1. Themes
  2. A to Z

Book Publishing

Book publishing began in foundation and early Melbourne. The first substantial volume was a boosting appeal to potential immigration in 1840 by George Arden, editor of the Port Phillip Gazette, the district's second newspaper. Newspaper offices played a central role in writing, editing and printing not only their own regular sheets, but also in issuing pamphlets, reports, catalogues, directories, almanacs and generally useful works that met immediate local needs. Everything else was imported, often from the United Kingdom.

Change and expansion came with Separation in 1851. In gold rush Melbourne John Ferres and his successors as government printer were responsible for a substantial and increasing body of work. Although newspapers and magazines continued to be the main vehicles for publication and the major sources of reading matter, the organisation of book production passed largely to other members of the trade. In the 1860s booksellers Henry Tolman Dwight and from the late 1850s to 1900 George Robertson & Co. were dominant. The range extended to literature, science, medicine, law and religion, with occasional arrangements, as for the works of the Melbourne academic William Edward Hearn, for British distribution. Textbooks, too, became a staple.

Melbourne's size and cultural pre-eminence ensured that it would be Australia's centre of publishing until the economic crash in the 1890s and the rise of Angus & Robertson in Sydney. Four decades of leadership were not easily lost. British firms, established from the 1880s as distribution agencies, eventually branched out into publishing from their Melbourne bases. Specialist publishers in the modern sense were very rare before World War II, Alexander McCubbin being an ultimately unsuccessful exception. Mostly printing or bookselling businesses assumed this function and often expected authors to subsidise or underwrite the cost of producing their own books.

Even after 1945 successful publishing concerns like F.W. Cheshire and Melbourne University Press were linked to bookshops. A striking feature of the latter half of the 20th century was the emergence of dedicated publishers, many of them, like Penguin Australia, branches of overseas conglomerates. Smaller and larger local houses survived and even flourished before succumbing to takeover bids. An industry that now operates in the suburbs is dominated by multinational firms.

Wallace Kirsop

Kirsop, Wallace, Books for colonial readers: The nineteenth-century Australian experience, Bibliographical Society of Australia and New Zealand, Melbourne, 1995. Details
Morrison, Ian, The publishing industry in colonial Australia: A name index to John Alexander Ferguson's 'Bibliography of Australia 1784-1900', Bibliographical Society of Australia and New Zealand, Melbourne, 1996. Details