Ross Miller, Bookseller
Public Libraries salute the work of a local library hero.
“Ross is amazing”, says Kawerau District Library & Museum Manager, Susan Harris. “He has been travelling the North Island selling books to public libraries for 47 years.”
Going to any place, big or small, Ross was able to offer books that were otherwise difficult to source. He also donated children’s books to Summer Reading – a literacy programme run by libraries to keep students reading over long school holidays. Now retired, our library hero will be sorely missed, Susan says.
Ross describes himself as a State House kid from Lower Hutt. “I hit the road selling books in my twenties. It was lots of fun. I was working for Whitcoulls in Wellington, supplying books by UK publishers to bookshops from Wellington to Gisborne and Taranaki.” Ross recalls filling his car with books, travelling the backroads, and staying in motels. “This was 1974. As a first job it was rather good, I thought.”
Next came the job of sales rep for the NZ publishers, Leonard Fullerton. “I covered Kaitaia to Invercargill – the whole country!” he says with satisfaction. “It was around this time I began calling into libraries in towns that didn’t have a bookshop.” He joined Random House as their NZ sales manager during a tumultuous time for publishing. “It was the 80s and there were lots of takeovers.” Big overseas publishing houses like Random were changing the book trade.
Ross stepped off the corporate treadmill and began working for small New Zealand publishing companies. He bought a van and started Miller Books. In the early days, he sold remaindered books. ‘Remainders’ – as they are called in the book trade – are unsold books that publishers on sell at greatly reduced prices. “I provided a fair price for books and often returned home with an empty car.” Before long before Ross was providing new releases and the business took off. Library managers inspected his book collection and selected real books, in real time. “In my heyday – New Plymouth was the biggest client – sold most of the books in a week.”
New digital technologies changed everything again. With publishing and purchasing going online, libraries began to form consortia, pooling their resources, to increase buying power. “The book trade I knew disappeared, everybody moved online.” The public libraries that remained loyal to Miller Books benefitted from his personalised service and bought more. “I continued to travel the North Island in two monthly visits. On weekends I sold at the Pokeno market specialising in Māori titles.” He also sold second-hand books. Then along came COVID. “Lockdown was the longest time I spent off the road!" He now lives with his wife in Te Aroha, a small Waikato town, at the base of the Kaimai Ranges. "We were going to travel OE but we'll stick to NZ for the time being.” Ross retired on 15 December 2020.
“I had more farewells than Dame Nellie Melba!” Ross chuckles. So, what next for our indomitable library hero? “Start a branch of the Labour Party!”
Thanks, Ross, for your mighty contribution to public libraries. We wish you well!