Last week, the Sunday Star Times ran a story with statistics of what people are buying when it comes to books: of all the fiction sold in New Zealand, only 5% of it is from New Zealand. On the one hand that looks like an appalling ratio, but on the other, when you consider just how much international fiction there is out there, it's not so bad. Surely only 5 % of novels available are from New Zealand?
That optimistic view aside, once I had finished the article, which interviews some well known literary types about why this might be, I was surprised that nobody mentioned this: if we want New Zealand fiction to sell as well as international fiction, bookstores are going to have start putting New Zealand books alongside 'real' fiction. Walk into any bookstore and you find a 'fiction' section, and a 'New Zealand fiction' section. I imagine that Joe (or more likely Josephine, as women buy far more fiction than men do) Public, when they go into a bookstore looking for a novel, make their way to the fiction section for their browsing. They find a book and they are happy. It might not even occur to them to make a special trip over to the NZ fiction section.
Perhaps bookstores think they are doing NZ books a favour by singling them out like this, giving them their own special showcase section, but I disagree.I think it makes the average buyer see New Zealand books as somehow second-rate. By all means have a NZ fiction table, or a section, but can we please see NZ books put alongside the Peter Careys and the Hilary Mantels and the Sarah Waters? Otherwise they are just not seen, let alone considered, by the buying public.
It seems obvious to me. Thoughts, anyone?