We have been asking ourselves some questions lately, about how we can change and improve to meet the changing expectations of our readers.
The answer to questions relating to format and appearance were obvious – the journal needed a makeover, and the spring 2017 issue was the first with our new look. Lots of colour and more, smaller pages. The new shape fits more tidily between the cereal bowl and the teapot, with no loss of content, and colour allows every book cover to shout “read me”.
We had other questions, though, about where readers look for reviews of New Zealand books, what sort of reviews they seek out, and which ways this publication could better meet the needs of our current and future readers. To get answers to these, we ran an open survey at the end of last year. It was targeted at book readers and publicised through independent bookshops and book-focused websites. We were delighted to receive 380 responses, but surprised to discover that more than half of respondents had not heard of New Zealand Books Pukapuka Aotearoa. That so many bookish people have never seen a copy of the journal, or even heard of it, was a bit of a shock.
We don’t have the budget to pay for publicity or advertising, so getting the word out about New Zealand Books Pukapuka Aotearoa will demand imaginative action. All ideas welcomed.
The survey asked those people who were familiar with the journal to list those aspects that they liked. There were many appreciative comments, including “high quality”, “in-depth comment and opinion, mostly not too esoteric”, “intelligent analysis, gravitas and credibility”, “well-established and trusted writers who understand our culture and context”. Several respondents believed that a literary journal providing comprehensive coverage of a full range of New Zealand books has to be “a good thing”, and others relied on New Zealand Books Pukapuka Aotearoa to provide a “valuable source of information about NZ authors & titles”.
People appreciated that, for many books, the journal is the only source of reviews, and that it provides variety of reading and introduces them to new writers. Specific mention was made of the reviews of children’s books and of poetry, essays on aspects of literature and the book business – and, for many readers, the crossword is a highlight.
When it came to improvements, there were a lot of suggestions for changes, sometimes contradictory (for instance, both shorter and longer reviews). As far as content goes, readers wanted more of their preferred reading: more fiction, more genre reviews (science fiction, fantasy, romance, historical, crime novels), more reviews of books about te ao Māori, more poetry reviews, and more children’s literature reviews. Other suggestions included more essays, more articles about writing, more literary comments, more discussions and more roundups of new publications. It was also suggested that a small section of reviews could be in te reo Māori.
One thing many respondents agreed on was more timeliness. Many people felt that reviews need to appear closer to publication. And then there was the more blunt feedback: “It can be so boring”, “ever so slightly up itself”, “too academic” and “rather dry”.
There is a lot of information and even more ideas still to be extracted from the survey, and then the board and editors will discuss what we can learn, and what our priorities should be. The comments will help us as we consider how we can steer the journal into the future, rather than being pushed by the current, how we can become essential reading for more of this country’s booklovers. Meanwhile, we can congratulate ourselves that, as one person commented, “you are ‘still here’ – a source of reviews in a dwindling supply”.
The survey is now closed, but we would still love to hear what you have to say. Please send any ideas, comments or suggestions to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
We gave away three free subscriptions to New Zealand Books Pukapuka Aotearoa with the survey. Congratulations to the winners of the draw: Claire McClintock of Wellington, Laila Baily of Wellington, and Mary de Ruyter of Auckland.
Peppercorn Press board member