A while back I queried Listener book guy Guy Somerset’s statistics on sales of New Zealand fiction. It just looked odd to me that only 6.1% of NZ-published books that we bought were fiction, when overall 25% of the books we bought were fiction. Plus the book trade is insanely complicated, and what we see in bookshops is just a fraction of what is actually published. So, I asked the question. And I’m glad I did – I don’t mind asking a dumb question if the answer sheds light.
I know this defies all the rules about blogging, which essentially entails hysterical responses to stuff in the MSM, but I have talked with/emailed two publishers, a bookseller and a stats person from the industry. And Guy’s figures are right. So why the discrepancy between NZ fiction sales and total fiction sales?
Two words: Dan Brown.
Not Dan Brown alone, but he is emblematic. JK Rowling, Lee Child, Paullina Simons, Stephenie Meyer – that is the fiction that sells here in vast quantities. So of course overseas fiction has a bigger share of the total market than NZ fiction does of the local (i.e. locally published) market. D’oh.
But I mean, 6.1%? That is tragic. I suppose what surprises me is that no one has pointed this out before, at least that I know of. People in the book trade know it – and it makes me admire even more the independent booksellers such as Unity Books that devote a disproportionate amount of shelf-space to NZ fiction.
What I find depressing is that I have spent a lot of time in recent years on committees deliberating on fellowships, awards, grants and competitions, not to mention my professional work assessing and editing manuscripts – that is, general support of fiction writing. And now I honestly do not know if it hasn’t all been a waste of time. What is the point of funding New Zealand literature if New Zealanders have so little interest in it?
On the other hand, maybe this is precisely why we should be funding it.