Like I need easier ways to buy books
May 15, 2015 11:10 AM   Subscribe

In this NPR story on diversity in publishing, one of the things that leaped out at me was a quote from an editor citing a PEW study that revealed that African-American women “are the largest group of readers in the country.” (Which you’d never know from the lack of diversity in protagonists, cover models, and so on.) Why did publishers have to rely on PEW for that data? Because they have very little research into the habits of individual readers. They’ve never needed it; they’ve always done business with chain sales reps.
Stephanie Leary: How publishers could get more of my money (and make me happy to give it).
posted by MartinWisse (16 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Traditional publishers have always had full control and are used to telling readers what was acceptable to want. Newspapers still have the same mind set. They won't do any of that. They still are trapped in the old days where they reigned supreme and are used to being the accepted authority. No point in propping up that industry...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 11:29 AM on May 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

African-American women “are the largest group of readers in the country.”

This is false.
posted by euphorb at 12:26 PM on May 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

I think this is one of the problems with the fact that so much of what they consider to be "social media" is handled by interns and the lowest level employees, rather than anyone who can stick around long enough to build up a system/program/network/knowledge base. I've seen a lot of work that could be worth big bucks if handled correctly passed off on people who have little experience and no power to implement actual informational infrastructure.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 12:37 PM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Stop favoring 800 page books. I want a compelling read, not to join someone else's universe.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 1:00 PM on May 15, 2015

Okay, from euphorb's link, females and blacks had the highest percentage of those who had read at least one book in the past six months rather than comprise the largest group of readers. The former is still an impressive statistic.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 1:10 PM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Right, "largest group of readers" means nothing beyond how you define your groups. The actual largest group of readers is the group of those who have ever or will ever read a book.

According to euphorb's link, there are a hell of a lot of black female readers who don't get any market love to speak of. Which is what this post is about.
posted by cmoj at 1:18 PM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is false.

I agree that the claim is badly worded. However, the data cited in that link is over a year old. A lot could have happened in that time, for example the release of a game changer like Waiting to Exhale was back in 1992.

Also, why assume that African American women prefer to read books written by Black authors?
posted by fuse theorem at 1:47 PM on May 15, 2015

The Pew data is interesting. If I am interpreting their superscripts correctly, there is no statistical significance between black and white people in terms of odds of having read a book in the past six months. (There is a statistically significant difference between black and hispanic people, though.) So I think the quote attributed to NPR is pretty difficult to back up as stated, although the general that black female readers are underserved by the market strikes me as not difficult to believe.

The more general ideas about publishers being out of touch with their readers seems absolutely true, though. I know, from following jscalzi and some other authors, that many publishers do provide quite a bit of value to the writers who work with them, but as a reader... they seem to leave a huge amount of the PR stuff on the authors themselves, to engage with readers and get buzz going for new books and stuff.

Leary makes a bunch of suggestions that apparently most publishers aren't doing, but I know that Amazon does... e.g. when you finish a Kindle book, Amazon will make a suggestion of something else to read (and, duh, buy). These suggestions are generally quite good. If the book you finished is book n in a series where there's also book (n+1), that will always be the suggestion. Which seems stupidly obvious, but a lot of recommendation engines aren't even that smart, and it requires knowledge of how series work and which book follows which, that isn't super trivial.

I know there is not a lot of love lost for Amazon as a company but hot damn if they haven't gotten me to read a lot more (and spend a lot more money, natch) than I suspect I would have otherwise—and I read quite a bit. While there's always danger in blindly following your competition, independent publishers could probably go quite a ways by just emulating the Bezos Machine a bit more than they're doing.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:55 PM on May 15, 2015 [4 favorites]

This is false.


Total US women ("women" here defined as female, age 15 & up, because that's how the US census is bracketed): 127,751,000, 12.6%* of whom (16,096,626) are African American, 81% of whom read at least one book in 2013 (13,038,267)

Thirteen million is not a particularly large demographic, America-wise, and is far from "the largest group of readers in the country." (Compare sixty-eight million white women readers.)

Besides, if 81% of Black women are reading anyway, why would publishers change their game? There's no point chasing money they're already making. There may be a problem in representation, but the money doesn't seem to care. (Actually, it very well could, but without figuring in bought books vs. borrowed books there's not really any sales conclusion that can be drawn.)

*this is the percentage of the total population who are African American, which is kind of iffy to apply here, since the age and sex demographics of African Americans probably differ from other groups somewhat, so consider everything from this point on a rough ballpark estimate
posted by Sys Rq at 2:19 PM on May 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

Right around 2010 when I was working in libraries that served predominantly African-American patrons, it definitely seemed like publishers were leaving money on the table not being aware enough of what African-American readers might want; there was a huge trend in urban fiction and erotic fiction by African-American authors, a lot of which was self-published or published by small independent presses. They often had bad proofreading and quality control; I'm not talking about some prescriptivist standard of language, I'm talking about all the punctuation being incorrectly formatted so quotation marks turned into things that weren't quotation marks. I have no doubt that large publishers could have capitalized on that trend more than they did. Eric Jerome Dickey and Kimberla Lawson Roby were (and are, I guess; I lost touch with some of these authors after getting transferred to a different branch) really popular in crime fiction and chick lit set in African-American communities.

Maybe the publishers were working really hard to find the next Kimberla Lawson Roby -- I don't know. You'd think they'd go where the money is, but publishing is really white, in part because the supply of young people who get English degrees and then are willing to work in NYC for nothing (as interns) or almost nothing (as junior editors), often supported by their parents, leans very white.
posted by Jeanne at 4:12 PM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

What a horrible case of statistics fail...saying "African-American women "are the largest group of readers in the country" is a complete misreading of that study. It's like someone saw the number next to "women" was higher and that the number next to "African-American" was higher and just made up their own sentence based on that to say something they wished to be true.

The author should consider running for office, clearly.
posted by trackofalljades at 7:29 PM on May 15, 2015

I'm not surprised that an editor is not great at statistics, because so few people are. No biggie.

But this article perfectly sums up my problems as a reader. When is anything being published? Which new authors are similar to ones I already like? Where can I buy this stuff? If publishers won't supply this info then finding books becomes a random act of god.
posted by harriet vane at 9:02 PM on May 15, 2015

I'm not surprised that an editor is not great at statistics, because so few people are. No biggie.

It irritates me because if we look at the numbers instead of at the percentages, there are more Latinas reading books than Black women reading books. It's a smaller percentage, but the population is larger. It irritates me because diversity isn't just about Black and White.

Anyway, the only way the publishing industry could get more money from me is if they paid me so that I could quit my job and read all the time and if they bought me a house so I could store the books I would buy. Until that day, e-books from the library will keep me busy.
posted by betweenthebars at 11:46 PM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

That's true about diversity being broader than just black and white. I guess I was thinking that if publishers cared more about diversity they'd put some effort into the research so that editors without statistical skills wouldn't have to rely on outside sources of info, they could actually have it tailored to what they need to accurately represent their readers.
posted by harriet vane at 5:04 AM on May 16, 2015

Bit peeved that everybody in true mefi fashion chased the derail rabbit down that unfortunate example used, but did nobody really read beyond to discover frex Bookbub?

Or y'all already know about it?
posted by MartinWisse at 2:01 PM on May 18, 2015

Bit peeved that everybody in true mefi fashion ignored the ad part of the ad you posted?

Maybe next time lead with the ad instead of the misread statistics that were shoehorned in for no good reason.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:31 PM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

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