Encrypt the overwhelming whiteness of the book publishing industry


A new interactive article from New York Times examines how white the publishing industry really is. And despite the number of high-profile books by non-white authors in recent years, the demographics are grim: according to their data, 95 percent of the published authors are white.

How did journalists Richard Jean So and Gus Wezerek arrive at this figure:

First, we’ve put together a list of English fiction books published between 1950 and 2018. This list is from WorldCat, a global catalog of library collections. We wanted to focus on the most read books, so we limited our analysis to titles held by at least 10 libraries and for which we could find digital editions.

We also limited our search to books published by some of the most prolific publishing houses during the period of our analysis: Simon & Schuster, Penguin Random House, Doubleday (a major publisher before its merger with Random House in 1998) , HarperCollins and Macmillan. After all of that, we ended up with a dataset containing 8,004 books, written by 4,010 authors.

To identify the races and ethnicities of these authors, we worked with three research assistants, reading biographies, interviews and social media posts. Each author was independently reviewed by two researchers. If the team couldn’t agree on an author’s race, or if there just wasn’t enough information to feel confident about, we omitted the books from these. authors of our analysis. In the end, we had identified the race or ethnicity of 3,471 perpetrators.

We guessed that most of the authors would be white, but we were shocked at the extent of the inequality once we analyzed the data. Of the 7,124 books for which we identified the author’s race, 95% were written by white people.

While not entirely comprehensive – I’d personally like to know more about the 14% of perpetrators whose race or ethnicity could not be identified – it’s still a bigger picture than what was available otherwise.

The impetus for this analysis came this summer, when the rise of anti-racist protests indeed led to a significant increase in sales of books for non-white authors. At the same time, he revealed shocking disparities – the author of YA LL McKinney started the hashtag #PublishingPaidMe to share pay transparency in the publishing industry, which quickly caught on on Twitter. These results, which are also about as out of balance as one might expect, are visible in a GoogleDoc. But that’s probably a good summary:

The recent Times article also has more visuals, as well as some reviews of the diversity within the publishing industry (and the fact that while still very white, publishing professionals on mean are not paid tremendously well).

How white is the book industry? [Richard Jean So and Gus Wezerek / New York Times]

PublishingPaidMe: the authors share their advances to denounce racial disparities [Mary Louise Kelly / NPR]

Picture: Alfa Juliett / Wikimedia Commons (CC 4.0)

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