The State of Diversity in the Publishing Industry

From Book Riot:

“I often look up lists made by users on Goodreads, [and] has a resource page with links to various sites or LGBTQ Reads by Dahlia Adler. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s hard to naturally find such books, as they are often published by smaller publishers with not enough advertising resources. That’s why it’s important to take some time each year to look for books by authors you wouldn’t normally see on a shelf in your favorite bookstore,” says Denis Ristić, a reader and a business owner.

The book publishing industry has been historically white, and it continues to be so.

In a 2019 blog post, Lee and Low Books published their Diversity Baseline Survey in which it was revealed that 76% of publishing is still white. This includes publishing staff, review journal staff, and literary agents. The blog initially conducted this survey in 2015, and in the 2019 edition, it concluded that “the field is just as white today as it was four years ago.”

The survey also showed that 74% of people in publishing are cis woman but that about 38% of executives and board members are cis men, which indicates that men continue to rise to positions of power more quickly than women. Further findings showed 81% are straight and 89% are non-disabled. One of the most concerning results of the 2019 Diversity Baseline Survey is the conclusion that “editorial is even more white than before” despite the efforts of publishers to provoke change.

In that same year, Publishers Weekly released its Publishing Industry Salary Survey, which only corroborated this statement. According to the survey, 84% of the workforce is white and publishing is still primarily a “white business.” This didn’t change much in the most recent edition of said survey, wherein the results show only a 1% difference.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

PG remembered a visit of long ago to the headquarters of the publisher of Ebony and a number of other publications focused on those of African-American heritage. At the time, PG worked at the world’s largest advertising agency.

The president’s office was the largest PG had ever seen and very strikingly furnished and decorated.

This gentleman was not asking for any charity or donations and was not seeking special treatment for himself or his publications. He just presented the the spending power of his African-American readers in a very persuasive manner and pointed out that if the clients of the ad agency weren’t including those consumers in their advertising plans, they were missing out on a large number of additional sales.

Thereafter, the ad agency pitched its clients on including African-American publications in their media plans and the clients PG was working with all signed up.

28 thoughts on “The State of Diversity in the Publishing Industry”

  1. And Book Riot proceeds to demonstrate that when it talks about “representation and diversity in the publishing industry” it’s not actually talking about having the publishing industry be representative of the general population.

    For example, if you don’t split off Hispanics, the population of the US is about 76% white, which…is the percentage of white people in the publishing industry. Now, if you do split them, the population of the US is only 60% white. However, we don’t know if the survey did that.

    For another example, we are apparently supposed to be disturbed by the fact that 81% of the people in publishing are straight. However, by all accounts less than 10% of the population of the US identifies as LGBT, which means that in reality sexual minorities are disproportionately overrepresented in publishing, rather than underrepresented.

    Given the above, it is not shocking that Book Riot is not concerned about men are underrepresented in the publishing industry by a considerable margin.

    All in all, I find it very difficult to take this seriously.

  2. Oddly enough, if you must slice and dice americans by race, the stats say 76% of the population is of the “white bread” genepool:

    A bit lower if we factor in the uninvited.

    Whatever we may think of the Manhattan Mafia, their staffing seems to match their target market.
    (Much as the STEM world, corporate publishing seems to have trouble finding willing participants. Qualified candidates choose to apply their talents in other areas. Presumably for salary and class limitations’, in their case.)

    The diversity police may be overly ambitious. If they want the numbers to change, they might want to change the economics of corporate publishing so they can afford to pay prevailing NYC wages and still have enough left over to satisfy their overlords.

    How that might happen, I have no idea.

  3. Putting that in English, 11% of people in publishing are disabled?

    I’d love to know what their definition of the category encompasses. It sounds unlikely. Does it include, for an example, diabetics with well-controlled diabetes? Or people who have lower-back problems from a sedentary occupation?

  4. Linking this item to the preceding one, on sensitivity readers:

    Sensitivity readers are (perceived as) necessary, or appropriate, or whatever, precisely because commercial publishing is not diverse and can’t do “sensitivity” in-house. Further, because commercial publishing is not diverse, it can’t even spot the problems† in the first place. And the less said about the lack of experiential diversity in commercial publishing, which is far more blatant than the lack of demographic diversity, perhaps the better. (Alicia, that 11% is most probably publishing personnel, especially executive and marketing strategists, who lack basic human empathy.)

    I don’t hold the power structures at commercial publishing in contempt. They’d have to improve a lot to be worthy of mere contempt.

    † They do exist. They are not by themselves so serious (in prevalence, in worst-instance impact, in reputational damage, in whatever) that the entire editorial-and-acquisition process needs to change just for “sensitivity.” Which is not to say that the entire editorial-and-acquisition process doesn’t need to change — just not for this reason, or at least not solely for this reason.

  5. Considering all the variables of race, creed, gender, age, orientation, secret thoughts, ambiguous-yet-expressed thoughts, and every other -ism, what does appropriate diversity look like? What are the numbers? Can anyone even agree on what diversity utopia looks like?

    • Depends on who you ask and when.
      Followers of MLK liked his dream where all people would be seen as people and nothing else. Maybe judged by their deeds and achievements.

      That is now dated: since his time, the prevailing view has become that people are fungible representatives of their tribe/ethnicity/behavior/physical trait/whatever with each pingeonhole mob struggling to use the state’s monopoly of physical force to compel all others to serve their particular interest at the expense of all others.

      Pox ‘pon all their houses.

      • Felix, that’s an unwarranted assault on the tribe of white male real-property developers. How dare you criticize “houses” — it’s an inherent human need that only those select few even attempt to meet!

        And as a professional manager of violence† I somehow neglected to tag that as sarcasm.

        † A 1950s academic description of the subject of the profession of military officers that was enthusiastically adopted by the military in the 1960s and is semiofficial today. What that says about the military tribe and the academic tribe should be pondered another time, because “lack of contact with either the military or any other sanctioned locus of violence” is another dimension of diversity lacking in commercial publishing… and academia, of course.

  6. News flash—Nobody has a monopoly on problems, pain or disabilities. Physical bodies endure tragedies of various sizes and kinds. It’s called Life. Accept it and move on.

    1. Every human being has problems and is disabled in one way or another. The biggest difference among them is how much and how loudly they complain.

    2. In our current everything-is-everybody-else’s-fault society, those who complain get poor-baby points for volume.

    3. Those who don’t complain are assumed to be problem-free and painless. They are also accused—primarily by those who make all the noise and secondarily by those whose look-at-me pretense of the week is appearing to care about those who make the noise—of being uncaring.

    4. Most human beings are so tightly focused on their own problems and disability(ies) that it never occurs to them that others who are not in their particular group are similarly afflicted. Nor, once they learn that reality, do they care.

    There is a certain dignity in owning one’s afflictions and abiding them in silence.

    • There is a certain dignity in owning one’s afflictions and abiding them in silence.

      This is a perfectly valid viewpoint… most of the time.

      It’s also not universally accepted or acceptable. Consider, for the moment, someone who suffers from PTSD; or a survivor of sexual abuse whose condition doesn’t fit the (bizarrely overspecific) definition of PTSD†; or someone who has one of the various not-constantly-apparent courses of neurological ailments (such as early-stage Parkinson’s disease, or the remission cycle of many forms of MS). Sometimes being asked to, or merely having assumed that it’s ok to, engage in a “normal activity” can be problematic. (Use of euphemisms entirely intentional; indeed, it’s the point.)

      All of that is before getting to the “chronic pain” issue. Just. Don’t. Go. There.

      So I can accept stoicism as a possible aspiration — but not a universal one, and certainly not an excuse for doing nothing.

      † Or has survived an experience as a POW. I’m old enough that I had several former Vietnam POWs under my command and/or monitoring; I refuse to invade any privacy — let alone actual confidentiality requirements — but will generally state that “disability that can ordinarily be accommodated, but only if you’re paying attention, even if they’re trying to pretend nothing happened” is the nice, nonconfrontational way to describe matters.

      • Valid point.
        How many of those folks *actively used their history as a handy-dandy “get out of jail” card?

        An uncle of mine never really survived VietNam and he was under treatment for the rest of his (short) life. He told stories of his experience but he never whined about his condition. He struggled but he never actively passed his pain on to his wife and kids.

        Isn’t that “owning the affliction”?
        Not everybdy succeeds but how they handle life’s challenges says a lot about the person.

      • “I can accept stoicism….” Sorry. I left my concern for what others could accept in my other jacket. (joking, i know it’s only a slipped turn of a phrase, grin)

        I never said the afflicted should suffer in silence or that they should suffer alone or “do nothing”.

        “Owning one’s afflictions and abiding them in silence” doesn’t mean not asking for or accepting help. It merely means not leveraging one’s condition to force others to think or act in a certain way. It means not endlessly whining about one’s problems whether or not one gets help.

        It means one’s affliction isn’t all that’s left of one’s life, and it isn’t “the” major topic every time one starts or joins even a common dinner conversation.

        My own history includes bearing a severe childhood mental, emotional and physical trauma that began at age 2. I enlisted in the USMC at the age of 17 to escape. Today I also have a bad heart, by which I mean I endured the Ross Procedure (aortic and pulmonic valve replacement) in 2000. Later I developed a problem with the electrical side, so I’m on my second pacemaker now. Pacemakers pace as necessary; for the past two years, mine has paced with every beat. And as long as we’re complaining, why not “go there” with chronic pain? I also have chronic pain from progressive arthritis in my lower spine (imagine sciatica down both legs), and a gut that’s chewed up inside.

        Or maybe I just made all of that up. Shrug. I dunno. The point is, Everyone has problems, physical and/or mental and/or emotional, to one degree or another. It isn’t a competition, and being thus afflicted doesn’t make me feel the world owes me anything.

        • Exactly.
          We only get one shot at life and the life we get is what we make of it.
          Or, as they say: “Life is tough. Then you die.”
          Harsh but true.

          For the last 30 years we’ve been living in the closest thing to a golden age the species has lived. The biggest beneficiaries have spent that time undercutting the system that sustains them. They are succeeding. Now they’ll face the consequences.

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