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

Encouragement to publish

Encouragement to publish

Financial incentives to publishers to instigate the risky and expensive process involved in producing a book are sometimes difficult to separate from incentives to authors to produce a text in the first place. (Incentives and awards for writers are discussed in Chapter 5 in the section on 'Recognition and rewards of success'.) McEldowney asserts that—with some notable exceptions—until 1960 most publishing in New Zealand had not become fully independent, relying to some degree on assistance from other commercial activities or the sponsorship of booksellers, printers and institutions. For some types of publication, notably poetry and serious non-fiction, that remains the case, and the largest and most important source of financial assistance to publishing in New Zealand has always been government subsidy.

A.G. Bagnall notes in his introduction to the New Zealand National Bibliography, vol.1 (1980), the existence of much government sponsored and supported publication in the records of the Colonial Secretary, a source he describes as 'frequently tapped but by no means exhausted'. He narrates in some detail one early instance of government assistance to publishing, involving the government as publisher as well as sponsor: John White's Ancient History of the Maori (1887-90) was a mixed experience for all parties. T.F. Cheeseman's Manual of the New Zealand Flora (1906), Robert McNab's Historical Records of New Zealand (1908-14), T.M. Hocken's Bibliography (1909), James Cowan's New Zealand Wars (1922-23) and, from the 1920s, a whole raft of Dominion Museum Bulletins by Elsdon Best are further large scale, government-assisted publications. Major initiatives came with the programme of the first Labour government which took office in 1935. These included a series of centennial surveys (published by the Department of Internal Affairs) and a small number of grants to other commemorative publishing projects. J.W. Heenan, Undersecretary for Internal Affairs, used a discretionary fund to assist some other publication projects. Discretion probably exacerbated the inevitable backbiting unleashed among the subsidised and unsubsidised, including those who disapproved in principle. These early efforts are described by Rachel Barrowman in 'Culture-organising' (1996). The centennial surveys are described in a research essay by A.J. Booker (1983) and in the autobiographical writings of their editor, E.H. McCormick (An Absurd Ambition, 1996). Internal Affairs also set up a War History branch which embarked on a mammoth publication programme.

Heenan eventually gave way to pressure from PEN and others to set up the State Literary Fund in 1946. His reservations about the difficulty of creating an authority capable of keeping all parties happy in a world renowned for the number and vociferousness of what he described as its 'mutually intolerant cliques' were well founded and the Fund has a lively history. A rather desiccated summary of its early activities, including a useful list of grants, is The New Zealand Literary Fund, 1946-70 (1970), and statistical information on grants from 1973 to 1986 appears in Art Facts (Scotts et al., 1987). From the outset the Fund's primary purpose was to give 'grants towards publishing costs' and it restricted itself to publications judged to be of literary merit—largely fiction, poetry and literary periodicals—and excluding local histories, for which assistance was deemed to be available under the provisions of the Municipal Corporations and Counties Acts. Manuscripts were to be submitted to the Fund's Advisory Committee by publishers, not authors. O.St J. Vennell's Patronage and New Zealand Literature (1977) surveys attitudes to the Fund and makes some recommendations for its future resourcing and direction.

By 1985, the proportion of its grants which the Fund gave to publishers had fallen from 60% to 20%, a matter on which Bridget Williams animadverts in 'Publishing and the Literary Fund' (1986). In 1988 the Fund and its Advisory Committee joined the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council, becoming the Council's Literature Programme and Literature Committee. It further metamorphosed in 1995 with the rebranding of the Council's funding body as Creative New Zealand. The Literature Committee simply disappeared, without warning to its members. In 1993 the Council published a Research Report on the Literature Programme's Publishers' Survey, noting that 25% of its funding was in grants to publishers, and analysing 25 publishers' responses. In 1996 grants to book publishing fell to $18,000 from the previous year's $50,000 and Creative New Zealand set up a Task Force for Language and Literature to review its policies. Some recent events are described by Andrew Mason in Quote Unquote (1996).

The government also assists publishers through annual grants made by the Historical Branch of the Department of Internal Affairs towards the publication of historical works, countering one of the biases of the Literary Fund. The Historical Branch also co-publishes many of the departmental and other organisational histories commissioned through its agency. Another example of this kind of indirect government subsidy is the publication of the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography by the Department of Internal Affairs jointly with a commercial publisher (described in 1995 by Bridget Williams). The Māori Purposes Fund Board (and its predecessors) has made substantial contributions to the Polynesian Society and other publishers; centennial grants in 1940 and the sesquicentennial contributions of the 1990 Commission are other government sources of funding to assist publication. Details are to be found in agencies' reports in the Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives.

Learned societies or institutions may also consider subsidising publication of books otherwise commercially unfeasible. Companies wanting to raise a monument to their history or to produce a gift for presentation may commission and fund publications to which they may offer a greater or lesser degree of editorial control. Substantial publications might appear in parts, in consecutive issues of journals such as the Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute (later the Royal Society of New Zealand) or the Journal of the Polynesian Society, occasionally being reprinted as monographs. For many years this was the only way to get scholarly non-fiction published in New Zealand. Accounts are to be found in C.A. Fleming's Science, Settlers and Scholars (1987) and M.P.K. Sorrenson's Manifest Duty (1992). Māori-language publications have relied heavily on subsidy, from H.W. Williams's Dictionary (1917) and Bibliography (1924) to the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography's Māori-language series, Ngā Tāngata Taumata Rau (1990- ). Funding options for small and independent publishers are discussed by Janet Pascoe in Endnotes (1996).