Skip To Content

Athabasca University

Publishing Houses & Printing Presses

Colonial publishing could be a lucrative business if the publisher held contracts for school texts and government documents. For this reason, metropolitan firms remained involved in colonial publishing for protracted periods. Their business activities therefore generated a site for contest, if colony-based publishers vied for the same contracts. The drivers behind intentional, publisher-based promotion of colonial print culture can be located by examining corporate archives, and the personal correspondence and memoirs of those involved in the book trade. Such records can indicate where social commitment mitigates the balance sheet.

Publishers served a variety of functions in the development of colonial print cultures. In some cases, they might serve as drivers or enablers. They might be established as institutions or as programs of other sponsors. Publishing houses can be considered print culture sponsors when they develop an institutional reputation for sponsorship, that can stand against the reputation built by individuals associated with the publisher. It can be argued, for instance, that Présence Africaine has created a reputation for sponsorship that supersedes that of its originator and several generations of editor. The same can be said for the African Books Collective (for distribution).

Colonial publishing demonstrates the most complex set of relations of any of the print culture sponsors under discussion. Publishers seldom confined their activities wholly within high art or popular culture, although some were adamant in doing so.

Publishing houses and print shops might engage in the following practices in their role as sponsors of print culture:

  • mediating between the print cultures of metropolis and colony, between those of colonial peoples within a single colony, and amongst colonies;
  • establishing the colony and its cultures as legitimate primary sites for print culture participation;
  • developing and/ or supporting print culture infrastructure such as professional and technical expertise and capacity, bookshops and libraries;
  • mentoring writers, editors, and professional staff and providing them with employment in the book trade;
  • assisting in the transfer of print culture values and skills by providinginformation, entertainment, and education to the colonial peoples in colony-appropriate languages;
  • providing an important cultural reservoir of colony-significant texts for both high art and popular culture.

Colony-based private publishers have been virtually non-existent and therefore not influential on the development of print culture in Papua New Guinea. During the colonial era, and after independence, the primary market for print has been for school textbooks. This market has traditionally been served by off-shore publishers, although there have been notable attempts to localize this role, especially by Word Publishing.

In the few years prior to Independence, change agents in Papua New Guinea attempted to establish publishing houses, or to collaborate with off-shore houses. Ulli Beier at the University of Papua New Guinea, for example, managed to work with Jacaranda Press to publish several anthologies of creative writing in the 1960s and 1970s.

Updated October 13 2016 by Library Services