Consumer Watch: Hard-copy books live on

By Susan Edmunds

Electronic versions will co-habit nicely with hardback and paperback reads

James Russell published his own children's book, The Dragon Hunters. Photo / Doug Sherring
James Russell published his own children's book, The Dragon Hunters. Photo / Doug Sherring

Sales of ebooks in New Zealand have exploded in the past six months, industry experts say, but the future of Kiwi books may lie with small, independent publishers.

Several international publishers have pulled out of New Zealand or scaled down operations in recent months. Hachette said in July it would close its New Zealand publishing unit, following the lead of Pearson Education.

Sam Elworthy, of the Publishers Association of NZ, said book sales had dropped by about 15 per cent over the past 6-9 months but ebook sales had taken off.

"We can't document ebook sales easily. The New Zealand market has grown from nothing 12 months ago to now the same proportion as the US."

It's not all grim, says former Hachette boss Kevin Chapman whose new company, Upstart Press, is rising from Hachette's ashes.

He says what was happening here was the same as had happened in the US and Britain five years ago. An initial drop in physical sales levelled out.

"I think we'll see a bounce in print sales."

He said small publishers were far more adaptable than big multinationals.

Author James Russell did not even approach a mainstream publisher with his first children's book, The Dragon Hunters.

Instead, he formed his own company, Dragon Brothers Books.

"No one is going to promote this book better than I am, so what's the benefit of having a publisher do it?"

He is now considering taking on more authors. His books have extra touches, such as thick covers. "They will endure longer. You can't beat a real book when you're lying in bed, reading to your child."

Craig Potton Publishing produced last year's NZ Post Book of the Year, New Zealand's Native Trees. Five per cent of New Zealand's books are printed by companies that operate only in this country.

Elworthy agreed that mass market fiction was the biggest candidate for epublishing. Coffee-table books were likely always to remain in print. "People with e-readers continue to buy physical books."

But, he said, "No (one) is rolling in the profits at the moment."

- Herald on Sunday

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