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Ivan O’Brien’s New Zealand Notes

Visit of Ivan O’Brien to New Zealand, courtesy of PANZ

At the invitation of the Publishers Association of New Zealand (PANZ), I was this year’s Te Mana Ka Tau (Flying Friend) guest. This is a CNZ (their Arts Council) supported scheme to fund cultural exchange and the building of cultural and economic links between New Zealand and other countries. Representing Publishing Ireland and the Irish book industry as a whole, I spent ten days meeting just about the whole New Zealand book world.


Martinborough Retreat: in lieu of a PANZ Conference this year, just over 20 company heads and senior people had a two day “retreat” in wine country. As this started the day after a major storm we were not certain it was going to happen at all, but the skies cleared, the planes landed and all was well! The main work took the form of an open

forum to identify the major challenges facing the industry, and working group sessions to tease them out and propose actions. The openness and collegiate nature of the publishing industry here was striking, with trade and educational publishers, both independent and conglomerate, generously and constructively working together.

Many of the main issues facing New Zealand are similar to the ones facing us here: 80{1242e6fa0da84f367e0f1ee6d30a8040af2734be4204b5a1a00eb52a7c2b34a2} of the books on the shelves come from England (exactly the same as the books here, shipped all that way), have a challenging and evolving retail environment and face challenges to the copyright regime. They are widely regarded as being a small part of a bigger market (Australia and New Zealand) while actually being quite different.

In part because books in New Zealand are subject to GST (their VAT) of 15{1242e6fa0da84f367e0f1ee6d30a8040af2734be4204b5a1a00eb52a7c2b34a2}, online retailers (who don’t have to pay this) are making major inroads there, and the imminent opening of Amazon Australia could be extremely disruptive.

Industry structures:

CNZ: Unlike in Ireland, both the local creative funding (our Arts Council) and international promotion (our Culture Ireland) are under the ambit of one organisation, Creative New Zealand. I met with their literature officer and a member of the international team. Their support to publishers is broader, deeper and more predictable than ours.

PANZ: their publishing association receives significant state funding, has one full-time staff member but in other regards operates similarly to ours, with most of the work being done by the volunteer council. Most of the councillors are company heads, and the commitment to the organisation and industry is striking.

Whitireia: this university hosts a one-year publishing course which is the source for a lot of the staff in the publishing industry. It is explicitly vocational, and gets a good degree of input from publishers (particularly in Wellington), in terms of course development, course content (they present to the students) and internship opportunities.

Booksellers New Zealand: with a full-time staff of three, funded mainly through book tokens, they liaise with PANZ, and have a significant role in giving new title information to booksellers and to the general public via regular email bulletins.

Society of Authors: much like the Irish Writers Union, though with more members.

Creative Licensing New Zealand: very similar to the ICLA. Play an important coordinating and lobbying role, as well as collecting and distributing PLR and other license fees to copyright owners.


Industry Awards

New Zealand Book Awards ( Their main awards are held in May, awarding books from the previous calendar year

Children’s Book Awards: The shortlist is published in June and awards presented in August. Bookshop support for these is strong, with a good brochure on display along with posters and shortlisted titles

Prime Minister’s Awards for Literary Achievement: individual cash prizes to one author each year for fiction, non-fiction and poetry

PANZ Book Design Awards: sponsored by PANZ, with individual publishers sponsoring different categories. This was at the end of my visit and was a great event. As a chance to award people other than the authors for books and celebrate what the industry does well, it was great. Three judges (all graphic design professionals) selected winners from publisher-nominated titles across a range of categories (fiction, non-fiction, cookery, children’s, typography, cover design, overall winner) and presented the awards themselves, talking about the merits of the shortlisted titles. The following morning there was a well-attended design workshop where the judges discussed their decisions further, talking about the strengths and weakness of the titles: once again, everyone was very open and honest about their books. I gave a presentation about book design in Ireland, and how we do it in O’Brien Press: all the titles which people had sent were on display, admired and found new homes! 








There is growing range of literary festivals in New Zealand: by far the biggest is the Auckland Writer’s Festival (, which takes place in May. A wide programme of paid and free events with a huge audience and significant number of overseas writers, including many Irish.



One thing that really impressed me is, a collaboration across all the creative industries (film, books, music – even gyms that create IP) which presents a consistent face to government and the civil service. Focused on what the creative industries bring to the economy and ways to build employment, the engagement has made clear to many of those in power what the importance of a coherent intellectual property (ie copyright) environment is to the country. Could we do something similar?

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