Killing the Thing We Love: The Demise of New Zealand’s Bookshops

Around Auckland 022

I once read somewhere that New Zealand boasts more bookshops per capita than any other country in the world. Maybe that was true years ago, but it seems to me now that every time I turn around another bookshop has closed. My favourite bookshop was turned into a burger joint. This saddens me greatly, but I’m wilfully contributing to the problem.

You see, I love books. I hoard them. It’s my dream to have every spare inch of wall in my bedroom covered in them, and I’m well on the way to that. I have six bookshelves in my room and all are full, as is the floor space between them. I can’t resist – I see a bargain bin full of five-dollar books, I’m diving through it like a hobo through a dumpster.

But I rarely go into a bookshop and buy a new book. This isn’t just because I prefer the smell and feel of old books, (in fact I enjoy the smell and feel of new books just as much,) but simply because new books in New Zealand are so damned expensive! Thirty dollars for a paperback; fifty for a hardback.

So I order all my new books off the internet, and more and more smart people are doing the same. Thus we are killing the thing we love.

Culture 5

Poetry in Wellington Harbour

Until I read that little fact I began this article with, I had never considered New Zealand having a lot of bookshops. In fact I often say the abundance of books is one of the things I miss most about living in England – certainly the cheapness of books is. But now I think about it, I remember years ago when we were on a family campervan trip around New Zealand, we came across a bookshop out of the blue, in the middle of nowhere.

Well okay, it wasn’t quite in the middle of nowhere, but it wasn’t exactly where you’d expect a bookshop to be, well out of town, on a country road off the highway. Being a bookish family (and having me in the campervan rental,) we parked up to investigate.

It was quite a wonderful place, specialising in rare and second-hand books, and I’m really glad we found it. Unfortunately, it wasn’t in a very convenient place to return to, being so far out of the way. Of course, I made a purchase or three. Second-hand bookshops are enchanting places if you can find them, and it’s getting harder every day.

Soon there’ll be only one chain of bookstores left, and only selling expensive best-sellers.

But of course books are expensive here. They have to be imported a long way and, unlike in Britain, there’s a sales tax on them. Still, I’m poor and I love books – much as it pains me, I’ll keep getting mine from the Book Depository.

“Yet each man kills the thing he loves

By each let this be heard,

Some do it with a bitter look,

Some with a flattering word,

The coward does it with a kiss,

The brave man with a sword!”

Oscar Wilde, from The Ballad of Reading Gaol

Guess I’m a coward then.

Update: Six months on from writing this blog post, my family made an effort and returned to the spot where we had found that second-hand bookshop in the middle of nowhere. It had closed down.

A whale vertebrae my dad found while walking on the beach

A whale vertebra my dad found while walking on the beach

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6 thoughts on “Killing the Thing We Love: The Demise of New Zealand’s Bookshops

  1. Mysty says:

    I wonder if NZ sells more books by American authors or British authors in the shops there, (I guess not so many by NZ authors, as the population of NZ is so small in comparison). I’m also a bibliophile, and have tons of books all through the house; even 4 bookcases full on the landing outside my bedroom, as well as 3 in my bedroom! I tend to prefer British contemporary fiction to North American – of course, shops here in the UK sell a lot of that, and I think I would miss the range of British fiction and other British genres in print if North American publications have the edge in NZ. Not that I don’t like many American authors, as I most definitely do!

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    • kiwipom91 says:

      American publications certainly don’t have the edge in New Zealand. It’s still a very British country. There are a good few kiwi authors, but you’re right, the majority is British and American – same with television programmes. Books are more expensive here then in the UK, but you don’t lack them. Like I said, though, I usually turn to the the Book Depository.

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  2. Mysty says:

    thanks for the reply Abby. I buy a lot of books online too, as I love to read books which are now out of print – vintage and retro stuff. I know New Zealand is rooted in Britain so to speak, but I wondered if it was becoming less so and maybe more North American influenced. If I ever thought about moving to NZ, I seriously would think it important to visit bookshops there, despite online shops, because you know there’s just something special about actually physically browsing. : – )

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