminal offence. Three new independent bodies were created: the Industry Labelling Body, the Office of Film and Literature Classifications and the Film and Literature Board of Review. This new structure is intended to provide a more flexible scheme, and a censorship environment where issues can be debated and decided with community involvement.
Another major issue which arose about this time was that of uniform retail prices. The government believed that such price agreement was not in the public interest as defined by the Trade Practices Act. In spite of both considerable evidence to the contrary and the help of an expert witness from England, the enquiry in 1962 found against the continuation of price schedules. On appeal, however, the finding was reversed.
This lively picture of a newspaper boy provides a good example of the simplest distribution method: direct selling. It is unusual for print items other than newspapers, sports programmes or ephemeral handouts to be distributed on the street, although some religious groups employ this means of targeting their market. The photographer is unknown, but its provenance suggests that the paper being sold is the Christchurch Evening News (est. 1909) which ceased in 1917. (Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, NZ, reference number G-41280-1/2-)
During 1980 Harold White and Roy Parsons resigned. These two had contributed in a major way to the effective functioning of the Association. So the decade began with new personnel and some new issues, the main one being the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST). The imposition of this tax had been long and vigorously opposed, but calls for exemption were not acknowledged by the government, and by 1985 booksellers prepared themselves to take on this new tax. Book promotion, in the light of the growth of competing leisure activities, was given greater emphasis. In 1991 Booksellers New Zealand came into being. Its significance was that it represented both booksellers and publishers, and thereby provided a more concerted thrust in marketing the book trade.