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John Seymour: Obituary

By January 24, 2012 No Comments

John Seymour, a former publisher and most recently a book rep, spent his whole life in the book industry, and was notable for bold publishing moves and even bolder publicity strategies which are still remembered.

He began with Bennetts in Palmerston North and became their textbook buyer before moving to Paul’s Book Arcade in Auckland then working as a rep for Cassells.

Always concerned with trade affairs, John was involved in the well-remembered winter book seminars for booksellers in the seventies while at Cassells. Later he became a principal in New Zealand for the ANZ Book Company. One of their New Zealand books which was a huge success was Sonja Davies’ Bread & Roses which went into many reprints.

Ian Grant: “I vividly remember one of the book launches that has gone down in NZ publishing mythology. The launch of Gordon McLauchlan’s The Passionless People in Eketahuna in 1976. It was very much John’s vision and was a remarkable event that went on for hours – with parades and plays and music and attracted wide-eyed TV reporters from the big smoke.”

No less audacious was the John Seymour-led gazumphing of a Reed launch of Rob Muldoon’s My Way at a book trade conference in Nelson in 1981. ANZ was about to publish a Bill Rowling biography – and ensured posters and brochures of their book were found under every conference attendee’s door the morning of Muldoon’s breakfast speech.

John’s promotional energies were also harnessed as the first chairman of the Book Marketing Council in 1984, a revamped version of the NZBTO with a greater emphasis on book promotion and marketing. By this time he was general manager for GP Publications in Wellington.

Ian Grant: “GP Publications, the publishing arm of the Government Printing Office, was corporatised as part of the Rogernomics policies of the then Labour government. In short order key people, like John, from the private sector, hugely improved the organisation’s performance. John cajoled me into becoming publishing consultant in 1987 and I became publisher after Gavin McLean left. We – particularly John, Gavin and later Ann Clifford – sprang from practically nowhere to producing more NZ books than any other publisher. It was fun while it lasted.”

John Schiff: “In the late 80s, booksellers and publishers began to investigate new ways of working more co-operatively, given the tiny size of the industry. As President of the Book Publishers Association, John was at the forefront of cajoling publishers into taking a more collaborative approach. He was tireless in his efforts, writing papers, talking about ways to bring the two sides together, strategizing, lobbying – never wavering.”

Despite the premature end to the two successful book publishing entities he built up, John kept his book trade links and was the rep for Nationwide Book Distributors for the southern half of the North Island at the time of his death.

Tributes from industry colleagues include these:

Jeff Grigor: “I can’t think of anyone more upright and honourable – he was a brilliant publisher. He never criticised anyone, no matter how badly he had been treated – he just took it on the chin and got on with life.”

Graham Beattie: “A lovely man with a great sense of humour.”

Philip King: “I remember so well at Booksellers conferences that John and I would head off for a run first thing in the morning, no matter how late and how much was drunk the night before! He was always there, living it to the full – connecting with people, socialising, lobbying, and having a lot of fun.”

Bob Ross: John was great at learning on the job. I knew John right from his earliest days at Bennetts and our close friendship went way beyond our booktrade connections – including setting up the East Coast Bays branch of the Labour Party in 1972. John was caring, creative and energetic and he contributed a great deal to the trade during an important evolutionary period.

Thanks to Beattie’s Blog for the use of their material in this obituary.