Nowadays, some level of Māori teaching is compulsory in schools and that, together with a growing interest and awareness of Māoritanga (culture), has fuelled the demand for books in the language.
Te reo Māori book retailers we talked to agreed that the annual Te Wiki o te Reo Māori, (Māori Language Week) this month (September) – a government-sponsored initiative designed to encourage New Zealanders to use te reo – is having a big impact on public awareness of the titles that are available. The introduction of Matariki celebrations this year, a new national holiday celebrating Māori New Year, has also contributed, especially in gifting.
The Publishers Association of New Zealand’s annual Market Size Report released last month quotes Nielsen scanning data showing 458,000 Māori language books were sold through stores last year. While still a small share of the overall market – 2.2 per cent of a total 21.1 million units sold – sales were up 40 per cent year on year, on the back of 24 per cent recorded in 2020, when they accounted for just 1.5 per cent of book sales.
About three in four sales were of titles published in both te reo Māori and English. Another 24 per cent were translated into Māori from English. But the fastest-growing category comprised books only in Māori: while only 7500 units were sold last year, that’s 50 per cent more than in 2020.
“Whether these titles are translations, bilingual or in te reo alone, they represent New Zealand stories from an indigenous perspective, are unique to Aotearoa and our publishers, and provide a bridge to te ao Māori (the Māori world view),” the report concluded.
Stores are ‘stocking more and selling more’
Jane Gammon, chief merchandise and marketing officer at Paper Plus, New Zealand’s independent co-operative franchise business bookseller network with about 100 stores, says that as locally-owned retailers, members are actively committed to supporting te reo Māori publishing and initiatives. “As a result, our stores are stocking more and selling more.
“The range of publishing in this area has grown enormously in the last decade. Books written in te reo Māori are a smaller proportion of this growth but have still seen an explosion of publishing compared to what was available 10 years ago.”
Gammon says the greatest growth is in bilingual children’s books. “These are the most accessible for families that aren’t fluent in te reo, and, while adults might struggle with language learning themselves, they are often very involved in and supportive of their children’s te reo Māori journey. Another area of growth is in books for the very young covering first words and concepts, published exclusively in te reo.”
Initiatives are underway to make international titles available in te reo Māori – children’s books like The Cat in the Hat, and adult titles by authors as diverse as Ernest Hemingway and Marvel, for example.
The number of te reo Māori titles stocked varies by store – and region. In the Paper Plus network, those with a stronger focus are likely to stock 20 to 30 adult books – predominantly educational books or dictionaries rather than titles fully in te reo – 80 to 100 children’s titles written exclusively in te reo Māori or for learning the language, and 30-40 children’s titles with either fully bi-lingual text or with significant te reo content.
“There has been growth in Māori-English dictionaries but the two biggest areas of growth have been outside the traditional dictionary format – children’s picture dictionaries in te reo Māori and books for all ages on learning it, such as workbooks and phrasebooks, rather than just dictionaries,” says Gammon
Paper Plus is also expanding its stocks of non-book products in the language, like games, flashcards, and diaries.
While booksellers generally feature nonfiction te reo books in a dedicated section some are mixing children’s books and fiction with English-language titles, especially picture books.
Te reo Māori promotions are paying off
Meanwhile, te reo Māori book retailers report that promotional activities are becoming increasingly common – and effective.
“At a local level some of the stores are very supportive of local schools/community organisations, iwi (tribes/broader kinship groups) or hapu (subtribes/clans) with activities and initiatives,” says Gammon. “At a national level we continue to explore ways in which we can support people’s te Reo Māori learning journeys and our commitment to Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori is part of this.”
Jenna Todd of Time Out Bookstore in the Auckland suburb of Mt Eden says customers respond well to promotions. “We have dedicated sections for Te Ao and te reo Māori books in the general store and also in our children’s room. For Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori we have a dedicated window display and this leads to a huge boost in sales – especially for language learning titles. Otherwise, they tick along nicely.”
David Hedley, owner of Hedley’s Books in Masterton, says inspirational books are appealing to customers too – like Hinemoa Elder’s Aroha Māori Wisdom for a Contented Life Lived in Harmony with Our Planet, one of his store’s 10 bestsellers across all categories last year.
“We have always sold a lot of new and second-hand Māoritanga books, but only recently selling in te reo and still only in small quantities. We are in a small town with a relatively small population of Māori-speaking people, but it is growing rapidly. There is an incredible shift in positive reaction to learning te reo and embracing our heritage. It’s exciting to see.”
Pene Whitty, manager of University Bookshop Canterbury, says her store is stocking more books with so many more available now than five years ago.
Auckland University Press is publishing a range called Kotahi Rau Pukapuka that is going to publish 100 books in te reo – a range referred to by several retailers as being key to future growth. Penguin Books, Scholastic and Huia have started releasing simultaneous English and te reo editions of children’s books.
University Bookshop Canterbury currently has 138 children’s books in stock, a mix of bilingual and around 60 per cent of which are completely Māori. In the adult section, it stocks more than 120 bilingual books and around 20 completely in te reo. Its biggest seller is Scotty Morrisons Māori Made Easy series at more than 200 copies per year. The store also stocks more than 16 different Māori dictionaries covering both adult and children’s levels, meeting a growing demand it believes is partly driven by the language’s more common use in workplaces.
“The increase in awareness of Matariki has brought about an increase in especially children’s titles being published, this is something that is now part of the New Zealand curriculum and teachers and parents are wanting to understand.”
Jemma Pirrie, manager and buyer at McLeods Booksellers and her colleague Gabrielle West, assistant manager, agree that there has been a noticeable increase over the past five years in the number of books available and demand, driven by more people learning the language. Their store is located in Rotorua, a city with a hinterland that is home to one of the nation’s largest Māori communities and te reo Māori language books are a core of the business.
“We have our learning resources all grouped together. The remainder of our Māori language titles are distributed with the other titles in their categories. We are always keen to partake in the promotion of Māori language titles and our involvement with the Kupu Māori Writers Festival is an example of our encouragement of te reo Māori publications and Māori authors.”
‘The sky is the limit’
None of the te reo Māori book retailers we talked to for this feature believes demand has peaked.
“This is 100 per cent a growing market,” said Jenna Todd. “The sky is the limit. Initiatives such as Kotahi Rau Pukapuka will ensure that the choices for te reo readers will widen and be refreshed yearly.”
Growing sales of educational titles like Māori Made Easy and burgeoning growth in te reo Māori night classes reflect the widespread interest in learning and speaking the language, she says.
“The wonderful thing that I have observed over my past decade of bookselling, is that as more books in te reo are published, the more customers are coming in speaking te reo. It’s a win-win in my eyes.”
McLeods singles out the children’s and youth market as a particularly strong opportunity given young adult readers would find it “virtually impossible” to find reading material in te reo Māori. They see the potential for more translation of popular titles for both children and adults, and original pakimaero fiction – writing for adults.
“The peak has not happened and the appetite for Māori language titles is not yet satiated. As a new generation of te reo Māori speakers emerges there will need to be more and more titles available for them to read.”
Whitty agrees: “I can see the growth increasing especially in the middle fiction upwards with the Māori language being learnt and spoken more in the communities. You just need to look at the preschoolers who are able to speak te reo and English for everyday words. With te reo Māori now compulsory in the education of our children, it has made the language more mainstream.”
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