While the publishing industry is still encumbered by its racist origins, it is also continually in flux. In the last decade, this continuous change has manifested both in ways that further complicate the status of women and other marginalized communities working in the industry, and in ways that attempt to remediate the systemic issues in the industry that contribute to inequity. This chapter will examine some of these recent shifts with an eye to the future, and will ultimately argue that the publishing industry of tomorrow can do better—that the industry is capable of reimagining itself as an inclusive profession with equitable working conditions for all women.
continued corporate consolidation
One feature of the industry that is as relevant to its history as it is to the contemporary structure of the industry is publishing’s tendency toward consolidation. In Ultra Libris, Rowland Lorimer explains that this tendency for smaller firms to be subsumed into larger ones has been a feature of the trade since at least the late 19th century.The reason that the industry continuously finds itself concentrating control into fewer and fewer corporate hands is usually a simple issue of economics: publishing is an industry where slim profit margins are often the norm, and small firms tend to have a more difficult time weathering financial precarity than the corporate behemoths that often swallow them. While legislation has been enacted in Canada to financially and structurally support publishers so that they are less vulnerable to takeovers, the 2013 merger of the Penguin Group and Random House (which was preceded by Random House’s acquisition of McClelland & Stewart and followed by the 2020 acquisition of Simon & Schuster by Penguin Random House), prove that consolidation is an unstoppable force in publishing.
negative effects of corporate consolidation.
Corporate consolidation has been shown to negatively impact the career prospects of women and people from other marginalized communities. As Danuta Kean, writing for The Guardian in 2017 explained, the amalgamation of publishing houses means fewer“” jobs in the industry. The shrinking number of opportunities, coupled with the fact that these executive positions already tend to be held by men constitutes an extremely steep climb for any woman hoping to ascend the ranks. Furthermore, the phenomenon of promoting in one’s image, discussed in the third chapter of this report, makes matters even worse for women, especially women from marginalized communities that are rarely represented in the upper echelons of the publishing industry. In essence: corporate consolidation reduces the total number of executive positions, and makes it exponentially harder for folks from traditionally marginalized groups to be hired into those positions.
As Anisse Gross argued in a 2017 Publishers Weekly article, corporate consolidation may also essentially undermine inclusivity, as it tends to transform small, mission-driven publishing outfits into more commercially-oriented enterprises with an increased focus on the bottom line, leading to less inclusive recruitment strategies, and a less diverse industry overall.
positive trends in the publishing industry
While the continued consolidation of the publishing industry is a major obstacle in creating an equitable and inclusive industry, there are many reasons to feel optimistic about the trade’s ability to redress the balance. These include an increase in studies assessing the industry’s equity and diversity, equity-based initiatives at a number of corporate publishing houses, a rise in independent publishers, and, in Canada, changes to national arts funding. Together, these recent shifts in the industry may be enough to push back against publishing’s problematic history and entrenched inequity.
equity + diversity data.
In 2015, Lee & Low Books conducted their first diversity baseline study, dubbed Diversity Baseline Study (DBS) 1.0. Their goal was to measure diversity in North American publishing. The DBS 1.0 had a response rate of 25.8% and among the respondents were, some, but not all, of the Big Five publishers.Despite providing an incomplete snapshot of the industry, as all data does in one way or another, the results of the DBS 1.0 laid essential groundwork for tackling inequity in the book publishing industry.
In 2019, when Lee & Low conducted their Diversity Baseline Study 2.0, their response rate increased to 36.2%, and 153 publishing companies were represented in the data, including all of the Big Five.This increase in response rate indicates a greater awareness of diversity issues in the industry, and potentially a greater commitment to equity. In 2019, the Association of Canadian Publishers released the results of their own Book Publishing Diversity Baseline Survey, which reflects this same trend from a Canadian perspective.
the power of data: a UK case study.
All in all, the drive towards collecting data that quantifies the inequity present in the publishing industry is an important first step towards fixing the problem. As I’ve argued, there is important data that has yet to be gathered, but what we know now is already bringing the size and shape of the problems into focus. Data encourages and enables conversation and problem solving, holds organizations accountable, and can also help guide legislation.
A case study of the catalyzing effect of data collection can be seen in the British publishing industry. In 2017, legislation was passed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission in the UK requiring all companies with 250 employees or more to report on their gender pay gap annually.In the years since, a number of Big Five publishers have implemented a variety of initiatives focused on increasing equity among their ranks. In 2019, for instance, the UK divisions of Hachette, HarperCollins, and Penguin Random House all announced that they were introducing an equalized leave, in an effort to encourage an equal distribution of domestic responsibilities, and thus narrow the wage gap between men and women working in the industry. Previous to this policy, paternity leave (available to men) allowed for only 4 weeks total leave, while maternity leave (available to women) allowed for 52 weeks leave.
In addition to parental leave policies, corporate publishers in the UK have put a number of other progressive initiatives in place in the last few years. Hachette pledged that by 2020, women would hold two-thirds of the highest-paid positions in the company, and that half of the Hachette UK board would be female.(As this report is being written, the Hachette board is comprised of 9 women and 8 men.) In 2017, Hachette UK also created the Gender Balance Network, which, alongside other Hachette initiatives in their Changing the Story programme, supports equity and inclusion within the company, and in the industry at large. Some of these initiatives include Fresh Chapters (a year-long training program for candidates) and THRIVE Portfolio Review Sessions (for designers and illustrators from BAME backgrounds).
Penguin Random House (PRH) UK has also made strides to increase equity and inclusion in the industry. In early 2020, PRH UK introduced pay banding,which encourages transparency in an effort to eliminate the gender wage gap. In 2016, PRH UK pledged that by 2025, both their staff and the authors that they published would faithfully reflect the diversity of British society. To achieve this, they have instituted The Scheme, a six-month paid editorial internship with a full benefits package specifically for BAME and economically disadvantaged candidates, in addition to their standard two-week long paid internships. They also removed the requirement of a university degree from all PRH UK job applications in an attempt to make the industry more accessible to people from diverse backgrounds.
The initiatives mentioned above are just a handful of strides taken by corporate publishers in the UK towards an equitable and inclusive industry. Of course, time will tell if these initiatives bear fruit, and time will test these companies’ genuine commitment to equity and inclusion, but the annual obligation to publish their pay gap figures will hopefully serve as continual motivation to strive for equity among their ranks.
feminist independent publishers
While a handful of corporate publishers are taking steps to remedy the inequity typically found in their hierarchies, a number of women in the industry, lacking faith in corporate publishing’s ability to right these myriad wrongs, have chosen instead to break out on their own. Instead of trying to fix what they perceive as a broken system, these trailblazers have decided to build inclusive and equitable publishing houses from the ground up. In 2017, Publishers Weekly spoke to a number of women who had left the corporate publishing world in favour of independent publishing. According to C. Spike Trotman, publisher and founder of Chicago, Illinois-based Iron Circus Comics, “I don’t trust the intentions and motivations of a lot of large publishers. I think a lot of people at the top especially are extremely resistant to change.”Rhonda Hughes, who founded both Print Vision (a printing production company) and Hawthorne Books (a literary press) in Portland, Oregon echoes this sentiment: “I realized I wouldn’t get what I wanted unless I left and did it myself.”
According to Amy King, one of the women behind VIDA, a feminist literary organization launched in 2010 to increase transparency around issues of gender parity and representation in literary periodicals, non-profits and independent publishers are often the vanguard of positive change. This is because non-profit and independent outfits are able to pursue equity without needing it incentivized, while incentives are often required for large companies to commit to policy change. An immediate return on investment, often a basic metric that large companies use in their decision-making process, is often not possible in matters of equity and inclusion. As she explains: “You don’t see an immediate turnaround on your investment because you’re investing in people.”For corporate publishers, this lack of financial incentive may partially explain why they tend to favour maintaining the status quo.
non-traditional business models.
Of course, publishers of all shapes and sizes do still need to keep the bottom line in view if they want to keep the lights on. The traditional publishing model, in which the publisher is responsible for not only the editorial costs but also the cost of production, printing, warehousing, and distribution, requires a significant monetary investment up front with no guarantee of profit down the line. The result is a modestly profitable business at the best of times, and a financially perilous tightrope walk at the worst of times. In order for independent publishers to find secure financial footing, many have been inspired by funding models typically found in non-profit organizations or start-ups. These business models draw funding from sources outside the publishing house, thus freeing the publisher from having to cater to the often oppressive social norms that underlie economies of scale. This, in turn, allows independent publishers to pursue a mission-driven mandate. Iron Circus Comics, for instance, uses Kickstarter campaigns as an integral part of their business plan, and has, to date, raised almost two million dollars for various projects.
In addition to crowdfunding, some publishers, such as the award-winning She Writes Press (founded in 2012 in Tempe, Arizona), as well as its parent company, SparkPoint, are choosing to employ a hybrid model in which authors share the cost of bringing a book to market.While this does allow the publisher to follow a mission-driven mandate internally (both SparkPoint and She Writes Press are women-led and staffed almost entirely by women), this pay-to-play model introduces a financial barrier to entry for prospective authors that marginalizes those without generational or acquired wealth. Paradoxically, this business model replicates some of the same inequitable structures historically found in the publishing industry, such as the practice of unpaid internships.
Other independent publishers, such as the Albany, New York-based feminist press Shade Mountain (established in 2013), rely on institutional funding as well as an extensive list of donors to fund their books.This business model supports Shade Mountain’s publishing mandate of “publishing literature by women, especially women of colour, disabled women, women from working-class backgrounds, and LGBTQ women.” In this way, Shade Mountain is able to highlight historically marginalized voices because the economics of the press do not rely on financial support from the authors themselves.
communities of support.
Shade Mountain’s business model also points to another essential feature that underpins many independent feminist publishers, which is a mutually-supportive connection with their community. Speaking to Electric Lit in 2017, Laura Stanfill, who in 2012 founded Forest Avenue Press in Portland, Oregon, cited this reciprocal support network as essential for independent presses. As she advises, “Find allies and mentors with business models you want to emulate, and ask them for help. Once you’re established in the industry, help the next group of publishers by sharing what you’ve learned.”This same sentiment was echoed by Dominique Raccah, founder and publisher of Sourcebooks, which is based in Naperville, Illinois, and has been active since 1987. According to her, “We’re in a moment when there’s an opportunity for lots of different peoples to work together … successful female entrepreneurs working together is going to be more and more of a trend as we go forward. We have to help each other succeed.” In this way, many independent publishers rely on more well-established independent presses to pave the way, or at least to help clear the brambles, and it is a spirit of collaboration over competition that buoys the efforts of independent feminist presses.
economics of canadian publishing
The independent presses discussed in the previous section are indicative of an industry-wide trend wherein those fighting for equity, diversity, and inclusion in the trade are chosing to do so outside of corporate structures. It’s significant to note, however, that the presses profiled above are based in the United States, and therefore have a different set of economic circumstances to contend with than publishers in Canada, necessitating the use of non-traditional business models. Canadian publishing, since the 1971 bail out of McClelland & Stewart, and the subsequent final report of the Ontario Royal Commission on Book Publishing, is supported by government funding as part of a larger programme of national identity articulation and cultural capital production. As such, Canadian independent publishers such as New Society Publishers (Gabriola Island, BC), Caitlin Press (Halfmoon Bay, BC), Theytus Books (Penticton, BC), Book*hug Press (Toronto, ON), Second Story Press (Toronto, ON), and Fernwood Publishing (Black Point, NS) which all pursue mission-based publishing mandates addressing various forms of inequity, are supported by provincial and national government funding.
For many publishers in Canada, government funding is an essential part of their long-term survival and success. While this funding undoubtedly plays an important role in Canadian publishing, eligibility criteria often require publishers to have a proven track record in the form of sales revenue, number of titles, and number of years active. As such, the funding available for publishers in Canada should be seen as a way of sustaining, rather than enabling, independent publishing activity. Therefore, those in Canada looking to establish independent presses in the pursuit of mission-driven publishing mandates will still have to engineer a business plan that will ensure financial viability in the initial years of the press. Given the economies of scale at the heart of the publishing industry, and the tendency of that model to adhere to cultural hierarchies and modes of oppression, these business plans will likely have to be non-traditional in nature, and employ some of the same strategies discussed in the previous section.
importance of government funding.
For those publishers in Canada who are eligible to receive government funding, this funding is indeed often the deciding factor between long-term viability and extinction. According to data gathered by the Canada Book Fund from 2013–2018, government funding accounts for between 7–30% of Canadian book publishers’ total annual revenue.Smaller publishers tend to be at the upper end of this range, relying more heavily on this support, while larger publishers appear to be more self-sustaining. Given that profit margins in that same data set were between -8.4% and 6.9%, the importance of government funding to Canadian publishing can hardly be exaggerated.
changes to funding policies in canada.
With the reliance of the Canadian publishing industry on government funding in mind, new regulations set in place in 2018 may encourage publishers to create healthier and more equitable workplaces, even if they are not a feminist or otherwise mission-driven press. Changes to the Canada Council for the Arts granting process now require recipients to ensure that they provide a “workplace free from discrimination, harassment and sexual misconduct”.As demonstrated above, the financial support in question is the difference between solvency and bankruptcy for many Canadian publishers, so it is significant that this funding body has adopted a zero-tolerance policy towards sexual harassment. That being said, the Canada Council for the Arts doesn’t have any audit or inspection apparatuses to carry out this new zero-tolerance policy, which means that it is incumbent upon employees to self-report instances of harassment. Given that these reports may threaten the publisher’s funding status, which in turn may endanger the company’s survival—and by extension, the employee’s job—it seems possible that this may have a silencing effect. Furthermore, the process for reporting complaints of sexual harassment to the Canada Council involves reporting the harassment directly to the executives of the publishing house “with the Council in cc.” With no way to remain anonymous, this process could also discourage a person from reporting harassment, as they might fear the repercussions of speaking out.
In addition to denouncing sexual harassment, both the Canada Council for the Arts and the Department of Canadian Heritage (which disperses the Canada Book Fund) have sponsored the “Respectful Workplaces in the Arts” initiative, administered by the Cultural Human Resources Council. Respectful Workplaces in the Arts is centered around education and training, offering consultation services as well as resources for coordinating working groups. Similar to the zero-tolerance policy toward sexual harassment, however, the onus is still on the publisher to opt-in to this initiative and take advantage of the resources available. If the old boys’ club mentality, which is inherently sexist, continues to run rampant in the upper ranks of corporate publishing houses, it’s possible that these resources may only end up preaching to the choir, so to speak. While institutional recognition is a step in the right direction, until the Canada Council for the Arts and the Department of Canadian Heritage are able to independently enforce their respectful workplace policies, these regulations and initiatives will remain largely symbolic.
While the history of the publishing industry—in particular the book publishing industry—may be inextricably linked to patriarchal power structures and colonialism, and while vestiges of these legacies may continue to play out in the form of systemic marginalization of women and minority groups, there are nonetheless reasons to feel optimistic about the future.
Despite the industry’s continual consolidation, there are various industry trends and initiatives that, over time, could be profoundly transformative in bringing about equity and inclusion in the industry. There has been an increased interest in data that quantifies diversity and equity, for example, which is an important step in the right direction. This data, whether gathered voluntarily, such as by the Diversity Baseline Surveys conducted by Lee & Low Books, or through the obligatory reporting legislated in the UK, is a strong driver of change. Significantly, this data, once gathered, may even serve to encourage equity in traditionally hierarchical corporations. At the same time, a new generation of independent feminist publishers are able to purslue equity and inclusion as a central mandate thanks in part to their non-traditional business models. In Canada specifically, there have been policies in place since 2018 to discourage harassment and discrimination in the publishing industry. Time will tell how effective these policies are, but it is encouraging that the major cultural funding bodies in Canada have officially recognized the importance of a workplace free of harassment and discrimination.
grassroots movements for equity.
What is lost in the data, but is made unquestionably clear in industry publications and social media movements, is that the publishing industry is comprised of passionate professionals united by a common goal of connecting authors and readers through the written word. This chapter focused on systemic changes to the industry, which inherently assumes the loci of power to be the institution, but there has indeed been a groundswell of activism at the grassroots level of the industry, suggesting that the next generation of publishing executives may be more interested in pursuing equity, diversity, and inclusion as a central mandate. Initiatives such as the Twitter account Book Worker Power collective, and the Book Money Google sheet are indicative of a growing awareness of, and desire to remedy, various inequities within the publishing industry. As such, even if the current c-suite generation is reluctant to change the status quo, there is still evidence of a changing tide. There is reason to believe that a more equitable publishing industry is not just possible but indeed likely., the
As publishing continues to reckon with its inherent biases and systemic inequities, both within and outside of the institution, it gradually removes barriers that have traditionally been in place for women and minority groups working in the trade. Indeed, if publishing is able to focus less on the gatekeeping aspect of cultural industries, and more on the unitive potential of books and literature, the industry can become not only more equitable, diverse, and inclusive, but also stronger. According to Chris Jackson, publisher at One World books, publishing that is centered around equity, diversity, and inclusion enables artistic output that is more reflective of the diverse range of stories and storytellers in our society. Expanding the range of storytelling in this way allows us to bridge gaps of understanding between different groups of people, allowing for a stronger and more united society. To fulfill this essential purpose, we must “build a publishing industry—at all levels of publishing—that honours the potential, the complexity, and the fullness of the world itself.”
- Rowland Lorimer, Ultra Libris: Policy, Technology and the Creative Economy of Book Publishing in Canada, (Toronto: ECW Press, 2012), 63.
- Danuta Kean, “Are things getting worse for women in publishing?,” The Guardian, May 11, 2017.
- Anisse Gross, “Women Rule in Indie Publishing,” Publishers Weekly, April 28, 2017.
- Lee & Low Books, “Where Is The Diversity In Publishing? The 2015 Diversity Baseline Survey Results,” The Open Book Blog, January 26, 2016.
- Lee & Low Books, “Where Is The Diversity In Publishing? The 2019 Diversity Baseline Survey Results,” The Open Book Blog, January 28, 2020.
- “Guidance: Gender Pay Gap Reporting” Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service and Government Equalities Office, February 22, 2017.
- Mark Chandler, “UK’s Big Three Sign Up to Shared Parental Leave in Attempt to Cut Gender Inequality,” The Bookseller, September 20, 2019.
- Mark Chandler, “UK’s Big Three”.
- Alison Flood, “Gender Pay Gap Figures Reveal Big Publishing’s Great Divide,” The Guardian, March 23, 2018.
- “Our Board,” Hachette UK, accessed October 4, 2020.
- “Changing the Story,” Hachette UK, accessed October 4, 2020.
- The Bookseller News Team, “Men Dominate Trade’s Senior Positions, Data Shows,” The Bookseller, April 6, 2018.
- “Books for Everyone, by Everyone: Our Inclusivity Action Plan 2020” Penguin Random House UK, July 2020.
- “The Scheme: Hello,” Penguin Random House UK, accessed October 4, 2020.
- Anisse Gross, “Women Rule in Indie Publishing”.
- “Iron Circus Comics Fact Sheet,” Iron Circus Comics, accessed October 4, 2020.
- “The She Writes Press Publishing Package,” She Writes Press, accessed October 4, 2020.
- “About Shade Mountain Press,” Shade Mountain Press, accessed October 4, 2020.
- “About,” Shade Mountain Press.
- Jennifer Baker, “How Indie Presses are Elevating the Publishing World,” Electric Lit, December 13, 2017.
- Anisse Gross, “Women Rule”.
- Canada, Canadian Heritage. Evaluation of the Canada Book Fund 2012-13 to 2017-18, “Annex B Table B: CBF as a % of total government funding and % total net revenues,” Evaluation Services Directorate, Online. Quebec, 2019. Catalogue number: CH7-61/1-2019E-PDF. Accessed July 31 2019.
- “CBF as a % of total government funding and % total net revenues,” Government of Canada.
- “Statement on Changes to Operational Policies to Ensure Respectful Workplaces in the Cultural Sector,” Canada Council for the Arts, April 25, 2018.
- “Respectful Workplaces,” Public Accountability, Canada Council for the Arts, accessed June 6, 2021.
- Chris Jackson, “Widening the Gates: Why Publishing Needs Diversity,” in What Editors Do: The Art, Craft & Business of Book Editing, ed Peter Ginna (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2017), 223-230. Also published in Literary Hub.