Do readers discriminate against books written by women and black authors? -Quartz

It’s no secret that the world of book publishing involves a lot of discrimination. A New York Times analysis found that only 11% of fiction published in 2018 was written by people of color; in June 2020, a viral Twitter hashtag called #PublishingPaidMe revealed that many well-known black authors had received book advances that paled in comparison to those from less experienced white authors. Women, on the other hand, are about as likely to make the New York Times bestseller list as men, but their books are generally less expensive and less likely to receive reviews.

Defenders of the status quo might argue that these practices simply reflect market realities: perhaps readers are simply more interested in books by white male authors. But a new study published in PLOS One suggests that’s not the case.

In the guise of a book publisher, the study asked more than 9,000 people on Amazon’s MTurk job site to rate three invented books based on their covers and layouts, which included information on the (fictitious) authors as well as their photographs. . The gender of the authors was found to make no difference in participants’ interest in reading a given book. As for the race, participants were actually willing to pay a premium (about 50 cents more) for books by black authors.

“What our study shows is that there is an interest and an appetite” for books by black and female authors, says Dana Weinberg, professor of sociology at Queens College, co-author of the study with Adam Kapelner, assistant professor of mathematics. . “So there really is no justification for the exclusion.”

How readers decide which books to buy

The results of the study do not mean that readers are completely unbiased. Anecdotally, Weinberg says he’s heard that books with people of color on the cover don’t usually sell as well as other books. And data from Nielsen Book Research suggests that men are more likely to read books by male authors than books by women, in both fiction and non-fiction.

The study also does not take into account the various additional factors that can influence readers’ decision whether or not to buy a book, from reviews and media coverage to word of mouth and awards. Weinberg says the search most closely mimics the experience of browsing books revealed by algorithms on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Until the publishing industry itself becomes more diverse – 85% of people who work in the editorial arm of publishing houses are white, according to a 2019 survey – authors from marginalized backgrounds will continue likely to be victims of unfair treatment. But readers can do their part by investing their buying power in more books by black and female authors, providing further proof to the publishing industry that discrimination is against its own interests. commercial.

About Joey J. Hott

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