The Bird of Paradise
VI. Made in New Zealand
VI. Made in New Zealand
The Witness review of the Bird of Paradise ends:
A meed of praise is due to the publishers of the book, Messrs S. N. Brown and Co., for the excellent manner in which they have performed their part of the work.1
The technical side of the origin of this book – printed and distributed perhaps exclusively in New Zealand – is a greater achievement than may be apparent to a modern reader. For longer works, published directly in book format, the local printer was at a considerable economic disadvantage. There were general obstacles associated with the newness of the industry (uncertainties of readership, distribution networks, materials, and so on); but also, particulars of the international book trade meant that the local printer faced stiff competition from American and British companies.
The first European settlers brought their books with them. Then they wrote back Home to ask their friends for more. The demand for literature was high enough that the importing of books could be considered a promising enterprise as early as 1841: Katherine Coleridge has described how in this year, newspaper proprieter Sam Evans wrote to London, 'Books of various kinds will now be saleable...'2 The New Zealand bookselling industry, naturally, began with a dependence on British supply; and as the population of the colony grew, so did the value of this market to British suppliers. Luke Trainor notes, 'The Australian colonies and New Zealand... became, by the 1890s, the largest single market for the British book trade.'3 British publishers began to cater to this market thematically – 'by the turn of the century, most major British publishers had developed special colonial lists, and encouraged at least some fiction with local colonial settings and themes,' 4 – and also financially. The need to keep prices competitive came from the threat posed by the American trade:
The United States publishing industry of the nineteeth century often disregarded copyright laws and systematically pirated British copyright works... Large quantities of reprints were exported... some even found their way into the Pacific region.5
Questions of international copyright had led to the Berne Convention of 1886, which the United States did not join.6 (1886 was also the year in which Macmillan launched their 'Colonial Library'.7) As a compromise:
The British... [made] inclusion of Australasia in the British market area a condition of agreement with American publishers when they wanted to sell in Britain; thus, one bought US books from Britain. In this period, the Australasian market became something of an Anglo-American battlefield in which local publishers competed at some disadvantage.8
It may be noted that for this period in New Zealand, 'publishers' is misleading. There was really only one company that could claim that name, which was the remarkable Whitcombe and Tombs of Christchurch. A bookselling business started by George Whitcombe in the 1870s expanded to printing when H. H. Tombs joined the concern in 1882, becoming a firm that was 'large even by world standards'9. But its mark was primarily made with educational textbooks, and after that, non-fiction10. Whitcombe and Tombs published 'virtually no prose fiction'11
Not that it would sell. Although the colonies were not precisely a captive market for English fiction, its prestige was noticeably higher. Jones notes, 'despite the hopes and efforts of some novelists there was still no significant local readership for New Zealand's novels... only about a third of the novels were published in New Zealand, and these were mainly the lesser ones.'12 New Zealand readers wanted to keep up with the romances and histories that were popular in the centre of empire.13
New Zealand fiction did have other outlets. Sturm notes how, 'in the 1880s and 1890s, ...the emergence of a relatively stable base of regular weekly journalism, alongside the older established newspapers'14 provided a vital medium for local authors. Along with the Sydney Bulletin, many New Zealand periodicals offered space for local literary efforts. Generally, local prose and poetry appeared alongside foreign work: NZ newspapers frequently published Australian and other literary content to supplement their own material, as Ross Harvey, among others, has shown.15 Too, as Blanche Baughan complained (in 1908), not all New Zealand publications paid local authors for their work.16 On the other hand, this was a period during which a sort of nationalism was beginning to emerge; in 1889, Zealandia debuted with a stirring manifesto: 'Zealandia has been established as a distinctly national literary magazine. Its contributors will be all New Zealanders...'17 and the New Zealand Illustrated Magazine started up in 1899, with much the same promise of a 'distinctive New Zealand colouring'.18 There were more; their other common feature was their brief lives. Zealandia lasted a year, and the Illustrated lasted six, which was typical at the time. The content varied (perhaps due to variable remunerations) but the economic depression of the 1880s, extending through the 1890s, also suggested that in many of these enterprises there was undue optimism for success.
The variability of the industry was something that was well understood by Stephen Noble Brown, senior, proprietor of the printing company which published The Bird of Paradise. As Debby Foster has discovered, Brown practised his trade in at least seven newspapers from 1861 to 1891, before starting S. N. Brown and Co. in 189119. The second of these (the Riverton Times) and the seventh (the Dunedin Evening Herald) both collapsed; in the latter case, Brown had been the editor. That their failure was due to the times and not his skill can be seen by the fact that S. N. Brown and Co., which remained in the family for some time, did business until 1988 when it merged with Taieri Print.20
S. N. Brown and Co. was a versatile business. An early advertisement offers their services for anything from grain sample bags to law stationery, concert tickets to wool catalogues.21 One particular area in which they made their money were race books; another was the stationery requirements of the entire national concern of the National Mortgage Company.22 A picture of their premises in 1935 declares them to be 'General Printers, Publishers and Bookbinders &c', but The Bird of Paradise actually appears to be a novelty. Foster suggests that it may have been a 'once-off';23 it is highly likely that its printing was paid for by Dutton himself.
The extension of general printing to occasional publishing, as in S. N. Brown and Co., rather than the expansion of bookselling to publishing, as in Whitcombe and Tombs, was the more usual pattern within the early print industry, whose players were well known to each other. When the Witness's literary reviewer complimented the quality of publishing, it was not just an objective appraisal, but a nod to a fellow craftsman.
The Bird of Paradise was advertised for sale first generally in the Otago Daily Times24, then specifically in the Otago Witness, in an advertisement for Braithwaite Books25 (see the Cyclopedia), where it was offered for seven shillings. This, of course, brings up more questions than it settles. What set the price? Was it a good price? How did it sell? Who bought The Bird of Paradise? Who read it? Few enough, it would seem, judging from the review – and obituary – which followed it: the one was lukewarm, the other apologetic.
1 "Among the Books." 16 August 1894. Otago Witness, Dunedin, p43.
2 Coleridge, Katherine. 2005. "'New Books, Just Received from London.'" Script and Print, Special Edition: Paradise: New Worlds of Books and Readers, 29(1-4): 57-65, p59.
3 Trainor, Luke. 1996. "British Publishers and Cultural Imperialism: History and Ethnography in Australasia, 1870-1930." BSANZ Bulletin, 20(2): 99-106, p100.
4 Sturm, Terry. 1998. Popular Fiction. In Terry Sturm (ed.) The Oxford History of Literature in New Zealand. 2nd edn. Auckland: Oxford University Press. 575-630, p576.
5 Liebich, Susann. 2007. "'The Books Are The Same As You See In London Shops': Booksellers in Colonial Wellington and their Imperial Ties, circa 1840-1890." Script and Print, 31(4): 197-209, pp205-206.
6 Trainor, Luke. 1997. "Imperialism, Commerce, and Copyright: Australia and New Zealand 1870-1930." BSANZ Bulletin, 21(4): 199-206, p200.
7 Trainor, Luke. 2005. "New Zealanders Seeking Overseas Publishers 1870-1914: some issues of Nation and Empire." Script and Print, Special Edition: Paradise: New Worlds of Books and Readers. 29(1-4): 311-322, p317.
8 Trainor, Luke. 1996. "British Publishers and Cultural Imperialism: History and Ethnography in Australasia, 1870-1930." BSANZ Bulletin, 20(2): 99-106, p100.
9 Willament, Tolla, ed. 1985. 150 Years of Printing in New Zealand. Wellington: Government Printing Office, p32.
10 Willament, Tolla, ed. 1985. 150 Years of Printing in New Zealand. Wellington: Government Printing Office, p32.
11 Gibbons, Peter. 2005. "Early Castings for a Canon: Some 1920s Perceptions of New Zealand Literary Achievements." Journal of New Zealand Literature, 23(1): 98-108, p101.
12 Jones, Lawrence. 1998. The Novel. In Terry Sturm (ed.), The Oxford History of New Zealand Literature. 2nd edn. Auckland: Oxford University Press. 119-244, p135.
13 Wevers, Lydia. 2010. Reading on the Farm: Victorian Fiction and the Colonial World. Wellington: Victoria University Press. P174.
14 Sturm, Terry. 1998. Popular Fiction. In Terry Sturm (ed.) The Oxford History of Literature in New Zealand. 2nd edn. Auckland: Oxford University Press. 575-630, p578.
15 Harvey, Ross. 2003. "Sources of Literary Copy for New Zealand Newspapers." BSANZ Bulletin, 27(3-4): 83-93.
16 Trainor, Luke. 2005. "New Zealanders Seeking Overseas Publishers 1870-1914: some issues of Nation and Empire." Script and Print, Special Edition: Paradise: New Worlds of Books and Readers. 29(1-4): 311-322, p311.
17 McEldowney, Dennis. 1998. Publishing, Patronage, and Literary Magazines. In Terry Sturm (ed.), The Oxford History of Literature in New Zealand. 2nd edn. Auckland: Oxford University Press. 631-694, p637.
18 Ibid, p638.
19 Foster, Debby. 2003. "S. N. Brown & Co.: 1891-1988." Unpublished essay submitted for the requirements ofENGL 368: Approaches to Writing about Literature. Dunedin: Otago University. pp2-3.
20 Ibid, p8.
21 Ibid, appendix IV.
22 Ibid, p6.
23 Ibid, p5.
24 "Special Advertisements." 23 May 1896, Otago Daily Times, Dunedin, p4.
25 "New Books at Braithwaite's Book Arcade." 4 June 1896. Otago Witness, Dunedin, p28.