Publisher Julia Marshall reflects on a decade of readers and reading.
Gecko Press is turning 10 this year. It is banal to say that in these 10 years there has been a lot of change (though of course it is true). But 10 years is not long to gain much in the way of perspective. I can’t imagine what it was like to be publishing books back when booky people at least were reading every novel published by a New Zealand writer, for example. Or, when no books were being published by New Zealanders, or the period of the long lunch. (We are pretty hard pressed to get lunch at all these days.)
In the last 10 years, we have had the rise of Amazon and the effect of online sales on retail; the fear and now a sort of acceptance of the digital revolution (because the book didn’t die); in 10 years, some new independent publishers have set up, and some international ones have departed. But the biggest change of all, I think, is the amount of time people spend doing things online, instead of having their noses in books, digital or otherwise.
I have just this moment read about Whitcoulls closing its doors on Queen St, which feels inordinately sad. Such a big, bright shop, and so full of books!
It is sometimes hard to remain upbeat in the midst of this sort of change (except that I can almost hear my father, with a few more years of perspective, asking what else can there be but change and what would I expect?).
In the United Kingdom, I see new bookshops opening and Waterstones making a comeback. The new Foyles shop on Charing Cross Road is extraordinary and brave and full of people. On my last visit, in a new children’s bookshop in London – a small bookshop called The Alligator’s Mouth – a customer came in and said: “I saw this book on Amazon and I wonder if you can get it for me?” They said, “Of course.” And the tides have turned for many bookshops in the United States.
I hope it happens here.
I wish we could have the 24-hour Eslite bookshop I have seen in Taipei, with a core of books housed on many floors, each bookshop surrounded by a cluster of smart retail clothes and designer shops. The books bring in the people, they say. Or the converted book warehouse in Tokyo that had every other sort of shop in it, and then the owners decided to give books a go, in a corner. And the corner grew and grew, and the people came, and they had to make the corner bigger and bigger.
I also wish we could have a great big annual bookfair, open to the public, with people queuing round the block to get signed copies of books.
But children’s publishing is innately cheery. Today, I have had two emails from parents to say how much they have enjoyed reading a particular book with a child or how much a child has enjoyed one of our books.
In the 10 very quick years that Gecko Press has been in business, I have met a great number of children who love to read, and parents and grandparents and aunts and cousins who know that reading to children is one of the most important things in the universe. And that doesn’t seem to change.
I think people who read need to share the love a little. Read in public, in pubs and in prisons and in front of children – and to children, and with children. Bring reading out of the bedroom!
There is enough evidence to say that it makes us better citizens, more likely to vote, less likely to go to jail, more likely to get a good job that we enjoy.
I am mindful of a friend of mine whose grandmother said she had never had a difficult day, but if she felt one coming on, she would make someone a cake. We apparently eat too much cake, so perhaps on that sort of a day we can all go and read someone a book. Or maybe buy one – from Whitcoulls, or our local bookshop, or online. Or we can get it from the library and then tell everyone about it, if we liked it, or didn’t. Maybe we need to be a bit louder when we read. Open our mouths and chew!