Number-crunching the overwhelming whiteness of the book publishing industry

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

How's how journalists Richard Jean So and Gus Wezerek arrived at that number:

First, we gathered a list of English-language fiction books published between 1950 and 2018. That list came from WorldCat, a global catalog of library collections. We wanted to focus on books that were widely read, so we limited our analysis to titles that were held by at least 10 libraries and for which we could find digital editions.

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

To identify those authors' races and ethnicities, we worked alongside three research assistants, reading through biographies, interviews and social media posts. Each author was reviewed independently by two researchers. If the team couldn't come to an agreement about an author's race, or there simply wasn't enough information to feel confident, we omitted those authors' books from our analysis. By the end, we had identified the race or ethnicity of 3,471 authors.

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

While not entirely comprehensive—I'd personally like to know more about the 14% of authors whose race or ethnicity could not be identified—it's still a bigger picture than has otherwise been available.

The impetus for this analysis came from this summer, when the rise in anti-racists protests did indeed lead to a significant boost in book sales for non-white authors. At the same, it exposed some shocking disparities—YA author L.L. McKinney started the hashtag #PublishingPaidMe to share pay transparency in the publishing industry, which quickly spread around Twitter. Those results—which are also about as unbalanced as you'd expect—are viewable in a GoogleDoc. But this is probably a good summation:

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

Just How White Is the Book Industry? [Richard Jean So and Gus Wezerek / New York Times]

PublishingPaidMe: Authors Share Their Advances To Expose Racial Disparities [Mary Louise Kelly / NPR]

Image: AlfaJuliett/Wikimedia Commons (CC 4.0)