A Message to Our Community: Our Continued Commitment to Advancing Equity and Justice

From BookBub:

Just over a year ago, the horrific killings of George Floyd and several other Black individuals led to a historic reckoning with systemic racism, prompting people and organizations — including our own — to reflect on how we’re perpetuating such social injustice.

Last June, we shared a message to our community with preliminary thoughts about our shortcomings and initial ideas for how we could effect positive change. Now that a year has passed, we want to hold ourselves accountable to the commitments we made in that message by providing the community with an update on our progress so far.

Reflecting on the commitments we made last year, we’ve made some progress, but not as much as we had hoped, and it’s clear there is much more work ahead. In this message, we share a summary of the work we pursued in the five areas of commitment we outlined in last year’s message as well as our plans to continue and broaden these efforts.

The first commitment we made last year was to audit the books we promote so we could understand our current representation of books by authors of color. This year we completed a preliminary analysis of the books that get submitted to us by our partners and those we select for promotions on BookBub or Chirp. While this audit was imperfect in a number of ways, it gave us a top-level estimate for our current representation rates.

Our audit showed that while our editors selected books by authors of color at the same rate as books by white authors, books by people of color made up less than 10% of our overall submissions, a figure that is well below reflecting the populations of the countries we primarily serve.

While this shortcoming may in some part be due to underrepresentation of published authors of color in the industry as a whole, we know we have a responsibility to address this issue ourselves. As a result, we’ve actively begun exploring ways to both encourage our partners to increase the number of books by authors of color submitted to us and help underrepresented voices be published and read, and we plan to increasingly invest here. We also realized we need a more automated method of auditing the books that we feature so we can track our aggregate progress on an ongoing basis, so we’re investing in ways to do this as well.

Our second commitment was to help break the echo chamber in publishing, the cycle in which the industry publishes and promotes books that are “comparable” to those that have sold well in the past, and tends to favor the same (generally white) authors and types of books that have historically been published and promoted.

This past year we’ve worked on several initiatives to try to push back on this trend, including creating more recurring opportunities to prominently merchandise authors of color on our sites, featuring more authors of color in our blog content, speaking with our publisher partners about their efforts around representation, and discussing ways to evolve our selection process to be based not only on historical performance trends but also on featuring a range of content.

In addition, we’ve started adjusting the way our algorithms surface authors and books to our members to show a more diverse selection of content. One specific change we made over the past year was to adjust our author suggestion system to recommend a larger and more diverse pool of authors that our readers might want to follow. This change has led to a significant increase in the percentage of members following authors of color and will increase the visibility of those authors’ deals, new releases, and other activity. Although improvements like this are small in the grand scheme of breaking the industry’s echo chamber, we’re hopeful that continuing to invest in even minor changes will help us play a part in driving equity and representation in the industry at large.

Link to the rest at BookBub and thanks to D (who wonders how BookBub identifies authors of color) for the tip.

PG also wonders whether BookBub has any processes for determining whether someone who claims to be an “author of color” in order to obtain additional promotion and other benefits from BookBub is, in fact, an author of color.

In the OP at the link, PG could find no definition of “author of color”.

The date of the OP was June 28, 2021. BookBub published an earlier post on the same general topic on June 18, 2020, about a year earlier. The earlier post included the following paragraphs:

Like so many people around the world, our team reacted with horror and despair to the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and so many other Black people killed by police or denied swift justice by the state after being killed. These dehumanizing tragedies reinforce much broader statistical data that the U.S. persists in not valuing the lives of Black people as highly as other individuals. Such racial inequity is antithetical to our company values, and our organization fully supports the movement to make sure Black Lives Matter.

This latest string of deaths has led to demands for law enforcement reform, but has also brought about a much needed surge of awareness and discussion around systemic racism, leading so many of us to examine how we as individuals, businesses, and society are empowering the status quo.

Our team is no exception. Over the past few weeks, we’ve been reading, listening, learning, and scrutinizing everything we do as a company, looking for places where we and the publishing industry are perpetuating problems, or where we see opportunities to effect positive change.

. . . .

Are aspects of our book selection process or categorizations stifling Black and other underrepresented voices from gaining a wider audience? Could we be doing more to elevate such voices on our platform, or influence change within the industry to get more voices published and promoted? 

. . . .

 We believe we will do our best by listening to input from our members, authors, and publishers (especially those in our community who are Black or from other underrepresented backgrounds) about how we can make impactful and lasting changes to address systemic racism.

. . . .

Our industry invests most heavily in authors who have historically sold well, or books that the industry feels are “comparable” to those that were popular in the past. This practice reinforces the same (generally white) authors and types of books hitting bestseller charts while Black and other underrepresented voices struggle to get published or earn promotion budgets. We’ve realized our practices can perpetuate this echo chamber since we too decide which books to feature based on historical performance with our audience. We’ve started exploring ways to revamp how we select, categorize, and merchandise our books to break this cycle and start widening exposure for Black and other underrepresented authors. 

. . . .

When we asked ourselves how much we were highlighting books by Black authors or from other underrepresented voices in general, we realized we didn’t fully know because we don’t track metrics on this subject. For an organization that strives to be both inclusive and data driven, not tracking this information is a significant failure. We’ve started working on metrics to quantify author diversity in our book sales and selection process, both to see where we are now as a baseline and to measure the success of our initiatives.

Link to the rest at BookBub

NOTE: PG drafted this post a few weeks ago, but did not put it up, then forgot about it for awhile.

PG is a bit cranky from spending too much time traveling to and from airports and on airplanes during the past several days. He remembers when airlines tried to create a veneer of glamour that accompanied the flying experience and seemed pleased when he showed up at the airport to board a plane.

That is definitely no longer the case. The decline was present before September, 2011, but it has greatly increased since the installation of a great many ill-paid and surly government employees at every airport who change the security protocols every few weeks to keep the terrorists and tourists off-balance.

PG is not 75 years of age, but, after failing one or more security processes at various airports, he was asked if he was 75 years of age (not necessarily the best ego-booster around) on several occasions, Perhaps the airport security theater process may have aged him prematurely.

Evidently, if PG survives to the age of 75, government employees will have a whole new security process for him. Perhaps the new one will be designed to get PG off the Social Security rolls as quickly as possible in addition to catching ancient terrorists.

PG suspects questions like, “How many fingers am I holding up?” and, “What was the make, year and model of the car you were driving during your first drivers license test?” may be added to airport security protocols to make certain that foreign evil-doers disguising themselves as senile men of a certain age don’t blow up airplanes while sitting in coach.

But back to the OP.

If an “author of color” is not expressly defined, PG will argue that he qualifies. Due to a bit of time spent out in the sun, he is a bit brown with darker speckles which appear from otherwise unobtrusive. If he holds his arm up to a sheet on a hotel bed, PG is definitely not white. The sheet is white and PG is a color other than white.

As a person of color, PG strenuously objects to being wrongly classified with persons who have no color. He is simply different from them on a fundamental basis. From the earliest days of his youth, PG’s skin has never resembled a white bedsheet. He loudly contends that spotted tannish lives matter.