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Book & Print in New Zealand : A Guide to Print Culture in Aotearoa


There is one recent survey of the economics of the New Zealand printing industry, prepared by Oliver for the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research in 1976. W.B. Sutch contributed an 'Economic survey' to McKay (1940).

The article 'The printing and publishing industry of the Dominion: an analysis', in Printing Prestige (vol.1, Oct. 1935, pp.7-13) was a serious attempt to explore master printers' costs at the end of the Depression, to persuade them to charge high enough to cover their true costs, and not to undercut each other, either by intention or simply by poor cost-finding. Several articles in Printing Prestige, and subsequent Federation of Master Printers publications (1954-62) were devoted to improving printers' cost finding, as was J.B. Hindin's Simplified Cost Accounting Procedures for the Printing Trade (1958).

Dennis McEldowney's chapter 'Publishing, patronage, literary magazines' in the Oxford History of New Zealand Literature in English (1991) covers the economics of production, and the sources for its study, as part of its discussion of publishing. Before these there are occasional documents with valuable though often scrappy information and there are some modern studies which seek to bring together and analyse the available information.

The theses, now published, of Rachel Salmond (Government Printing in New Zealand, 1840 to 1843, published 1995) and Kwasitsu (1996) provide some costings and similar information. Kwasitsu published 'An estimate of Charles Elliott's revenue from the Nelson Examiner' in 1985, using the data from his thesis. Cave in 'Advertising, circulation and profitability' (1990), tries to bring together information from studies of newspaper advertising and the available material on newspaper circulation. Harvey in 'Formula for success' in An Index of Civilisation (1993b) surveys the sources of data on the financial success of 19th-century newspapers, and in a separate but companion article, 'Economic aspects of 19th-century New Zealand newspapers' (1993a), presents most of the available data in tabulated form.

The data used in these articles is largely drawn from the newspapers themselves, and various manuscript sources specific to individual newspapers. Examples are the letters of Sam Revans to H.S. Chapman, and of Chapman to his father in London, as background to the New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator, and the New Zealand Colonist Trustees' Minutes, all in the Turnbull Library Manuscripts section. The Colonist Trustees' Minutes were also used by Coleridge in a discussion of the Colonist in her paper 'Edward Catchpool' (1993), together with Catchpool's own ledger, also in the Turnbull Library.

Coleridge has also published a substantial statistical study of the advertising in Wellington newspapers to 1859, Building a Paper Economy (1991), with a more discursive and theoretical discussion of the same data in 'Newspaper advertising in a pioneer colony' (1995), and a shorter study, 'Booktrade advertisements in Wellington newspapers 1840-1859' (1994) on a special aspect of this material.

Some newspaper histories devote some space to the economics of the industry, although it is usually in the form of generalisations. An interesting exception is the Palmerston North Centennial Issue Evening Standard (1980) which includes a detailed analysis of the costings made at the time of one transfer of ownership. Similar documents may exist in the records of individual companies, more particularly of the conglomerates such as Independent Newspapers Ltd, but have not been made public. Correspondingly the survival of the July 1924 Dominion Tariff no.5, issued by the New Zealand Master Printers' Association (to update an original of 1920) is an invaluable document, providing job-by-job prices itemised in precise detail.

The best source for figures of actual costs involved in purchases of equipment and materials, and outlay on labour costs are in the reports on government printing. The initial costs, in the 1840s, are itemised in official documents printed in Salmond's thesis (cited above). A portion of these, with inventories and costings, were printed as part of the Copies or extracts of any correspondence relative to the New Zealand estimates in the (Great Britain) House of Commons Sessional Papers (1843, no.134, pp.55-59).

The next important group of documents appear in the New Zealand Parliamentary papers, beginning in 1858 with the 'Report of the Printing Committee' (AJHR F.3, 1858), with detailed costings and estimates of the printing costs. At the time, the recommendation was that an office need not be established. In 1862 the 'Report of the Board of Enquiry' (AJHR D.7, 1862) recommended that a Printing Office should be established, and analysed the factors to be considered although it gives few detailed figures. The first Report of the Government Printing Department appeared in 1868 (AJHR D.11, 1868) and gave useful information on the technical developments and problems, but also figures on printing volumes, expenditure on materials, wages, and so forth, which provide a regular series of figures throughout the history of the Printing Office (the 'shoulder number' has varied over the years). The 1885 Government Printing Committee Report (AJHR I.5, 1885) includes, in the minutes of evidence, an analysis of the reasons why printing
Black and white photograph

Staff at the Northlander newspaper office ca.1925, with Colonel Allen Bell identified on the right. Photograph taken by Arthur Northwood. The Northlander was a weekly paper established by Bell, possibly to support his (successful) election campaign, and published in Kaitaia from 13 March 1922 to 21 July 1933. An essay on the interesting Colonel Bell, termed 'farmer, soldier, land agent, newspaper editor, politician' appears in Volume 3 of the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography.(Northwood Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, NZ, reference number G-6332-1/1-)

by outside contracts would be more expensive.

The economic position of the industry as a whole was among the topics addressed by the Tariff Commission of 1895. The Tariff Commission Report and minutes of evidence (AJHR H.2, 1895) includes some very useful detail on what was imported (such as matrices of advertising matter, printing blocks and printed sheets of letterheads and invoices) and its relationship with the manufacturing capabilities of the New Zealand industry. The evidence is almost entirely general in form, not including figures of costs and volumes, but does provide some very useful documentation of the industry's problems. The later Commissions, in 1927 and 1934, also received evidence on the impact of preferential tariffs on the industry, but no evidence was printed in the reports.

In the 19th century the AJHR periodically printed various government returns with statistical or financial data. One such relevant for printing history is the Return Showing Amounts Paid to Newspapers for Advertising and Printing, the earliest of which appears in 1872 (AJHR G.22, 1872). Equivalent reports in later years might appear with different titles and different shoulder numbers. The individual Provincial Councils (1853-75) might from time to time ask for similar returns, which would be printed in the relevant Provincial Council proceedings.

The Industries Development Commission Inquiry in 1976 involved substantial efforts by different sectors of the book production industry to make clear the difficulties they were being subjected to by current conditions, and to appeal for shifts in government policy settings, or for subsidies comparable to those currently being paid by the Australian Government to its own book-printers. The submissions, reprinted in the report (1978), contain much of value. The actual result of the inquiry was, however, as Hugh Price (1982) noted, that nothing happened at all.

Significant developments in technology and in the financial environments can be followed in the business press. Within New Zealand this is indexed by Newzindex, available on paper since 1979, and online since 1987.