Inside the Australian and New Zealand book industry

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Aotearoa NZ industry shocked by NZ$500k grant for book recommendation site

The Aotearoa New Zealand literary industry is frustrated and ‘astonished’ by a NZ$500,000 (A$479,000) grant given to an organisation to improve access to books, reports

The grant was made to Narrative Muse, a business registered to Brough Johnson, and was awarded as part of the Ministry for Culture and Heritage Manatū Taong’s NZ$374 million (A$358m) Cultural Sector Innovation Fund.

Narrative Muse is an online matchmaking service aiming to recommend books, films and television content based on the user’s personality. However, issues raised by industry figures in response to the funding decision included concern about a lack of local book content on the site and the site’s recommendations linking to Amazon.

According to, the decision raised concern that the ministry ‘is out of its depth doling out funding—something arts funding authority Creative New Zealand has significant experience in’.

Among the industry figures to comment on the decision was Booksellers NZ CEO Dan Slevin, who said there is ‘considerable outrage’. Slevin said he didn’t want to be ‘anti-new people’, but said that none of the established literary organisations were aware of Narrative Muse’s pitch, and that he feared established organisations would be excluded from future involvement.

‘The literary sector’s share of Government funding has been dropping progressively over time,’ Slevin said. ‘What this has done is exposed a pretty raw wound … It’s showing the inequities built into the system.’

The details of Narrative Muse’s application are not public.

‘Manatū Taonga can speak to the potential we saw in it as a start-up with a strong proposal to develop audiences for diverse literary, movie and TV content, including Māori, Pasifika, Asian, rainbow, women, and gender-diverse, and to enable access to diverse content,’ said the ministry’s deputy chief executive for investment and outcomes Joe Fowler, adding that the project had potential for audiences to find content where they saw themselves and their stories represented, ‘and in doing so create an additional avenue for New Zealand content to reach global markets’.


Category: Local news