The link below is to an article reporting on supply issues hitting the book publishing industry.
As people seek to educate themselves in response to Black Lives Matter protests, sales of books by black British authors, such as Reni Eddo-Lodge and Bernadine Evaristo, have topped the UK bestseller lists. Several recent prestigious awards have also been won by black writers, including Candice Carty-Williams who won book of the year for Queenie at the British Book Awards. Although proud of her achievement, she was also “sad and confused” on discovering she was the first black author to win this award in its 25-year history.
While these firsts must be celebrated, they also shine a light on publishing’s systemic practices, which have maintained inequalities and under-representation for black, Asian and minority ethnic writers and diverse books. Despite awareness of its shortcomings and years of debates and initiatives (diversity schemes, blind recruiting practices and manuscript submission processes) the industry has generally failed to achieve lasting change. This is because they fail to address the broader systemic inequalities faced by people of colour, which contribute to ongoing under-representation in the industry.
A substantial market
Our research on diversity in children’s publishing included an online survey of 330 responses and 28 in-depth follow-up interviews with people working across the sector. We found that a key barrier has been the engrained perception among industry decision-makers that there is a limited market for diverse books. This is a belief that books written by black and diverse authors or featuring non-white characters just don’t sell.
This perception is seen across the industry, including in children’s literature. This is despite evidence of substantial markets. For instance, a third of English primary pupils are from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background. However, a report by the Centre For Literacy in Primary Education revealed that although the number of black, Asian and minority ethnic protagonists in children’s books had increased from 1% in 2017 to 4% in 2018, there is still a long way to go to achieve representation that reflects the UK population.
What we found was that the lack of role models in the books read by children and young people of colour meant that they were less likely to aspire to careers in the sector. From those we spoke to, this was compounded by the lack of diversity, particularly in senior roles, in publishing. For those who had pursued a publishing career, experiences of everyday racism and microaggressions were widespread. This added to feelings of frustration and a sense that they were not welcome or did not belong in the industry.
This all has a knock-on effect on what gets published. Authors of colour that we spoke to expressed frustration about the commissioning process. This included quotas for books by or featuring people of colour, a perceived limited appeal for these books and a feeling that authors of colour could only write about race issues.
Reliance on “traditional routes” to publishing also disadvantages black and working-class authors. Publishers reported receiving high volumes of submissions and heavy workloads led to them relying on established writers rather than seeking out new, diverse talent. This has the impact of narrowing the pool of authors from which books are published.
Our participants – including authors, illustrators, editorial assistants and agents – widely reported that a lack of cultural understanding can also lead to the view that diverse books are a riskier investment. They explained how limited promotion and marketing budgets often resulted in lower sales, reinforcing perceptions of limited demand. From their experience, miscommunication at subsequent points along the supply chain about the demand for and availability of diverse books means that those that are published may not even reach bookshop shelves.
These interconnected factors (among others) create a negative cycle which perpetuates the lack of representation of minorities across all parts of the sector, including the lack of authors of colour being nominated for prizes and awards. Recommendations from our research include ensuring diversity on selection panels for events and awards and some good work is already taking place. However, more systematic collaboration and commitment from the sector will be required to produce lasting and meaningful changes and achieve equality and representation.
Our research participants pointed out that social media was allowing individuals to more effectively come together and raise their voices in support of diversity and representation. They expressed hope that this may help to drive forward meaningful and lasting change in the sector. There are signs that this may be the case with recent campaigns emerging in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
The #publishingpaidme campaign highlighted racial disparities in publishing advances. The publisher Amistad, an imprint of Harper Collins dedicated to multicultural voices, ran the campaign #BlackoutBestsellerList and #BlackPublishingPower to draw attention to black authors and book professionals and demonstrate the market for these books. The newly formed Black Writers’ Guild, including many of Britain’s best-known authors and poets, wrote an open letter airing concerns and demanding immediate action from publishers. The hope is that these campaigns can focus the industry on bringing about meaningful change.
The link below is to an article that takes a look at Amazon Charts and the book industry.
In 2014, the Department of Economics at Macquarie University began a three-year study to examine the responses of Australian authors, publishers and readers to global changes in the current publishing environment.
Last week we released the first stage of the study, based on a survey of more than 1,000 Australian book authors. Our findings show that while book authors are innovators in their professional practices, the financial rewards for initiative and experimentation are unevenly distributed.
The average income of Australian authors is A$12,900. Although a fifth of authors write as their full-time occupation, only 5% earn the average annual income from their creative practice (which we calculate using ABS data as A$61,485 for the 2013-14 financial year). Most authors rely on other paid work and their partner’s income to make ends meet.
Compounding this is the recent fall in the average selling price of trade books. According to Beth Drumm, Sales and Marketing Manager in the Asia/Pacific division of Phoenix International Publications, the standard price of small-format publications has fallen from A$24.99 – A$29.99 to A$19.99 within the last five years. Highly discounted books sold by discount department stores (such as Kmart, Target and Big W) also impact on an author’s income.
Nearly a fifth of all authors earned over A$101,000 in the period of the survey, and a small proportion of authors (nearly 3%) earned more than A$101,000 from their creative practice alone.
An author’s capacity to earn income from other paid work is boosted by high levels of education. They also possess technical skills (the ability to compose, write and edit) that lead to work that does not produce creative output.
One of the greatest limiting factors for authors is finding time to write. Table 1 (below) shows the proportion of authors for whom insufficient income prevents them from writing further. Domestic responsibilities and the need to earn income from other sources affect more than half of authors.
Another pressure on trade authors’ time is their increased role in promoting their books. With the rise of social and online media as important channels for promotion, more than half of all trade authors spend more time promoting their work than they did five years ago – and the rise of social media hasn’t negated the importance of in-person bookstore appearances.
Although we examine how changes are affecting all types of authors, in the remainder of this article we focus on the challenges facing literary fiction authors and poets in particular (while we use “literary” fiction, we are aware of the debates around the use of the term).
Literary fiction authors
Changes in the industry are increasing opportunities for authors to publish their work using cost-effective digital technologies and small print runs. Even so, nearly a third of these authors report being worse off financially compared to five years ago.
One factor for this may be the shift of a considerable amount of literary publishing in Australia from larger publishers to small, independent presses – very small presses may have more constraints on the size of advances, if any, they can offer authors, for example.
The top-earning quarter of literary authors earn on average A$9,000 a year from their writing. Literary fiction authors are the most likely to report that insufficient income from their writing prevents them from spending more time on writing (70%). Although the top-earning quarter of literary authors earn on average A$85,000, the majority of their income comes from other types of paid work.
The situation for poets is even more challenging. Nearly three quarters of Australian poets have changed the way they publish, distribute or promote their work. Poets are particularly innovative in finding new avenues for paid work and are also experimenting with self-publishing – but the average income earned from their creative practice by those in Australia’s top-earning quartile of poets is only A$4,900, the lowest average across any of the different types of authors.
Over half of poets reported no discernible change in their financial position over the past five years. Even though they are innovating and experimenting in their professional practices as well as stylistically (see, for example, the work of self-published performance and multimedia poet Candy Royalle) those changes are not leading to increased incomes.
At the launch of our research findings, Australian poet and author Steven Herrick encouraged poets to write in other genres to increase their incomes.
Herrick self-published a series of cycling memoirs set in Europe through Amazon, starting as an experiment. He quickly established a readership in the UK and he is about to release his fifth title in the series.
The market for literary fiction and poetry in Australia
At the moment, the market size for most Australian-authored literary works is modest. Most literary titles – apart from those by high-profile authors – have print runs of 2,000–4,000 copies.
Print runs for single volumes of poetry for adult readerships are even lower – often between 300 and 1,000 copies. In keeping with a centuries-old tradition, authors are creating their own publishing opportunities such as Kill Your Darlings, a literary journal founded in 2010, taking advantage of digital technology to keep costs down.
The actual size of the market for literary works in Australia, particularly for Australian-authored work, is unclear. There are no reliable statistics about the sales of literary books as a proportion of total trade sales, but during 2015 one member of our research team estimated that literary books comprise roughly 5% of trade sales, and less than half of these comprise Australian-authored literary works (onshore trade sales are worth approximately A$900 million).
A related question then arises as to whether it is possible to grow the size of readerships for literary works, and if so, how could that be done? Literary publishers around Australia are endeavouring to increase the size of their readerships but there are no short-cuts.
That’s because the pleasures and rewards of reading literary works are an acquired taste which develops over time. Further, Jim Demetriou, Sales and Marketing Director of Allen and Unwin, commented:
With literature each one of the author’s books is a totally different “animal” to the previous book, so you have to sell the concept and the idea behind each individual title. It’s generally a slower build unless it’s a big-name author who people recognise and understand.
The way forward
There are no easy answers but the survey findings – and the initial discussion around them – suggest that Australian authors are engaging with changes in the industry and exploring new opportunities.
One feature of the Australian book industry is that authors, publishers and booksellers share a collaborative commitment to its cultural and commercial success. That’s something the new Book Council can bank on, with confidence.
For further information about the research, visit here.
“The book industry is in better shape than it ever has been and it’s due to ebooks,” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos told an audience on Tuesday in a wide-ranging interview that addressed the company’s drone plans, its campus culture and its indifference to pain of short-term shareholders.
Speaking at a BusinessInsider event in New York, Bezos downplayed [company]Amazon’s[/company] recent high-profile spat with publisher Hachette as a run-of-the-mill fight with a supplier, adding that it’s the essential job of any retailer to fight for the best price for its customers.
As for the publishing industry and its authors, Bezos argued that $30 is too high a price for books, and that lower prices will lead to more readers, which will in turn benefit everyone. And in a remark that may have been intended to head off antitrust arguments, he urged people to consider book prices in the context of a larger entertainment market.
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The link below is to an article that looks at the state of the book industry and in particular in the US.
The link below is to yet another article that takes a look at Amazon and offers some observations on the company.
The link below is to an article that takes a look at piracy and the book industry.