Contributing to the debate

New Zealand Books is highly valued by its readers for its serious approach to reviewing and its contribution to the debate in our society about the way our culture develops through its literature in the broadest sense.

And those readers are avid book buyers: on average they buy 27 new books and 10 secondhand books a year.

These subscribers in June. Altogether 38% of readers replied. A separate questionnaire was sent to retail customers. Our thanks to all who replied.

New Zealand Books sees its main purpose as to contribute to the national debate, which we see as including our history, social and economic structures, our relationship to our physical environment and our individual expression through prose fiction, poetry, art, crafts and music. The responses to the questionnaire suggest our readers value that.

But all is not to readers’ satisfaction. Many do not like the format, the size of the pages and the type of paper. We will take that on board and are looking at options for a different format.

For the record, however, the paper, though it appears expensive, is the most cost-efficient available, given the print run. And the tabloid format is the best production format, given our limited resources. And we should note that some readers like the format and paper.

How subscribers describe New Zealand Books 

Nearly 50% of respondents saw the main characteristic as in-depth reviews for the intelligent reader. The other main descriptor was a discussion of New Zealand literature and culture with economic and political essays and reviews. Some 12% said it was the best source of reviews of New Zealand publications.

What subscribers like and dislike

The three main attractions were in depth, challenging, serious reviews (66%), the breadth and range of topics reviewed (35%) and the quality of contributors (30%). Other likes were: keeping the reader up to date with New Zealand publications, the layout and quality of paper used and the coverage of literature and history in particular.

Most disliked was a combination of the format, including layout, paper and the difficulty of storage (35%). Some 18% thought some reviews were too long or too weighty for the subject and 12% said that sometimes reviews were either pretentious or the prose was unreadable. Between 5% and 10% of respondents variously mentioned the irregularity/infrequency of publication (a tender point this year which we are determined to fix next year), too great an emphasis on politics/economic topics, too academic or narrow a range of reviewers, insufficient humour, the light editing style and insufficient illustrations and/or photos.

Some 15% said they found nothing to dislike.

What subscribers get from New Zealand Books that they do not get from other publications.

Just on 70% listed serious, thoughtful reviews of the kind that shape thinking in our society under this heading. Others cited the breadth and range of topics reviewed and welcomed comment by New Zealanders on New Zealand publications. Some 10% described New Zealand Books as unique.

Quality and length of reviews

Nearly three-fifths (59%) described the quality as “mostly very good”, 28% as “consistently very good” and 13% as “a mix of good and bad”. No one thought the quality was “mostly poor”. The majority of the comments relating to quality mentioned the denseness of reviews or what they felt was an academic and sometimes narrow   quality of reviews. Few comments said reviewers were “superficial, pretentious, intellectually mediocre or too verbose”.

Nearly half (48%) wanted to see a mix of long and short reviews and 45% would prefer to leave things as they are, that is, mostly long reviews.

Range of reviewers

Nearly half (49%) wanted more reviewers while 44% wanted the same range of reviewers. A number of respondents emphasised that maintaining quality of reviewing was important to them.

How subscribers first came across New Zealand Books

Some 44% said they had learned about New Zealand Books through family or friends, 26% through work, 10% could not remember, 9% through retail outlets and 6% through a library.

Other publications New Zealand Books subscribers buy

Listener 64%
Quote Unquote 29%
Daily newspaper 28%
North & South 20%
Guardian Weekly 19%
New York Review of Books 15%
Landfall 15%
Metro 14%
Time 11%
Consumer 10%

New Zealand Books subscribers buy an average of 27 new books each a year and an average of 10 secondhand books each per year.

Subscriber demographics

The majority of subscribers are aged 41-64 and are professionals – university lecturers/teachers, librarians, retailers and others involved in the publishing — or writers and poets. The income band most represented was $41,000-$64,000, with $25,000-$ 40,000 a close second. Just under half of respondents lived in Wellington (overall 31% of subscribers live in Wellington).

Suggestions for improvements 

The three most proferred suggestions for improvements were profiles and interviews, a brief round-up of fiction and coverage of international literary connections including Australia. We have recorded all suggestions and will consider them all in our forward planning.

Lynne Dovey

Business Manager

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