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

Changing trends and special needs

Changing trends and special needs

The diversity of print media accommodates different reading and communication needs. Historically, the relationship between text and image has developed according to design trends, technological innovation, and readers' needs.

Although picture books have long been a part of the children's literature scene, the graphic novel and comic book often cater to both an adult and children's reading market, running the gamut from the purely pictorial to the balanced integration of word and image, to a riot of text and image which replays single-frame, cinematic, story-board design. Toby Burrows and Grant Stone have edited a useful monograph entitled Comics in Australia and New Zealand: The Collections, the Collectors, the Creators (1994). Cartoonist and historian Tim Bollinger's excellent survey of New Zealand comics, 'Comic story' (1995), is part of a larger work in progress on the history of the genre in a specifically New Zealand context. Tim Wilson has also addressed the comics industry in New Zealand and its relationship to overseas publishers in his 1993 article 'Comically, graphically novel'. There is much fascinating research to be done on the publishing environment, political censorship, distribution and readership of comics. The graphic novel is fast becoming a separate area of research overseas; the most recent New Zealand work to claim this title is Maui: Legends of the Outcast written by Robert Sullivan and illustrated by Chris Slane (Godwit Publishing, 1996). Recent articles by Philip Matthews ('Gripping Yarns', 1996) and Vicki Earle ('Gone Fishing', 1996) discuss the collaborative process; Matthews also explains the use of digital technologies in the production phase.

The livre d'artiste represents a quite different relationship between image and book format. It is not to be confused with 'artists' books' which will be treated below. In origin, the livre d'artiste was developed to foreground the work of famous artists, whether painters, sculptors or printmakers, who were commissioned to illustrate deluxe volumes of prose and poetry, or to produce a suite of prints on a theme, which were subsequently packaged as a high-priced, limited edition, boxed set. The 'coffee table' art book is its modern descendant, using the latest colour reproduction technologies and printing on high-quality art and book papers. Most New Zealand publishers produce such works, although they often use the New Zealand landscape as their subject matter. Craig Potton Publishing has capitalised on the current domestic and international interest in landscapes to produce a wide range of print-based products from coffee table books to calendars, diaries, appointment books and postcards.

New Zealand publishing has heeded the call of the fine edition in several ways. Each variety appeals to a particular sector of the book buying public, most usually those with unlimited funds for personal entertainment or for investment opportunities. First, the fine press book has a small number of exponents in New Zealand (Bob Gormack, Ron Holloway, Denis Glover, Alan Loney, to name only a few) and a few dedicated collectors. These generally hand-printed books are often reprints of established texts or aim to introduce contemporary or little-known literature; they often include the work of visual artists to create a limited edition collaborative work of art. The quality of craftmanship, the attention to design detail, and the individually numbered and signed edition tend to place these books out of reach of most readers and their resale value is often very much higher than the original price.

Secondly, there are expensive facsimile editions of rare books otherwise only ever seen in library special collections or on exhibition in galleries. These books are frequently large folio-format works of art, history, botany, zoology, ornithology, or exploration, which boast lavish colour plates, all possible with modern colour reproduction processes. Nova Pacifica's Zoology of the Beagle and Genesis Publication's reprint of Cook's journals are examples of such facsimile editions. David Hedley's involvement with this side of bookselling and collecting is documented in Lynn Payne's article in Signature (1982). These works are closest in kind to the fine art print series, catalysed by an increasing historical awareness in the late 1960s with projects such as Avon Fine Prints and the Turnbull Library Prints. These works are presented as a loose portfolio for individual print display or framing rather than being bound.

Thirdly, some publishers hold back copies of a trade edition in order to produce luxury, generally full-leather, bindings for presentation copies or for special purchase. Although this habit fell into decline in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it is now becoming more common in an era of corporate gift giving and promotion of products in a climate of multinational competition.

Finally, the limited edition book or 'quality book' is a recent marketing invention, usually offering original texts presented as authoritative or definitive complete with lavish reproductions, and accompanied by questionable production and investment claims. In contrast to the fine press book, the notion of limited edition in this instance has nothing to do with technology and everything to do with the publishers' perception of the market. Although most mainstream publishers, particularly in the buoyant 1970s and early 1980s, tried their hand at one if not more of these high-risk publications, several set themselves up to deal exclusively as publishers and/or distributors: Alister Taylor, Millwood Press, the Graphic Society of New Zealand, David Hedley. The career of Alister Taylor in particular has been well documented in the media as exemplifying the risks involved in this form of publication. As yet, fascination with the man's biographical details has generally thwarted the critical detachment necessary to examine the social and economic implications of the genre. Carroll du Chateau's Metro article (1991a) provides a good starting point for research and includes a useful select bibliography of Taylor's publications, many of which, such as the 'Notable Thoroughbreds' series, The New Zealander, Eugene von Guerard, and Bullshit & Jellybeans have influenced the course of New Zealand publishing and book marketing. The investment possibilities of the limited edition, deluxe book have been revived in the late 1990s with Peter Hallett's 'Heritage 2000' project. The series of 28 books chronicling New Zealand's natural and cultural heritage to be published to celebrate the millenium is described in Tod's article 'Books for the millenium' (1996). The relationship of book values to developments in electronic media, marketing, and commerce are also worth exploring with the limited edition or quality book. The introduction to the 4th edition of Glenn Haszard's New Zealand Book Values (1996) registers these changes and a new range of possibilities.

Artists' books have a rich critical literature overseas and have only recently been assessed in New Zealand. Unlike the genres noted above, the artist's book sets out to redefine the structure of the book and, in particular, the reading experience. As the artist engages conceptually with the form, the result can be an eclectic combination of unusual materials, unorthodox construction, and an intensive interrogation of the assumptions behind the book as print or image-based communication medium. Gail Keefe's award-winning 1988 essay 'Artists' books' documents the New Zealand situation, both in terms of the increasing numbers of artists exploring this new medium and the implications for collection development policy in libraries, art galleries and museums. Daniella Aleh's The Local Environment (1995) builds upon Keefe's work and brings it up to the present. Exhibition catalogues of artists' books shows are a necessary primary resource, examples being Visual Diaries/Artists' Books (1984), ANZART '85 Artists' Book Show, Opening up the Book (1993), as are interviews with the individual artists. Similarly, reviews of book shows and analysis of the design issues in Art New Zealand and New Zealand Craft contribute to the expanding field of research. As more polytechnics and art schools recognise the global acceleration of interest in and expertise with the artist's book medium, they are including book arts modules or degree majors in their curricula.

If artists have endeavoured to redefine the book, books themselves have also come under pressure from other communication media. In 1973, the New Zealand Book Council sponsored a seminar whose proceedings were published as The Changing Shape of Books. Speakers addressed a number of issues: literacy, educational methods, reading habits, library resources and the new format of the printed word. Keith Sinclair's balanced introduction notes the panic which some felt at the time due to the perceived threat to books posed by television and audio-visual aids. Euan M. Miller picks up the subject in his talk entitled 'A pretty girl on the jacket, but . . .' (1974) Contrary to public paranoia, Miller proves that the new technologies enhance the reading experience, neither substitute for nor displace it. He quotes figures from the Dunedin Public Library which demonstrate that borrowing records for books increase as a result of documentaries, docudramas, and dramatisations of novels and plays on television and movie screen. This trend has continued to the present day where the public is more apt to see the dramatisation of a novel or play first on the television, as a video, or in the movie theatre, than read the book itself; a whole publishing industry of the book of the movie of the book has sprung up as a consequence, each step necessarily moving further away from the originating text.

As readers demand 'a high visual content' (Miller, p.71) in the display of print-based communication resources, books with colour reproductions, tables and statistics, headings and subheadings, columns and boxes are more frequently borrowed or purchased. The Hamlyn series of history books is often cited as a model for the new way of communicating information and educating. Technological developments in the printing industry, particularly the improved and affordable colour reproduction technology, enables these information needs to be fulfilled. Miller's 1973 assessment of three multimedia packages reflects the new design and format of print communication: educational kitsets combining paper-based notes, commentaries and images with records and filmstrips; Jackdaw Historical Series of facsimile material gathered in portfolio folders; the 'Community '73' series of mixed media booklets and cards collected on a common theme.

Miller notes, however, that although the book and its associated forms are more readily accessible to the reading public, there has been a decline in the content quality (p.73). This must also be extended to book and print-based design. Today's book designers are more often freelance than part of the in-house publishing environment. The increasing number of self-publishing and desktop publishing ventures which do not utilise trained designers have resulted in a loss of communication effectiveness, efficiency and style.

Today, the reading debate must also accommodate electronic technologies, particularly that of computer multimedia. Computing is introduced at an early age to encourage learning through the playing of computer games, and to teach using the full multimedia potential of the computer. As well as specialist reference tools (such as indexes and legal texts) New Zealand multi-media CD-ROM publications for which there are also hard-copy print equivalents include the TVNZ New Zealand Encyclopedia (1994, 2nd ed. 1996; still available in a paper edition as the Bateman New Zealand Encyclopedia), and Coast to Coast (1995) which incorporates the complete texts of Diana and Jeremy Pope's Mobil New Zealand Travel Guide volumes. Not only do the differing titles create bibliographic challenges, but a different distribution process applies to CD-ROM products, which are more often sold through computer shops or by mail order than through traditional bookshops. The Press (Christchurch) is the first New Zealand metropolitan newspaper to have a specially designed electronic version on the World Wide Web. While the textual content of print and electronic versions may be the same, additional video and sound clips, and inbuilt search facilities create a different total 'publication'. New ways of reading, writing, and thinking result from the technological changes, and further investigation and research is required in this area.

Although the bicultural dimension of New Zealand has only recently been signalled by a greater visible use of bilingual texts in official documentation and signage, the publishing industry is increasing its output of bi- and monolingual texts in Māori and a wide array of Pacific Island languages. Huia Publishers and Pasifika Press are the two most notable recent examples; both have recognised a growing readers' need for the provision of monolingual publications for the exploration of cultural identity, and bilingual publications for the less than fluent or learning reader. Whether the book as specialist container for information can be redefined successfully for cultures in which the book is an introduced species is questionable; Sharon Dell's provocative article 'The Maori book or the book in Maori' (1987) suggests that a new Māori specific 'book' form may be evolving to accommodate language, identity and reading needs. It is one, significantly, that makes great use of the visual image, large format text and appears in extremely small numbers, often as unique, hand-rendered copies. New Zealand's multicultural heritage and experience as manifested in books and language publications remains to be explored.

For the visually and hearing impaired, and for those with physical disabilities, the traditional book format provides a distinctive challenge for which alternative media have been developed to satisfy these readers' needs. For those who are print-handicapped readers or for those who through sight impairment or physical disability are unable to read, hold or turn the pages of a standard book, the National Library of New Zealand's Print Handicapped Resource Unit in Palmerston North provides audio book lending and purchasing services. In addition, the Unit has published several editions of Talking Books/Audio Books for Print Handicapped Readers since 1987. Each author/title entry in the catalogue includes précis of text, performance reader, recommended age, playing time, publisher, and number of cassettes. Public libraries, booksellers, and stationers are increasing their number of audio books both for the print-handicapped and for those who prefer the listening to the reading experience. The Auckland firm Word Pictures targets the commuter market for their recorded book readings and specialises in New Zealand writers, calling themselves the 'Voice of New Zealand'.

The history of Braille books and their publication in New Zealand has yet to be written, although two useful centenary histories of the Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind, one by Ken Catran and Penny Hansen (1992), the other by Eleanor White (1990), together provide a good point of departure. Large print books are published for the visually impaired and are available at lending libraries throughout the country. Although published overseas (usually Britain or the United States), New Zealand literature figures strongly in these publications. A shortlist of authors translated into the large print medium includes Margaret Mahy (by far the most titles), Ngaio Marsh, Janet Frame, Maurice Gee, Fiona Kidman, and Maurice Shadbolt. Their publication in this specialist format documents and reflects current reading tastes, audience demographics and the public profile of New Zealand writers.

Although it is primarily the spoken word which is affected by deafness, the education for deaf and deaf/mute readers in the written language, the written language experience for deaf children, the nature of the reading experience for the hearing impaired, and the use of new technologies for communication are all areas currently under scrutiny. Library services for the deaf and hearing impaired and the use of the traditional book as a tool for education are a fruitful area of study. Numerous histories of deaf institutions and associations have been written and a number of newsletters continue to be published. These are a rich and underutilised resource for exploring the development of special print-based materials—their production, publication, distribution and reading. Of particular note is the increasing number of print-based or electronic books used to tell—in words and images—personal stories of the hearing impaired, or to educate other readers about the deaf experience.

The development, standardisation and recognition of New Zealand Sign Language has led to the forthcoming Dictionary of New Zealand Sign Language spearheaded by Graeme Kennedy at Victoria University of Wellington. This publication builds upon research from the late 1980s funded by the National Foundation for the Deaf and the New Zealand Association for the Deaf. The implications of such a book of written 'word-speak' and its visual reading experience for the education of deaf and non-deaf alike is significant for understanding the breadth and complexity of the field of print culture.